History Writing at Lebanon’s Universities: Dynamics of connectivity under the impact of reform, innovation and political turns (Jonathan Kriener)

Reports about the participation of countries in global knowledge production treat it as an indicator for how societies fare in benefitting from the effects of globalization. With regard to the social sciences and humanities, the discourse also revolves around about who partakes to what extent in the interpretation of world history, international politics, economic and cultural relations.

On the level of nations and other social groupings, these aspects of knowledge production are reflected in discourses that charge education with promoting collective progress and competitiveness, and with forging collective identity or social coherence. In emerging nation-states, universities were founded as vehicles and symbols of intellectual and economic self-sufficiency and social and cultural integration. Consequently, besides scientific and educational quality, the assessment and critique of universities deals also with their potential to foster social and cultural integration, not only nationally, but also regionally and globally.

When reform measures are conceptualized and implemented, international agencies often provide the concepts and the discourse that make their solutions look practical and legitimate. The European Commission’s TEMPUS programme (2002-2013) was such an agency for academic cooperation within the EU and with neighbouring countries and regions. Its background and objectives statements addressed key concepts of the above mentioned debate, such as societal innovation, social cohesion, growth, competitiveness, and the capacity to cooperate internationally.

In cooperation with TEMPUS, Lebanon has established three doctoral schools at its national university, the Lebanese University (UL) that enroll students of all disciplines. These bodies provide training in collective research to professors and graduate students, and in research supervision to professors. Since their foundation in 2007, doctoral studies at UL can nowadays only be pursued at the doctoral schools with their structure of training programs, supervision, seminars and workshops. 951 graduate students were enrolled at the most populous of them, the one for Humanities and Social Sciences (EDLSHS), in 2016. Besides fostering and developing academic research, its mission is to create ties with the Arab World and internationally.

Applying concepts from organizational sociology and sociology of education, this project asks for changes that the establishment of the EDLSHS has effected on academic history writing, as different from ones that result from differing degrees of digitization or from turns in the political environment. Does the new structure make a difference regarding the connectivity of knowledge production locally, regionally or internationally? Indicators for change are shifts in the variety of topics, reference literature, theoretical approaches, methods, as well as in perspectives of time and space. These are quantified in works of history writing after 1992 both within the frame of the EDLSHS and outside of it. For a sample of these works, then, the project traces the processes of writing them, their visibility, and their place in their authors’ biographies, in order to examine how continuity and change respond to the establishment of the doctoral school or to other developments in the academic and political environment.  



Author: Dr. Jonathan Kriener