International Conference "Slavery and Post-Slavery in the Arabian Peninsula. At the crossroads of literature and social sciences"


The conference is organized by Jihan Safar, from the Observatoire des Mondes Arabes et Musulmans de la Maison des Sciences Humaines (OMAM-MSH, ULB) and Xavier Luffin, from the Faculté de Lettres, Traduction et Communication (ULB), in partnership with the Faculté de Philosophie et Sciences sociales (ULB) and the Centre de recherches en histoire du droit, des institutions et de la société (CRHiDI, Université Saint-Louis, Brussels).

The Gulf states were among the last countries in the world to abolish legal slavery: 1952 in Qatar, 1963 in Saudi Arabia, and 1970 in the Sultanate of Oman to name a few. The focus on oil as the key factor of social change in the Arabian Peninsula has diverted attention from another fundamental factor of change: the abolition of slavery. The end of slavery had a profound impact on the reconfiguration of economic, marital, sexual and family patterns in the region. Yet, despite the centrality of slavery in the social history of the Arabian Peninsula, its study remains peripheral and marginal in social sciences scholarship. While some pioneering works have addressed the slave trade and slavery in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Peninsula, the literature devoted to this geographical area remains insignificant compared to the abundant literature on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas. Apart from the British documentation, local archives remain rare, barely explored and difficult to access. Official modernist and nationalist discourses are built on a monolithic vision of the population in which all citizens are considered equal and free regardless of gender, origin, religion or color, hence erasing the socio-ethnic differentiations within these plural societies. In the face of such historiographical and anthropological void, works of contemporary fiction have taken up the thorny issue of slavery. In this respect, the Gulf literary production presents an innovative way of writing about the memory of slavery and post-slavery.

This conference aims to explore ways of establishing a dialogue between literature and social sciences, by confronting the historiographic vision of slavery in the Arabian Peninsula with its place in the literary imagination. Paraphrasing Ivan Jablonka, the conference aims at considering literature as a historical, anthropological and sociological entry point to account for reality. Bringing together historians, literary researchers, anthropologists and political scientists, it seeks to reflect on the representations of slavery and its legacy in the contemporary societies of the Arabian Peninsula. From a comparative perspective, the conference ambitions to deepen the debates around "oriental slavery" and its contemporary resurgences in order to propose new ways of reading, beyond the historiography of slavery in the Americas or the Caribbean.

Full Program

The conference will be in English.

Monday 16th October 2023, 9am - 6pm

Salle Paul-Henri Spaak
IEE - Bâtiment RT39-41
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 39
1000 Bruxelles

Free entrance, without registration

Contact & information: Jihan Safar

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