MEC Seminar: Understanding Political Islam: In Search of the Islamist Other, 1973-2013

MEC Seminar: Understanding Political Islam: In Search of the Islamist Other, 1973-2013

Friday, 2 February 2018 - 5:00pm
Investcorp Auditorium, Middle East Centre, St Antony's College
François Burgat (Aix Marseille University)
Walter Armbrust (St Antony’s)
Middle East Centre Friday Seminar Series

François Burgat is a senior researcher (DR1) in political science at the CNRS based at the IREMAM in Aix-en-Provence. He was between May 2008 and April 2013 director of the Institut français du Proche-Orient (IFPO) and earlier (1997-2003) headed the Centre français d’Archéologie et de Sciences Sociales de Sanaa (CEFAS).

Fluent in Arabic, François Burgat has devoted his career as a political scientist to the analysis of political systems and civil societies in the contemporary Arab world. In doing that he has also assumed a wide range of academic and institutional responsibilities in a large number of international instances. His approach to the various trends of Islamism has been widely recognised as innovative since he, early on, highlighted the need for the study of Arab societies to be deeply anchored in field research and the need to establish direct contact and discussions with political actors labelled as Islamists.Though quite iconoclast at first, this approach gained increasing currency, and is now widely shared by many academics, research institutes and think tanks.

François Burgat has constantly favoured an approach that allowed him to fulfil his own individual academic objectives (through extensive fieldwork in the Middle East and North Africa that materialised in five books amongst which three were translated into five languages and reprinted many times, and in the editing of four volumes) while leading collective research activities in France and abroad. Between 2007 and 2010, he led a team of fifteen researchers in the framework of the programme “From the Arabo-Persian Gulf to Europe: between violence and (counter-)violence” funded by the French National Research Agency. Based on various case-studies this multidisciplinary project successfully contextualised the development of a violence continuum linking visible violence (terrorist attacks mainly) to hidden forms of structural violence (inequalities in access to resources, state repression, stigmatisation).

In addition to the 25 years he has spent in the Middle East and North Africa throughout his career, he has carried out and conducted many fieldwork expeditions over the last ten years whether in Yemen (2007 and 2008), Saudi Arabia (2003, 2006) or Iran (2008). He was invited as guest lecturer or conference participant on topics related to the WAFAW project’s problematics by 73 universities in over 30 countries. He has also been invited by more than 130 governmental and international organisations, public or private think tanks, and companies in over 35 countries. He is since 2013 a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

His most prominent personal publications include L’islamisme à l’heure d’Al-Qaida : réislamisation, modernisation, radicalisations, Paris: La Découverte, 2005 (second updated edition in 2010) (Spanish: Bellaterra 2006, Arabic: Cadmus 2007, English: Texas University Press 2008) ; L’Islamisme en face, Paris: La Découverte, 2002 (third updated edition in 2007) (Portuguese: Instituto Piaget, 1995, Spanish: Bellaterra 1996, English: IB Tauris 2002) and L’Islamisme au Maghreb : la voix du Sud, Paris, Karthala, 1988 (third updated edition by Payot Petite Bibliothèque in 2008). (English: University of Texas Press, 1993-1997 Italian: SEI, 1995, Arabic: Dar-al-thaqafa al-jedida, 2001).

In the framework of his role as WAFAW project investigator, François Burgat lead the team of 9 core-researchers he had assembled as well as the numerous partnerships. His personal research, carried out in co-ordination with the WAFAW team, local partners, PhD students and post-doc fellows, focuses on the structural changes in the political scenes, the shifts in Euro-Mediterranean relations and, the centrality of the Islamist forces in the new equilibriums. He will first put particular emphasis on the Syrian case-study before developing more global analysis, built on the various field work expeditions to be carried out.