Call for applications – Rethinking national identity in the Middle East. Jordan as a case study

Slogan "Al Urdun Awalan" (Jordan first) on a school in Marka (Amman), © Norig Neveu, August 2021
Slogan "Al Urdun Awalan" (Jordan first) on a school in Marka (Amman), © Norig Neveu, August 2021
This call for applications is open to Masters and Doctoral students of any discipline and nationality.
Successful applicants will form an international and multidisciplinary research team and will participate in different activities within the programme, including field visits, the creation of a series of webinars and the publication of scientific articles.

This research programme, supported by the Institute of Mediterranean Societies in Transition (SoMuM), aims to build a multidisciplinary and international research team of around a dozen Masters and Doctoral students.
Deadline for applications: 15 october 2021
(midnight Paris time)


Contemporary knowledge production around Jordan is marked by the social, intellectual and/or ideological backgrounds of scholars, the evolution of research interests, as well as the closure of other parts of the region due to border issues, crises and conflicts. From the end of the 19th century onwards, the rise of biblical studies has led to an increased interest in the Transjordan region among archaeologists and ethologists. Archaeological work and research into folklore were supported by the British government during the Mandate Period, as was expert knowledge. From the 1950s onwards, interest in human and social sciences in the region developed, with Jordan becoming an ideal vantage point for the study of geographical mobility and refugees, with the development of research on Palestinian camps, notably, but also in the analysis of the tribal phenomenon. Meanwhile, wars in Lebanon and the Gulf, followed by the Arab revolutions, reshaped access to Middle Eastern territories, and with it Jordan’s place at the heart of academic production. Furthermore, since the 1950s and the independence of the Kingdom, the gradual development of Jordan’s university system has led to the strengthening of an Arabic-language human and social sciences tradition around Jordan, making up, notably, the greater part of urban studies, work on the Ottoman period, questions on migration, as well as anthropological and tourism research.

Since around a decade ago, Jordan has held an increasingly important place at the heart of research in the Middle East, particularly thanks to its accessibility, and especially among young researchers. Jordan is becoming a field of study ‘by default,’ as a result of the stability of the country; but this rich and little-studied territory is also an interesting field of study in its own right. In this context, this research programme aims to encourage reflection on the production and evolution of social sciences in times of ‘crisis’ in the Middle East. Research into the ‘Jordanian national identity’ constitutes, then, an entry point into comprehending the transformations occurring at different levels (local, regional, global) in this part of the world, and the approaches employed to understand them. Jordan provides an interesting case study: relatively recently created, and with a high proportion of refugees and migrants among its population, it is a place where a sense of national belonging cannot always be taken for granted. The country, then, offers an unusual heuristic quality which can shed light on issues that are often less perceptible elsewhere.

At once considered a ‘stable’ country in a region that is facing multiple crises, and as a state that has been in ‘transition towards democracy’ since the 1990s, Jordan appears to be an exception. As such, the country is a fertile territory in which to interrogate notions of ‘crisis,’ ‘transition’ or ‘destabilisation,’ terms so often used to qualify this region. This is especially the case, since modern Jordanian history has been marked by repeated waves of migration from Palestine, Iraq, Syria, or around the Gulf, creating a country at the crossroads and, simultaneously, a sounding board for the numerous challenges faced by the region. Jordan offers, too, a textbook case of the economic change and environmental transition at work in the region, in a context where resources are scarce and where political and economic dependencies influence the orientation of policies and reforms. Security and regional stability issues take on a particular meaning in this ‘buffer’ country, as one can observe, notably, in policies relating to refugees or indeed political opponents.

An introduction to the theme through the topic of ‘Jordanian national identity’ provides a point of entry into several current political and scientific debates regarding the Middle East, modes of belonging, citizenships, transformation and State borders. It allows, too, for interrogation of the representativeness or singularity of the Jordanian case. This means taking Jordan seriously, in terms of what it teaches us about practices, theories and concepts in our disciplines, and about itself. This project will contribute to the decompartmentalisation of Jordan by questioning what this reveals about nodal economic and social dynamics. The programme and training offered (meetings, workshops, webinars) will allow us to think of areas for comparison with other national situations, while raising questions about the concepts often applied here (‘rentier state,’ ‘authoritarian state,’ ‘tribes’).

Research topics

Candidates will be considered with particular interest where demonstrating a level of reflection on the question of Jordanian national identity:

  • through modes of belonging (tribal, religious, ethnic, national)
    The relatively recent creation, in 1921, of the Transjordan Emirate under British mandate, on territories which until then had formed part of the south of the Ottoman-ruled Bilād al-Shām, has often led research to consider the construction of the Jordanian nation as artificial and/or fragile. This approach sometimes intersects with that of migration phenomenon studies, which have often questioned the place of migrants or refugees at the heart of Jordan’s national discourse and its society. The interaction between State and modes of belonging has been studied from several viewpoints, notably with regard to tribal, ethnic or religious belonging. Here, the range of modes of belonging for Jordanians, or people living in Jordan, will be investigated, questioning national identity according to complexity of discourse and experience, and to discuss their social, intellectual and cultural mechanisms over the long term.
  • through citizenships and social questions (rights, commonalities, representations)
    Protest movements of various magnitudes regularly contest Jordan’s political regime (citing monarchy, corruption, authoritarianism) and the reforms launched around thirty years ago which aimed at economic liberalisation and the advent of a ‘post-rentier’ social contract. Reforms which, as in other countries in the region, have seen the erosion of the social safety net and the deepening of socio-economic inequalities. In this context, research involves interrogating the multiple forms that acts of citizenship can take, claims to rights, and the implementation of alternative forms of solidarity, and what these tell us about representation and political participation in this country and at a regional level.
  • through transformations and State borders (collapse, resilience, reconstitution)
    In a region where the State is principally described through a rhetoric of crisis or transition, the Jordanian political system has cultivated an image of stability which seems at odds with its neighbours. However, the political authorities are characterised by practices of authoritarianism, cronyism and neoliberalism reminiscent of other situations. As such, Jordan is an interesting case study when it comes to contributing to debates on the transformation of the State and the hybridisation of political systems. Research will, for example, be able to focus on the strengthening of public authority in certain sectors, in the delegation and privatisation of other functions, which are traditionally attached to the State, or indeed in the relationship between local and central control.

Methodological framework

Successful candidates will form an international team of young researchers leading concerted thought on the question of Jordanian national identity. This research will be structured around several key elements:

1. A themed webinar led by members of the research team, in collaboration with more experienced researchers, will provide an opportunity to approach our object of research from multiple angles and analytical scales, while bringing particular attention to the epistemological approach. Sessions will be run in French, English or Arabic (with simultaneous translation) and will begin in January 2022. The sessions will be organised thematically and will place particular focus on the epistemological approach. The combined views on Jordan will allow for discussion of the evolution of perceptions, in academic and epistemological terms, on this subject.

2. Field research in Jordan conducted by members of the research team. This research will be carried out by the programme and may be based on common research topics or carried out by two observers, for whom methodological questions can be exchanged and worked upon collaboratively. Several joint feedback sessions on the research will be organised. The Amman branch of the French Institute of the Middle East (Ifpo) will play a central role in hosting and coordinating the programme in Jordan.

3. Support for young researchers in the writing of scientific articles. A writing workshop will be organised for this purpose in Amman, with a view to preparing blog posts for the programme’s research log, articles for a number of journals coordinated by young researchers from the project and articles offered to the SoMuM institute journal.

The objective is to build an international, interdisciplinary team of young researchers working on Jordan, in order to renew scientific thoughts on the country, as much on an academic as on an epistemological level.

Programme implementation

Successful candidates will participate in diverse scientific activities in the programme supported by the SoMuM institute:

  • Presentation during a first study day in Aix-en-Provence (November 2021)
  • Organisation of a field research trip in Jordan from January to August (return flights, visa and airport transfer, accommodation at Ifpo)
  • Organisation and participation in a series of webinars on Jordanian national identity (January – June 2022)
  • Participation in a writing workshop in Amman (June 2022 – covered by programme)
  • Collaborative publications (blog posts on programme’s research logs and publication of an article in the programme’s journal edition)
  • Participation in a writing workshop in Amman (June 2022 – covered by programme)
  • Collaborative publications (blog posts on programme’s research logs and publication of an article in the programme’s journal edition)

How to apply

Candidates (masters, doctoral, early career researchers) must send an expression of interest (5,000 characters) in which they will present the research project, the scientific interests of the application, the connection to one of the programme topics, and research to be carried out (object and method).

Applications must be sent before 30 September 2021 (midnight Paris time) to the three following addresses: norig.neveu[at], tallabad[at], simon.mangon[at]

Responses will be sent to candidates in mid-October 2021.

Scientific Committee

Norig Neveu – IREMAM, AMU – norig.neveu[at]
Simon Mangon – Mesopolhis, AMU – simon.mangon[at]
Taher Labadi – LEST, AMU – tallabad[at]

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