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 Ethnography and Knowledge in the Arab Region


The Ethnography and Knowledge Working Group is engaged in a collaborative exploration of the critical knowledge that can be generated from attention to embodied, emotional and cognitive aspects of the ethnographic endeavor and from the methodological adaptations that the ethnography makes as a result. The group is interested in understanding how ethnography can counter dominant regimes of knowledge about the Arab countries and produce a more nuanced ethnographic understanding of the Arab region today. This working group proposes that particular modes of attention are vital for ethnographic research, including attention to fear, sound, memory, lies, movement, dreams, and the immersive quality of violence.

Before it formally became a working group of the ACSS but with support from it, the collective had already published a special journal issue entitled “Ethnography as Knowledge in the Arab Region” (Contemporary Levant vol. 2, no. 1), which helped define the agenda of the working group as described below. The introduction and abstracts of the issue were translated into Arabic by the ACSS and posted on the website/digest at the following link:

This Working Group is funded by a grant provided to the ACSS by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


  1. Charting the potential for ethnographic research to inform knowledge about the region, including academic and non-academic outputs, with theoretical as well as practical implications

  2. Engaging with researchers across the region to extend the collective and to develop networks of exchange. The group intends to discuss experiences and identify salient topics and professional domains where ethnography plays a role or can come to do so.

  3. Collaborating between working group members, other scholars, scholarly networks, and institutions according to the thematic interests of the individual members, with a particular interest in South-to-South collaborations.

  4. Excavating, from a genealogical perspective, potential “ancestors” of ethnographic knowledge in the region.

Current Activities:

The “Research in Turbulent Times” subgroup put out a call for ethnographic diaries in October 2020, inviting scholars living in Lebanon to partake in a research-documentation collaboration. It involves collating personal diaries of residents in Lebanon, their lived experiences as individuals and researchers in this exceptional period, and documenting their observations of the transformations their societies are witnessing.

Future Initiatives and outputs:

  1. Produce a series of podcast interviews with scholars from across the region documenting their experiences, inspirations and reflections of ethnography as knowledge.

  2. Organize region-wide roundtables that gather working group members and researchers in various locations in the Arab region. The objective of the roundtables/meetings are to further discuss the kinds of critical knowledge emerging from ethnography.

  3. Produce an Arabic Ethnographic Glossary that draws on collaborative discussions, podcast interviews and will highlight potential diversity in interpretation of terms contingent to context both historical and contemporary. The glossary will seek to complement and collaborate with other attempts to enrich the glossary of social science terms in Arabic.

  4. Publish a series of co-authored concept papers in Arabic and English on the following potential themes:

  • Positionality and gender

  • Counter knowledge claims through ethnography

  • Genealogies of ethnographic theories and practices


The ethnoknowledge working group (WG) developed three thematic sub-projects overseen by members of the WG:

1) Ethnography and Medicine in the Arab region (point person Lamia Moghnieh):

This sub-group explores the relationship between ethnography and medical knowledge and practice in the Arab region, thereby expanding the working group’s vision on ethnography and knowledge production. It is interested in producing research on the methodologies and theories of medical anthropology, as well as creating and expanding the networks of scholars working in medical anthropology in the Arab region. Building on the Ethno-Knowledge working group’s interest in ethnography and knowledge production in the Arab world, this project will address and scrutinize existing concepts, ethnographic tools and gaps on medicine advanced by knowledge practices and productions of ethnographic disciplines like anthropology. It aims at creating innovative regional and local collaborations as well as collective research projects that contribute to the ethnographic knowledge production of medicine, health and disease in Arab majority societies.

2)  Ethnography and Commoning (point person: Samar Kanafani)

This sub-theme is an exploration of whether and how commoning practices and the politics of social justice that surround them, inform more collectivistic ways of doing ethnography and producing knowledge. It proposes to do this within the framework of an exchange of knowledge/experience between Arab region and Latin America, two regions where financial and political turbulence has produced tangible injustices and inequalities, but also informing new modes of research. It feeds back into the WG’s engagement with the notion of collective ethnographic fieldwork, which Position Paper #1 proposes, by documenting the outcomes of cases of collective ethnography about common modes of production and subsistence in practice. It also contributes to the WG’s trajectory of expanding relations, especially in a south-south orientation, by liaising with institutions, programs or individuals in the Arab region and Latin America who research commoning through collective fieldwork methodologies.

3) Research in Turbulent Times(point person: Muzna Al-Masri)

This theme invites reflection on doing social science research during turbulent times; in times of crisis, violent conflict, or upheaval. Times when the context is fast changing, stakes and emotions very high, and planning difficult, much as the context has been across the region for the past decade. This theme explores what ethnography is uniquely capable of capturing as a method, and what methodological adaptations – like collaborative or participatory research – can be made. It explores the contribution of research in such times, particularly the ability of ethnography to contribute to visions for the future, through directing the ethnographic gaze towards emerging possibilities, hesitation and ambivalence at the margins of revolutions and political turmoil.


Lamia Moghnieh (2018) The Violence We Live in’: Reading and Experiencing Violence in the Field (English) (Arabic)

Muzna Al-Masri (2019) Soundtracks of War: Contesting the Temporal and Experiential Boundaries of War Ethnography (English) (Arabic)

Main Contact:

For inquiries about the EthnoKnowledge working group, please contact Jana Chammaa at

Members of the Working Group

Samar Kanafani is a social anthropologist residing and working in Beirut. Her research explores the tactics of dwelling under precarious conditions at the intersection of ruined and renewed urban spaces in Beirut. She has been visiting lecturer at the American University of Beirut and tutor at the University of Manchester, doctoral fellow at the Orient Institute in Beirut, as well as postdoctoral fellow with the Arab Council for Social Sciences (2017-18), and the Institute of Global Prosperity in affiliation with University College London (2019). She is currently developing her doctoral book project, Made to Fall Apart: an ethnography of decayed houses and deliberate debris, and pursuing research on the commons under late capitalism.

Muzna Al-Masri holds a PhD in Anthropology from Goldsmiths, University of London. She is currently a researcher and consultant for several UN and international organizations. Her most recent research reports include analysis of the conflict context in various Lebanese regions, examining the linkages between social cohesion and humanitarian interventions. She has held postdoctoral fellowships from the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (2016-2017) and the Orient-Institut Beirut (2018). She is currently preparing a book manuscript, which ethnographically explores the relationships between political elites and their constituencies, looking specifically at the emergence and production of the model of “entrepreneurial elite” in post-war Lebanon.

Lamia Moghnieh is a EUME fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and a former ACSS postdoctoral fellow. Her book project “Psychiatry in Lebanon from the 19th to the 21th century: Madness, Violence and Society” traces the cultural authority of modern psychiatry in Lebanon, through primary analysis of archival documents from the Lebanon Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders (popularly known as Asfuriyeh hospital) and ethnographic research on contemporary psychiatric practices.

Elizabeth Saleh works in the fields of political and economic anthropology with a special focus on agriculture, industry, labour and gender. Elizabeth has held posts at the Orient Institute in Beirut, the London School of Economic and Goldsmiths. In 2018, she received an ACSS