Background and Scope of the Project

Since 2007 the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar has been committed to increasing knowledge production on the political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. Working closely not only with our own faculty here at Georgetown but also with a global network of scholars and experts over the years CIRS has carried out major studies, and through regular grant cycles has also supported empirical fieldwork of regional and international significance. To date we have actively engaged in over 30 research initiatives, and have produced over 80 different publications. CIRS has often privileged the study of the Persian Gulf region, relying on its comparative advantage in terms of being able to build and work closely with other regionally-based scholars and institutions. However, we have also actively promoted scholarly examination of broader studies of the rest of the Middle East, and in certain cases have also carried out studies on neighboring areas such as the South Caucasus and Central Asia.  

In the process of our work we have struggled with chronic, evolving, and occasionally acute crises that have impacted our ability to support social science research and fieldwork on and of the Middle East. Over the past several years some countries in the region are increasingly encountering a resurgence of authoritarianism while others are experiencing heightened civil conflict. In addition, in our immediate neighborhood, the geopolitics of the GCC are in a process of reconfiguration, and the current rupture between the six monarchies are creating serious difficulties for scholars, doctoral students, and academics. As a research center based within the Middle East have had an internal conversation over the past year on how do we handle the practical as well as ethical challenges we face in supporting evidence-based, original social science research.

In light of our commitment to study regional and international issues through dialogue and exchange of ideas, research and scholarship, and engagement with national and international scholars, opinion-makers, practitioners, and activists, CIRS launched a research initiative that aimed to explore issues around how the research community can address the multiple challenges encountered when carrying out studies on the Middle East. 

Among the questions CIRS aimed to address: what types of scientific research is taking place at universities located in the Middle East? To what extent is science being locally generated and produced? What does the scientific community in local contexts look like? Of the different scientific fields, which ones are being invested in by Middle Eastern public and private sectors, and what are the tangible results that these have produced? How does the Middle East rank internationally when it comes to scientific production? Is democracy necessary for supporting innovation and science, and what does the Middle East tell us from this point of view? How has hydrocarbon resource dependency impacted scientific development and innovation in the region?Among other things we hopeed to discuss the following topics with a focus on the region: the politics of scientific production; funding science research; political patronage and scientific inquiry; the institutionalization of scientific production; women and science; educational reforms, knowledge production, and the higher education-scientific production nexus; the Arab Spring, regional geopolitics, and scientific production; regional networks and transnational scientific collaboration in the Arab world; science, innovation, and Islam; and local versus global scientific production. 

Article by Zahra Babar, Associate Director of Research at CIRS