Themes and research questions

Iraq is being reconstructed along unfamiliar lines – economically, politically, socially, and in international relations.  Iran is experiencing political upheaval and questions over the very identity of the Islamic Republic, while simultaneously facing severe economic and international challenges.

The GCC states feature as many differences among them as similarities – some suffering troubling resource constraints, others thriving on large revenues, but all being faced with major questions of youth employment, the meaning of a competitive economy and diversification from the image and reality of ‘hydrocarbon economies’ and ‘rentier states’. All GCC states, as part of this conundrum, continue to rely on very large expatriate labour forces, in some cases dwarfing the local work force, or even the local population – raising issues of cultural authenticity, what it means to be a citizen, and what the respective roles of the state and the national citizenry are, could, or should be in the construction of a sustainable economy and social contract for the 21st century. At the very same time, aspects of traditional culture, including material culture, are disappearing fast – even as others are being re-invented, both at societal and governmental level, and as popular culture evolves rapidly in new fora.

Yemen, long a fascinating if resource-poor example of semi-democracy in the Arabian Peninsula, is being wracked by clashes in north and south, the latter potentially threatening the two-decades-old union, just as the central government is facing fast-declining hydrocarbon resources and a precipitous depletion of water resources. Local, regional, tribal, and recently also religious identification all compete and interact with state-level efforts at cohesion.

And all of this is happening in a global environment where economic wisdoms are being challenged and globalisation is having variegated and unpredictable effects at and across international, regional and domestic levels.


Key research questions which were addressed at this conference included:

Comparative and Transnational Perspectives:

  • What are the challenges to ‘national identities’ in the Gulf states?
  • How do other identities relate to state-based identity and to each other? How does this interact with questions of citizenship?
  • How are old and new trans-state actors and identities organising, defining and expressing themselves?
  • How do factors from the local to the global, both material and ideational, interact to shape identities in the Gulf?
  • How do gender identities and relations in the Gulf states intersect with (1) challenges in the political economy of these states? (2) questions of national and other (e.g. islamist, feminist, local, tribal) identities? (3) constructions of alternative public spheres? (4) citizenship and civil society?
  • How does the development of new media and new social movements in the Gulf intersect?
  • Are the GCC states moving beyond rentierism?
  • How are history and material culture used, transmitted and changed?
  • How are ‘old’ and emerging identities reflected in and shaped by evolving features, dynamics and fora of popular culture?
  • What conceptual approaches to ‘identity’ can or should be adopted in studying the Gulf?

The Domestic Level in Iran, Iraq & Yemen

  • How are social, religious, ethnic and political identities in Iraq evolving? What effects may this have on the evolution of the Iraqi state?
  • Is the nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran changing, and if so, how and why? Can it survive in its current form?
  • Is there a separate Southern Yemeni identity (identities?) (re)emerging? How do Zaydism and other religious identities relate to each other and the state?

Regional Relations:

  • Is there substance to the GCC as a group or an organisation – either in dealing with GCC-wide issues or as a foreign policy actor? Is there a GCC identity?
  • Does Yemen belong with the GCC?
  • How do Iran and various Arabian actors perceive each other and the region as a whole?
  • What is (or are) Iraqi role conceptions in the region?

The Gulf in the International Environment:

  • How do GCC states conceive of their international roles?
  • What patterns of change can be discerned in GCC states’ foreign relations, and what are the drivers of continuity and change?
  • How do international actors perceive and relate to the Gulf states?
  • How is the re-emerging Iraqi state being integrated into global politics?
  • What are the prospects for Iranian engagement with the West?

The Gulf States and the Global Climate and Energy Debates

  • How are the Gulf States positioning themselves on, and thinking about, the local, regional and global aspects of the climate change debate? What is the mix of defensive and proactive attitudes and strategies? To what extent do existing or emerging elements of identity enhance or hold back ‘green’ role conceptions?

Please also see the conference programme page