Interview with Javier Guirado

1st Jun 2022 12:00 - 30th Jun 2022 12:00

1. How did you end up in the academy?

After finishing my MA, I took a few years to work as a high school teacher. However, I found myself participating in conferences and doing research as much as possible during this time. So, in a way, when I found a funded position to pursue my PhD, the transition to academia felt quite natural and exciting.

2. Where do you situate your scholarship?

The main goal of my research is to situate the Gulf in the narrative of the Global Sixties. Therefore, I try to place my work along that of scholars like Abdulrazzaq Takriti, who wrote a history of the Dhofari revolution in Oman during these years, and more broadly with that of Lorenz Lüthi, Quinn Slobodan, or Robert Malley. Also, there is a growing literature focusing on cities, urbanism, and infrastructure in the Gulf and the Middle East, with examples like the works of Rosie Bsheer, Laleh Khalili, Pascal Menoret, or Deen Sharp, that I expect to put my research in dialogue with.

3. Which thinkers have had the biggest impact on your work?

Beyond disciplinary boundaries, probably the two authors that have influenced my work most are Pierre Bourdieu and Talal Asad, the first one for his insights about the reproduction of ideologies in the class system, and the latter for his studies about religion and secularism in history, on the one hand, and the relation between modernity and history, on the other. As an urban historian, the work of David Harvey has taught me how to critically analyze a city from a historical standpoint, and William Cronon, with his work about Chicago, how the influence of urbanization goes beyond the dichotomy of urban vs. rural. Finally, Eric Hobsbawm and Tony Judt have influenced the way I understand the role of an academic as a public intellectual.

4. What methods do you use?

As a historian, the main methodology (or lack of thereof) is archival research, but during my time as a researcher I have found many ways to organize and interpret what archives say. On the one hand, my fascination about all things urban has made me try to present the information with the city as the central space where change and events take place. Also, my interest in social history and bottom up approaches in general have made me focus on popular manifestations of ideas, from sources that range from newspapers to memoirs, going beyond colonial archives and “big men” narratives.

5. Why did you want to join SEPAD?

After a few years following the work of its fellows and participating in its conferences, I wanted to join SEPAD to engage with the network of scholars that it congregates, to take inspiration from and contribute to its main lines of investigation, and to benefit from the prestige and academic attention of the project to present my own research to other scholars.

6. What is your workshop on?

My workshop interrogates the dynamics of new infrastructural developments in the Middle East, their relation to global and regional power, and the effects that such developments may cause in the local populations. The green city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, the construction of a new capital in Egypt, or the development of Bouregreg in Rabat show a tendency that takes place in parallel to global power shifts like the increased participation of the Gulf countries in the rest of the Middle East and the world, or the consequences of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. This workshop asks not only how these elements play out and relate to one another, but also how the population may react to them, from migration to reappropriation, contestation, or even embrace. In terms of sectarianism and sectarianization, the workshop also explores how these developments may contribute or hinder ongoing processes of sectarian division in their respective countries.

7. What is your favourite novel?

One of the novels that have always stayed with me is The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal. The journey of Fabrizio del Dongo in the Napoleonic Wars poses the question of whether the events that we live through might constitute a turning point in history, which I think is such an interesting idea to keep in mind when we read the news everyday!