HomePolitical economy of research in social sciences in the Arab world

Political economy of research in social sciences in the Arab world

Économies politiques de la recherche en sciences sociales dans le monde arabe  

الاقتصادات السياسية للبحث في العلوم الاجتماعية في العالم العربي

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Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Céline Guilleux


Lebanon Support is seeking submissions for the 2021 issue of the Civil Society Review on Political economy of research in social sciences in the Arab world. Axes of reflection identified and that can guide contributions: Institutional configurations and actors’ rationale in the Arab world: how are political economies of research in social sciences organised?, Research agendas, methods and paradigms: the constrained choices of research., Researchers’ trajectories in the Arab world: functions, carriers, values.


Issue edited by

  • Dr. Candice Raymond,
  • Dr. Sbeih Sbeih,
  • Dr. Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi


Social sciences research – which we broadly define as any form of research that uses scientific approaches and tools in order to produce empirical-based knowledge about society - is a social activity that faces multiple constraints. While some of these challenges are related to epistemological and methodological factors, others lie in the weakening of the research field’s autonomy in the neoliberal era. In most western countries, social sciences research is going through important mutations as a result of reforms that,  within the “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski et Chiapello, 1999), demonstrate the hegemony of economic and political spheres. Research policies of neoliberal inspiration, implemented as early as the 1980s in the United States and one to two decades later in Europe (Duval et Heilbron, 2006), deeply transform the institutional and social conditions of scientific activity. Thus, the decline of public funding for the social sciences and the concomitant increase in private funding, as well as the systematisation of project-funding, are leading to greater precariousness of established research teams, and of individual researchers’ careers. They also promote the transformation of universities into genuine "academic enterprises" and the proliferation of research centers in the private sector. In addition, there is an increasing number of solicitations from public actors and international organisations to researchers, that would prioritise certain subjects to study and how they “should” be tackled. The problematisation of the research questions, thus, corresponds less to considerations of the scientific field than the political and economic considerations of funding actors. More generally, the definition of research “agendas” involves a growing number of actors whose interests are varied, if not contradictory: individual researchers and research teams, affiliate laboratories, research funding agencies, think tanks and private expertise offices, among others. Finally, the consolidation of expertise as a “new feature” of research imposes increasing constraints to a practice that henceforward extends far beyond the boundaries of universities or traditional research centers.

In the Arab world, these different phenomena are sometimes older, and often of greater amplitude. Confronted since the 1980s with the massification of higher education, public universities often devote only a tiny part of their budgets to research in social sciences, while many new universities, founded since the 1990s, simply disengage from these disciplines (Bamyeh, 2015). More recently, strong calls to the Arab world to join a globalised "knowledge-based economy", where research would be pegged to the needs of the market economy, also contribute to the marginalisation of social sciences (Arvanitis and Hanafi, 2015). Concomitantly, the significant interventions of international organisations, both in development policies and in countries that have experienced armed conflicts, has fostered the development of a large expertise market to which many local university researchers are turning (Lebanon and Palestine are obvious examples). In response to social and political demands as pressing as current events are hectic, research centers, whether independent or linked to private universities, have multiplied, not without displaying a dynamism that is often lacking in university campuses. Some are positioning themselves alongside think tanks in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, which operate in most countries of the region and turn into the antechamber of political and economic powers, while other centers are more connected to civil society organisations and/or political parties and their respective lines of action, often sharing the same financial donors. On the whole, these developments are part of the competition between several types of "knowledge producers" that all claim to rely on a regime of scientific truth. However, knowledge and scientific production stand out as issues of power dynamics at stake between these different actors, whose struggle is not only limited to secure funds dedicated to research, but also encompasses the definition of what is scientific and what is not, what is legitimate knowledge or is excluded from it.

Recognising that the field of social sciences research in the Arab world presents significant levels of hybridity and goes far beyond the sole academic space, this issue intends to question the "political economies of research" which determine today knowledge production in social sciences. By the political economy of research, a formula already used by O. Roy (2001) and J.F. Bayart (2013) in particular, we refer to all the social, political, and economic relations that govern the market of scholarly activity and manage/rule the production of scientific knowledge. This issue will hence aim at understanding the force fields that go through these socio-institutional configurations formed of multiple actors, in order to grasp how they contribute to framing research practices and trajectories.

Of course, these political economies of research reveal singularities in each country of the Arab world, because of the specificities of each national trajectory: the history of each national system of higher education and research, the political and economic model of the country (determining, in particular, the place occupied by public and private institutions), the degree of authoritarianism or relative liberalism of the regime in place are all factors of differentiation to be considered. Indeed, the political economy of research turns out to be radically different, for example, in a country like Lebanon, where the state has a weak capacity of regulation of the private university sector, where international organisations finance a booming market of expertise, and where the associative network assumes a significant part of research activity, and in Algeria, where research is almost exclusively supported by the public sector and depends closely on policies driven by the state (Khelfaoui, 2001).

Several axes of reflection can be identified, and guide the expected contributions:

Institutional configurations and actors’ rationale in the Arab world: how are political economies of research in social sciences organised?

Understanding these new political economies of research in social sciences requires, in the first place, an effort to describe the relevant actors, their respective rationale and their interactions.

It may be a question of not only answering the rather simplistic question of who is funding what, but more broadly, of questioning the (social or political) demand in social sciences, and that means the "expectations formulated by external actors of the discipline [...] that often take the form of more or less explicit solvent orders on a “market” of intellectual service" (Granier, Ould-Ferhat et Thobois, 2018). It would be in particular a question of the respective roles of states, international organisations, political parties, or civil society organisations in setting up research programmes within or outside the academic community, in the development of a consultancy market that relies on the services of social sciences specialists, or in the creation of non-academic structures deploying research activities (think-tanks, private research centers, associative observatories, etc.).

Relationships with institutions and scientific actors related to the university sector could also be questioned, in order to specify the place occupied today by university in the production of social knowledge: far from being able to claim any monopoly on social science research in the Arab world, is it condemned to be nothing more than a mere provider of human resources for a research activity taking place outside its walls? 

Finally and on another level, one may also question the tensions and synergies that these socio-institutional configurations produce, between fundamental research, the so-called “applied” research, and practitioner worlds. The expected contributions on these different questions will allow to account for national variations, but also between disciplines (since some have older traditions of collaboration with economic or political world) and even between sub-fields of research (where the question of their social utility or their value on the expertise market is formulated in different terms).

Research agendas, methods and paradigms: the constrained choices of research

The different institutional arrangements that govern today’s scientific activity are not without effects on the implemented research priorities, as well as on the paradigms and methods mobilised by researchers.

The orientation imposed on scientific production through project-based funding has been the subject of recent researches that underline, based on quantitative data, the “proposal effect” i.e. the formulation of proposals by researchers in response to themes predefined by international donors (Currie-Alder, Arvanitis et Hanafi, 2018). Some of these themes, such as those related to “development”, have polarised for many decades a large number of studies (including master’s theses) to which they assign a normative frame, that remains often unquestioned. However, “development”, which became a collective cause involving a multiplicity of funders, local actors, researchers and research institutions, is subject to strong critics, sometimes as an “anti-politics machine” (Ferguson, 1990), sometimes as a “western belief” (Rist, 2007) or as a “universal” one (Sbeih, 2018a), and sometimes as a discourse that is a “colonizer of reality” (Escobar, 1995). Therefore, contributions may be interested in the way this paradigm of development, as well as the newer paradigm of “the fight against terrorism” and “radicalisation”, “determine the questions that could be asked and those which are excluded” (Bourdieu, 2001b: 35). Their contribution to the confusion between analysis categories and common sense categories on one hand, and between scientific discourse and pro domo discourse of the actors on the other hand (Sbeih, 2018b) could also be addressed.

In addition, the expected contributions could question the effects of these new political economies of research on methods and tools, including rhetorical ones, that are favoured by researchers. These effects are of several orders. Firstly, the insertion of research into evaluative devices (set up by international organisations, NGOs, etc.) often leads to the over-valorisation of quantitative practices that aim to measure the observed phenomena, at the expense of more qualitative tools and of their ambitions of understanding. Secondly, the temporalities imposed to research by donors’ frameworks of action contribute widely to transform traditional relations between researchers and their “field”, leading them, for example, to favour “focus groups” on ethnographic observation. Finally, the writing formats, the vocabularies used and the strategic use of markers of scientificity could also be questioned in this perspective.

A final aspect that can be tackled here is related to the “thoughtless immigration of ideas” (according to Marx taken up by Bourdieu, 2001), when local research is caught into relations that produce asymmetries: an important part of knowledge produced by researchers and international institutions is based on theoretical devices, produced in particular contexts but which are perceived as “universal” because of the symbolic weight of their authors and their countries of origin. This raises the question of the “journeys” that paradigms can undertake (Kienle, 2010). Can we notice in this respect a differentiation between research works, depending on the type of funder (national/local institutions vs. international donors and organisations) and of the positions that researchers occupy (whether they are employed by NGOs or university, or independent)?

Researchers’ trajectories in the Arab world: functions, carriers, values

A last set of questions focuses on the trajectories followed by researchers in these “ecosystems”, with functions and roles that are devolved to them, as well as the values attached to their professional practice.

In these new configurations of research, the radical distinction between the figures of the scientist and the expert turn out to be less and less effective, since most researchers alternate during their carrier between these two registers of knowledge production. Beyond critics of expertise who condemn in particular the boarding of form and content, on the one hand, and critics of the Babel tower in which a jargoning academic world would enclose itself, on the other hand, which tensions, approaches, practices, imaginaries, animate the proponents of “research on demand” and the defenders of a research that is more detached from the institutional demand or inscribed in a longer temporality?  What conceptions of their function as researchers and of their social utility are brought into play? Besides, are these two registers of knowledge production irremediably incompatible, and how do some researchers articulate them practically?

A second set of questions concern the autonomy of researchers who must deal with various systemic constraints on their careers. What strategy do university researchers put into place in order to preserve their independence when they position themselves on the expertise market? What negotiation margin do they have in the arrangements that frame their research? How do they deal with their multipositionality to advance their own objectives? Mirroring these questionings, how do researchers performing their careers outside the university sector (in the associative sector, for example) manage to position themselves in the scientific competition? And how do they import academic concerns, values or conceptions of research into their field of intervention?

Finally, the expected contributions could question the moral economy of research that parallels its political economy: in a context of increasing monetarisation of scientific activity, what remains of the specific incentives and benefits that produce this “interest in disinterestedness” (Bourdieu) specific  to the scholarly fields? What new forms, in these socio-institutional configurations, could the researcher’s political or social commitment take? Do these political economies of research necessarily condemn the critical ambition of the social sciences, and how can it nevertheless be manifested?


Abstracts should be sent to: editor@lebanon-support.org

before 15 Novembre 2019,

specifying in the subject line the title of the CfP: “Political economy of research in social sciences in the Arab world”. 

An answer will be sent to the authors within the following month.

Articles, written in Arabic, French or English and with a maximum volume of 45 000 characters, must be submitted no later than 30 May 2020, before being sent for anonymous peer review.


Lebanon Support encourages contributions from experimented researchers, or early-stage researchers and postgraduates. Authors can submit their articles in Arabic, English or French. All articles are submitted to an anonymous peer review.

Priority will be given to contributions that adopt a critical approach, are inscribed in a solid theoretical frame and are based on empirical research.

Proposals can be submitted in Arabic, English or French.

Please provide the following information in a word/pdf document:

  • Name(s)
  • Title(s) and affiliation(s)
  • Article’s title
  • A summary of 500 words maximum
  • A short biography of 250 words and a one-page CV
  • Your email address
  • Articles should not exceed 45, 000 characters.

For more information on contributions and editorial process, see here. Please note that Lebanon Support uses the Chicago style in text references for all its publication.

Bibliographic references

Arvanitis Rigas, et Hanafi Sari, 2015. Al-bahth al-`arabî wa mujtama al-ma`rifa. Ru’ya naqdiyya jadîda [The Arabic research and the society of knowledge. New critical approach], Beyrouth, Center for Arab Unity Studies.

Bamyeh Mohammed, 2015. Social Sciences in the Arab World. Forms of Presence, First Report by the Arab Social Science Monitor, Beirut, Arab Council for the Social Sciences. 

Bayart Jean-François, 2013. “Faire des sciences sociales”, in M. Hunsmann, S. Kapp (dir.), Devenir chercheur. Ecrire une thèse en sciences sociales, Ed. de l’EHESS, Paris, p.333-348.

Bérard Yann et Grespin Renaud (dir.), 2010. Aux frontières de l’expertise : Dialogues entre savoir et pouvoirs, Presses universitaires de Rennes, Rennes. 

Boltanski Luc et Chiapello Ève, 1999. Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Paris, Gallimard (NRF Essais).

Bourdieu Pierre, 2001, Langage et pouvoir symbolique, Paris, Fayard. 

Bourdieu Pierre, 2001b, Science de la science et réflexivité, Paris, Raisons d’agir.

Currie-Alder, Bruce, Rigas Arvanitis, et Sari Hanafi, 2018. « Research in Arabic-speaking countries: Funding competitions, international collaboration, and career incentives ». Science and Public Policy, vol. 45, n° 1, https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scx048.

Duval Julien, et Heilbron Johan, 2006. « Les enjeux des transformations de la recherche ». Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol.164, no 4, p.5‑10.

Escobar Arturo, 1995. « Imagining a post-development era », in J. Crush (ed.), Power of development, Routledge, p.211-227.

Ferguson James, 1990. The Anti-Politics Machine : Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho, Cambridge/New York, Cambridge UP.

Granier François, Laurence Ould-Ferhat, et Pascal Thobois, 2018. « Où en est la demande sociale de sociologie aujourd’hui ? », Sociologies pratiques, vol. 36, no. 1, p.1-8. 

Kabbanji Jacques, 2010. Rechercher au Liban. Communautés scientifiques, chercheurs et innovation (état des lieux en sciences sociales), Beyrouth, Centre de recherches de l’Institut des Sciences Sociales (Université Libanaise).

Khelfaoui Hocine, 2001. « La recherche scientifique en Algérie : initiatives sociales et pesanteurs institutionnelles », in J.-R. Henry et A. Mahiou (dir.), Où va l’Algérie ?, Aix-en-Provence, Institut de recherches et d’études sur le monde arabe et musulman / Karthala, p.303‑317.

Kienle Eberhard (dir.), 2010. Les sciences sociales en voyage. L’Afrique du Nord et le Moyen-Orient vus d’Europe, d’Amérique et de l’intérieur, Paris, Karthala / IREMAM.

Paugam Serge, 2008. La pratique de la sociologie, PUF, Paris.

Raymond Candice, 2019. « Committed Knowledge. Autonomy and Politicization of Research Centers and Researchers in Wartime Lebanon (1975-90) », in R. Jacquemond, F. Lang (dir.), Culture and Crisis in the Arab World: Art, Practice and Production in Spaces of Conflict, I.B. Tauris, p. 73-102.

Rist Gilbert, 2007. Le développement. Histoire d’une croyance occidentale. Les Presses de Sciences Po, Paris.

Roy Olivier, 2001. “Les islamologues ont-ils inventé l’islamisme ?”, Esprit, n°277 (août-septembre 2001), p. 116-138.

Sbeih Sbeih, 2018a. "Les projets collectifs de développement en Palestine : Diffusion de la vulgate néolibérale et normalisation de la domination", Civil Society Knowledge Centre, Lebanon Support.

Sbeih Sbeih, 2018b. « Reconfiguration du politique par la professionnalisation associative », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, n°145, URL : http://journals.openedition.org/remmm/10550

Van Campenhoudt Luc et Quivy Raymond, 2011 [1995], Manuel de recherche en sciences sociales, Paris, Dunod, 4e édition. 


  • Beirut, Lebanon


  • Friday, November 15, 2019


  • political economy, research, social science

Information source

  • Monica Elias
    courriel : editor [at] lebanon-support [dot] org

To cite this announcement

« Political economy of research in social sciences in the Arab world », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, https://calenda.org/665878

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