Culture, art and the public sphere

Knowledge and the public sphere

The research cluster Knowledge and the Public Sphere examines the relationship between knowledge production – with its epistemic, social and institutional implications – and the public sphere, which is characterised by participation, various media and agencies. Projects in this cluster share an interest in the political character of innovation in knowledge production, of forms of articulation and of publicness. It is manifested in dynamics of mobilisation as well as in strategies of support and regulation. Knowledge and the Public Sphere also questions to what extent cultural production opens up new spaces and strengthens diversity.


The research project Cultural Policies in Lebanon: Cultural Institutions between State and Society deals with the question of how cultural policies and cultural actors contribute to the creation of a public sphere in the contemporary Middle East, by examining the role of different types of spaces and institutions involved in cultural and knowledge production in selected cities of the region, starting with Beirut.

The research project Talking about art - aesthetic reflection in Egypt and Lebanon looks at how art is reflected and discussed during nineteenth century Egypt and the Levant (with a focus on Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria). How are existing aesthetical categories transformed, do they merge into completely new concepts and perceptions, what kind of reinterpretation processes take place?


After a Opens external link in new windowpanel discussion at the Sursock Museum on 26 January 2017 on "The Art Salon in the Arab Region", that took place in parallel to the Sursock Museum's 32nd Salon d'Automne, the OIB is currently preparing a two-day symposium in partnership with the Sursock Museum. "Opens external link in new windowContextualising the Art Salon in the Arab Region" will take place in Beirut on 27 and 28 October 2017.

A workshop on The Avant-garde and its Networks: Surrealism in Paris, North Africa and the Middle East from the 1930s took place in Beirut on 14-15 November 2016. Jointly organised with the German Forum for Art History in Paris, the workshop aimed to gather information about the networks and reception of Surrealism, approaching its dissemination in the region more systematically.

In the frame of the research cluster, Monique Bellan and Nadia von Maltzahn organised panels at the 2016 SESAMO and Opens external link in new windowMESA conferences on the topic of "The Art Salon in the Middle East: Migration of Institutional Patronage and its Challenges", to result in a publication.

In the frame of the research cluster, Monique Bellan and Nadia von Maltzahn organised a panel at the 2015 BRISMES conference in London, entitled "Pushing the Status Quo: Liberation in art and cultural practices in the modern Middle East". Coming out of this panel, a special volume for an international journal issue is currently in preparation.

The summer academy Language, Science and Aesthetics: Articulations of Subjectivity and Objectivity in the Modern Middle East, North Africa and South and South-East Asia, jointly organized by the OIB and the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, took place in Beirut from 11 to 19 September 2014. It looked at changing perceptions in the fields of language, science and aesthetics in a trans-regional and interdisciplinary perspective. Read the report here.

The multidisciplinary event Divercities: Contested Space and Urban Identities in Beirut, Cairo and Tehran, jointly organized by the OIB and the Goethe Institut Lebanon, looked at urban governance, its agents, agendas and options, through contested space and conflicting urban concepts, identity claims and social environments in the three cities of Beirut, Cairo and Tehran. It took place in various locations across Beirut from 12 to 14 December 2013. Selected papers have been published in our open access online series Orient-Institut Studies, OIS 3 (2015) - Divercities: Competing Narratives and Urban Practices in Beirut, Cairo and Tehran, edited by Nadia von Maltzahn and Monique Bellan.


Rapid changes in the Egyptian political landscapes show an evolving public sphere. Drawing on theoretical approaches of the public sphere and social movement theory, the main research question of the BMBF-funded Media Culture Transformation project (2012-2015) investigates the contributions of the online public sphere in shaping the political discourses in the highly contested constitution debates. The results have been published in the open-access Orient-Institut Studies series, and can be accessed here.