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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Cultural Encounter as 'Emergence': Rethinking US - Arab Relations


This article uses the concept of ‘emergence’ to reconceptualise encounters between the United States and Arab societies in the twentieth century. It situates that work within the history of Middle East studies by explaining the different kinds of narratives that scholars have produced about the region, from orientalists such as H. A. R. Gibb and Bernard Lewis to modernisation theorists including Daniel Lerner and Manfred Halpern. While Lewis used ‘emergence’ to refer to a universal process of westernisation, this article associates the term with historical contingency and anti-determinism. It applies that understanding of emergence, first in a discussion of recent scholarship about colonial encounters in the Middle East and then in a description of the author’s own research on US foreign policy during the Cold War. The article concludes that emergence, in its anti-determinist sense, is a valuable concept for understanding cultural encounters. Historians’ contingent interpretation of past encounters challenges the notion that today’s conflicts are culturally predetermined.

Insights Paper