Anthropology's Politics
Disciplining the Middle East
Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar



Academics and Politics

The consummate image of the scholarly life is that it is defined by the free and impassioned pursuit of ideas. We conduct research and we teach; we produce, question, and impart knowledge. Yet all of us working in colleges and universities know that the life on which we once, perhaps naively, embarked is also filled with politics, much of it quite fraught. Early in graduate school, scholars get their first whiffs of tensions surrounding race, class, gender, and generation and learn which topics are open for discussion and/or research and which are subject to hegemonic silencing. The politics of the job market and tenure are particularly intense, in light of shrinking opportunities for tenure track jobs as well as high-profile cases of politicized unhiring and tenure denials and battles.1 The classroom is another site of contested politics, in particular for junior scholars, women, and racial and ethnic minorities, as teachers must delicately manage controversial topics as well as students’ prejudices against one another and against their professors. Committees, faculty meetings, administration and trustee decision-making processes, and the annual meetings of national academic associations are spaces where power is meted out and exercised. Learned and professional associations also often set the tone and agenda for what counts as legitimate disciplinary practice and academic concern. Of course, none of these politics are solely generated or contained within the brick and mortar of the academic institution itself. Larger social, economic, and political forces (national and international) play key roles in shaping academia and its politics, beginning as far back as the early life experiences of scholars—experiences that influence their decisions to enter the academy and work in particular disciplines and on specific topics.

This book examines the relationship between academics and politics in the United States after World War II (WWII), with an emphasis on the post–Cold War period. It does so through a case study of Middle East anthropology,2 because this field provides a particularly compelling lens through which to view some of the key stakes in the political struggles of academe as these articulate with broader forces of power. It is especially useful to investigate the convergence between this region and discipline because the Middle East and North Africa (hereafter MENA)3 has been the primary geopolitical focus of US foreign policy during this era. In the immediate post-WWII period, the founding of Israel in 1948 sparked a decades-long process of wedding US foreign policy to Israeli state interests. US focus on the region was also fueled by the concomitant scramble to control access to newly discovered oil in the Gulf states. The fall of the Soviet Union essentially coincided with the first of three official wars in the region during which the United States has put hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground: the 1990–1991 Gulf War (the other two are the War in Afghanistan from 2001–present and the 2003–2011 Iraq War).4 It also coincided with the peak of the first Palestinian Intifada, a period of mass resistance to the United States’ main client state in the region: Israel. The end of the Cold War additionally saw the consolidation of a new canon—initiated two decades earlier—for graduate training in the humanities and social sciences in the United States. For MENA anthropology as well as other fields, two key tenets of this canon held that the “world areas” scholars researched had been set by colonial and Cold War powers5 and that scholars could not ignore the subjective and political nature of knowledge production about, and representation of, so-called “others.”

The politics of doing academic work related to the Middle East and North Africa in the United States grew especially fraught as the region took center stage in US imperial ambitions, paralleling the politics of doing academic work in Latin America in earlier decades when the Cold War was fought on those soils. On the one hand, over time we see significantly more interest in funding work on the region and hiring scholars to research and teach about it. Indeed, increased funding streams from the US government and private social research foundations helped to spur the post-WWII development of MENA anthropology in the first place. On the other hand, since at least the 1970s, academics who research or teach topics against the grain of dominant US national narratives about and interests in the region have faced the prospects of not having their research funded, not being hired, being accused—by parents, students, administrators, and people unassociated with academe or their campus—of bias and even treason in their teaching and public lectures, being targeted by blacklists and hate mail, and even losing their jobs. This is especially the case for those who teach about Palestinians and/or critical perspectives on Israeli state actions, and for scholars of Arab and/or Muslim descent, who face additional discrimination. Such challenges greatly intensified with the advent of the so-called War on Terror in the early 2000s, along with the increase in numbers and reach of right-wing “watchdog” organizations such as Campus Watch and the development of internet technologies that enabled greater surveillance as well as public targeting of MENA scholars.

Refracting US academic politics related to MENA through the lens of anthropology opens up analytic vistas that capture other kinds of tensions. The professional practice and demographics of anthropology embody both the post-WWII shift in US domestic politics toward an emphasis on civil rights and the inclusion of female and minority perspectives, and the backlash against these shifts and continued reproduction of structural inequalities. Many anthropologists view their discipline as one that champions (or should champion) the voices and perspectives of the marginalized, yet some of its practitioners have colluded with colonial and state power. Anthropology has become a heavily feminized discipline since the second-wave feminist movement and attracts many nonelite scholars (a number of whom are from working class backgrounds), yet it remains largely white, like academia in general. Anthropology is the most resolutely international of the social sciences in its breadth of research sites and privileging of fieldwork done “elsewhere,” yet anthropologists based in the United States mainly cite the work of their colleagues in US institutions. And anthropologists frequently identify as politically left leaning and critical of capitalism, yet continue to work in increasingly corporatized university environments. Meanwhile, academics, politicians, and media pundits often characterize universities and colleges as bastions of liberalism that do not teach useful “skills” for social progress or economic success, often pointing to anthropology as a primary disciplinary example.6

Thus, our study of the politics of MENA anthropology as practiced in the United States during the apogee of the latter’s empire reveals the politics of academia in multiple senses of the term “politics” and at different scales. In what follows, we examine the politics of governance and administration from the levels of departments to universities, disciplinary associations to the state, and the links in between. We uncover both assumptions and controversies about research, teaching, and extra-academic engagements, especially as these relate to the politics of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and generation. And we track the ways these forms of politics shape people’s efforts to acquire and exercise power and authority in an academic environment that is utterly entangled with trends in US domestic and foreign policy. The result is a complex portrait of how the pursuit of ideas—that hallmark of scholarly practice—is never pure; it is infused with tensions large and small. This is not to say that the lofty ideals of higher education have grown more tainted over time (surely the halls of medieval universities were host to many political machinations). Instead, it is to bring a key insight of post-WWII humanities and social science research—that knowledge and power are coconstituted—to bear not just on the scholarship we produce, but on how we produce it. This book thus concentrates on the social practice of being a scholar within an intricate and historically constituted set of power relations. It flips the ethnographic gaze onto us, something that (ironically) anthropologists rarely do, even in the historiography of anthropology.7 We do this not to get a better view of our own navels, it must be said, but rather to expose important, yet often hidden, dynamics of higher education and knowledge production in the era of US empire.

We also write out of an ethical imperative, as scholars who have experienced firsthand the political strictures and costs of certain kinds of academic work and as US citizens with deep ties to a region that has borne the recent brunt of US intervention. Indeed, that imperative informs our approach to politics which we also, after indigenous anthropologist Robert Hancock, take to mean “a person’s notion of the kind of world she or he wants to live in or seeks to create . . . to encompass all thought and action aimed at remaking or changing the world beyond the bounds of the individual.” Many academics have these goals in mind when they teach and research; we call attention to how such thoughts and actions are deeply political and “necessarily tied to an ethics, which represents and demarcates the bounds of actions acceptable in the work of bringing these worlds into existence.”8 We acknowledge that we as authors have our particular notions of an ideal world and that these shape the ethics underlying our writing and analysis in this book. Some, no doubt, will charge us with bias; we reply that all knowledges are situated9 and that for far too long this story is the one that has not been told. Telling it reveals the biases in the normative narratives surrounding anthropology, MENA, and academia in the United States.

Indeed, the central arguments of this book with regard to academic politics are relevant far beyond MENA anthropology. They reveal broader dynamics related to how the policies and actions of the US state, neoliberal economics, and domestic social movements deeply affect scholarly practice at multiple levels. In presentations of our research to interdisciplinary audiences as well as in our two decades of working in multidisciplinary academic contexts, we have heard strikingly similar discussions of academic politics. Our case study demonstrates several central aspects of them. First, while scholars may be drawn to their disciplines, regions, and topics out of personal interest, those interests are themselves shaped by larger social factors related to gender, social class, race, nationality, and the economic and political contexts in which one comes of age. The production of knowledge is political from its inception in a future academic’s social life.

Second, substantial demographic shifts in the composition of some fields in the US academy have changed the nature of scholarship and particularly its relationship to political commitment and critique. The influence of various female and minority perspectives central to this process has, however, met with resistance from long-standing academic structures and hierarchies. This takes different forms depending on one’s career stage or particular academic setting (e.g., classroom, job search, tenure and promotion, or publishing). We identify a major pattern that results from practicing scholarship in this environment: academics devise a number of strategies to preserve their scholarship, senses of self, and careers.

Third, as US empire has expanded and shifted geographic focus to MENA, so have the corporatization, militarization, and surveillance of knowledge production in the academy, increasing the risks and rewards for research and/or teaching about the region. Academia becomes a poison chalice—both a means to speak truth to power and a means to tether scholars to particular dominant structures of power.10 These structures operate at different levels and include increasingly bureaucratic disciplinary associations, colleges, and universities, as well as the militarizing US state. Again we find that scholars’ self-protection strategies are one of the important but understudied effects of this shift, including self-monitoring and sometimes even self-censorship when it comes to criticism of the US and especially the Israeli governments. These strategies are at odds with the ideals of the university as a space for the circulation of ideas, expanding human knowledge, or training future citizens and leaders. The case of MENA anthropology shows these general trends in heightened clarity and as such provides a lesson for all academics working in US institutions. If the United States is a nation in crisis, as analysts on both left and right tend to declare, and if colleges and universities are also at a tipping point, as a spate of recent books and articles suggest,11 then the nation’s 1.2 million postsecondary educators would do well to listen to this story.12

Economic Pressures Shaping US Academic Politics

Economics are a central component of these crises in the United States and academe. Indeed, the intensification of neoliberal capitalist globalization since the 1970s, and especially since the end of the Cold War, has affected scholarly practice considerably. Growing income inequality, declines in state funding for higher education, reductions in government (and sometimes private) research funding alongside increasing government regulations, and the infusion of a corporate ethos into the workings of colleges and universities have all led to budgetary pressures, a massive decline in the number of tenure-track faculty positions, and a huge growth in administrative positions.

In this climate, institutions increasingly rely on tuition dollars and donations, which means that boards of trustees, students, and alumni have greater power over what gets taught, how, and by whom.13 Most recently, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign exercised this power in unhiring scholar Stephen Salaita on the basis of his tweets critical of Israel during its 2014 assault on Gaza. In public institutions, we can add state legislatures to this list of stakeholders, whose interests are also bound up with those of business and sometimes the federal government.14

The vast administrative bloat across US campuses is in direct inverse proportion to the rise in contingent, non-tenure-track professorial labor.15 The shrinking of tenure-line employment opportunities began in the 1970s and continued (with brief periods of respite) unabated into the Reagan era, during which only around 5 percent of new PhDs found tenure-track jobs, even though undergraduate enrollments rose by upwards of 40 percent.16 With the rise in consumerism in American society as well as higher tuition costs, students became more avid consumers, and institutions responded. Money “saved” by reducing tenure lines has been redirected toward marketing, branding, and providing what administrations think consumers (e.g., students and parents) want: extracurricular perks such as state-of-the-art gymnasiums, successful sports teams, fancy dormitories, “foodie”-quality dining options, and services to help students gain lucrative careers.

Anthropology is no exception to this trend of tenure-track job loss; a 2009 report by the American Anthropological Association showed that the economic recession that began in 2007 resulted in at least a 22 percent drop in tenureline job openings and the loss of seventy-five faculty lines (mostly in cultural anthropology).17 And even faculty members in tenure lines are not secure—tenure denials happen (and not always due to poor scholarship or teaching), and, while still relatively rare, some institutions are firing tenured faculty and closing down whole departments, citing economic circumstances. Meanwhile, economic inequality in the United States has grown by such drastic proportions that very few Americans, budding professors included, can rest assured that they will be gainfully and consistently employed in their lifetimes.

Consequently, in order to get and keep good jobs, academics need to (or strongly feel they need to) shape their scholarly activities in ways that meet market demands without rocking any boats.18 Taking MENA anthropology as a case study, this has meant, depending on the particular time period, avoiding critical approaches to US foreign policy, Israel-Palestine, Islamophobia, and hierarchies of race and gender—in research, teaching, public speaking, and collegial relationships. Various social and political forces over the past four decades have combined with these economic pressures—as well as with new funding opportunities—to determine which boats can safely be rocked.

Sociopolitical Forces and Academia’s Changing Demographic Politics

Where once the US academy was mainly the province of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, a number of forces since WWII have produced demographic shifts in the professoriate. The growth in numbers of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people of a variety of class and religious backgrounds (including Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim) has enabled scholars to challenge certain long-standing hierarchies and assumptions in both anthropology and MENA Studies. These demographic changes have also revealed politicized tensions and motivated new forms of discrimination rooted in those old hierarchies.

Federal legislation and mass social movements are key among the forces that have catalyzed these shifts. The G.I. Bill of 1944 opened the gates for non-elites, Jews, and Catholics to get college degrees and for some to eventually become faculty.19 Many anthropologists of MENA are the children or grandchildren of those who benefited from the G.I. Bill, many of them are of Jewish or Catholic background, and in our sample roughly one-third of them are from the working classes or precarious lower-middle classes.20 Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act legislatively (at the very least) guaranteed that the G.I. Bill, and numerous other civil protections, would apply to racial minorities such as African Americans as well as anyone of any national origin. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which opened the doors for increased immigration from the MENA region, eventually led to major growth in numbers of region-related scholars (meaning those with heritage ties to MENA)21 in the subfield of MENA anthropology. Our sample indicates an approximately 25 percent increase in region-related scholars since the late 1960s and that at least 40 percent of those in PhD programs in the United States today are region-related.22 We also found a 26 percent growth in other racial and ethnic minorities in the subfield, though the number remains small, at 8 percent.23 In addition to these laws and immigration patterns, various minority and immigrant rights movements in the United States and their associated institutions (e.g., the NAACP, B’nai Brith) helped to make overt forms of discrimination legally and socially unacceptable, which contributed to diversifying the academy—although it, including anthropology, remains very white. Title IX of the Educational Amendments in 1972, along with the women’s movement, similarly paved the way for female scholars to enter academia in larger numbers. Within our sample, we see a 19 percent shift to more female than male anthropologists since the late 1960s. Today, the subfield is 61 percent female and 39 percent male, with a notable increase in the number of women since 1990.24

In 1990, Lila Abu-Lughod predicted that “feminist and halfie [e.g., region-related] ethnography are practices that could shake up the paradigm of anthropology itself by showing us that we are always part of what we study and we always stand in definite relation to it.”25 We argue that this massive influx of women and region-related scholars into the field altered its politics in fundamental ways, often by foregrounding serious critiques (both within the academy and beyond) of social inequalities based on race, gender, religion, and national heritage, as well as US empire, Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the inherently subjective nature of knowledge production. We find that over time it becomes less politically risky for female and region-related anthropologists to protest sexism and racism in the academy and in public outreach.

Anthropology was one of the early fields that region-related scholars, women, Jews, Catholics, and Muslims, as well as those of the middle to lower classes, perceived as a discipline that would simultaneously respect their experiences and provide them the tools to understand experiences of marginalization more generally. It helped them make sense of the tensions they experienced as the result of being in-between and/or excluded from various structures of power. These demographic shifts and anthropologists’ narratives tell us that the discipline was and remains, for many of its practitioners, a powerful means of cultivating respect for subaltern experiences and galvanizing those experiences to speak back to power. Certainly the demographic shifts in the field stem not only from post-WWII sociopolitical legislation and movements, but also from beliefs that anthropology allows for diverse perspectives. Watershed theoretical moments in the discipline—and the academy—such as Marxism, poststructuralism, and postcolonial theory also fomented this shift.

This is not at all to say that anthropology is devoid of sexism, racism, classism, or prejudice against religious minorities.26 Rather, our focus on the MENA subfield shows the complex transformation of these persistent problems over time. While demographically MENA anthropology (like the broader discipline) has become significantly more inclusive of Jews and Catholics, women, and racialized region-related minorities, frictions remain. There has been a decline in the more obvious forms of prejudice that our interlocutors experienced in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, but increased hiring of underrepresented minorities27 has also slowed considerably in recent years. The “presumed incompetence”28 these scholars must confront on a daily basis in an academic environment that is far from color-blind has intersected in nefarious ways with the overall decline in tenure-track jobs.29 Furthermore, less overt stereotyping of women, nonwhites, and those of Muslim background occurs regularly. Region-related anthropologists in particular must constantly fight assumptions that they are oppressive Middle Eastern men, oppressed Middle Eastern women, un-American patriots, or virulent anti-Semites. Their research and teaching about the region are monitored more closely than that of other scholars. They must also deal with a range of microaggressions, “subtle and commonplace exchanges or indignities (both conscious and unconscious) that . . . convey demeaning messages.”30 This term aptly describes the persistence of subtle, and quite insidious, expressions of bias that our interlocutors described, in the (relative) absence of more overt forms that are now (mostly) illegal.31 These dynamics are directly related to US foreign policy and engagement in the MENA region.


1. The more publicized cases related to the Middle East include Steven Salaita’s unhiring by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Thomas Abowd’s denial of contract renewal by Wayne State University, Norman Finkelstein’s tenure denial at De-Paul University, and the drawn-out but eventually successful tenure battles of Nadia Abu El-Haj at Barnard/Columbia University and Joseph Massad at Columbia University.

2. We focus on cultural anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with occasional comparative consideration of other anthropological subfields, especially archaeology. We also focus on MENA anthropology as practiced in academia; future studies could examine its practice in applied contexts from government to NGOs and corporations.

3. Throughout this book, we use MENA (Middle East and North Africa) to denote the region and describe the anthropological subfield, unless one of our interlocutors or secondary sources uses the term “Middle East” without appending North Africa. As a world region, MENA refers to the Arab League states, plus Iran, Turkey, and Israel; as an anthropological subfield, it includes Israel when the anthropologist working there identifies as a MENA anthropologist (via membership in the Middle East Section of the AAA or by listing “Middle East” in the AAA membership directory). We also include Afghanistan. Our focus is primarily on global politics related to the region. While we recognize that politics specific to various MENA national contexts and their study (e.g., Iranian Studies, Turkish Studies, Lebanese politics) also impact scholars, their analysis falls beyond this book’s scope.

4. There are, of course, numerous other military actions in the region—overt and covert—in which the United States has played a leading role since 1990.

5. This insight grew from discussions questioning the value of area studies, as well as new work on globalization. For more on these debates vis-à-vis the Middle East, see Mirsepassi, Basu, and Weaver 2003.

6. Florida governor Rick Scott singled out anthropology as a useless major. Forbes magazine recently wrote that anthropology topped the list as the worst college major in economic terms. Anthropology may be singled out because of its stereotypical reputation as focused on primitive cultural others deemed either irrelevant or obstacles to social and economic progress.

7. Our work is in conversation with, but adds an ethnographic dimension to, key works in the historiography of anthropology including those by Darnell 2001; di Leonardo 2000; Nader 1997; Price 2004b, 2008, and 2011; Stocking 1968 and 1992; Wax 2008; and, especially for MENA, Anderson 2013; Hafez and Slyomovics 2013b; and Slyomovics 2013. Eickelman 2012 discusses the special challenges facing MENA scholars. We also view our work as in dialogue with anthropological work on intellectuals, especially but not exclusively as “artisans of nationalism” (Boyer and Lomnitz 2005), and sociological studies of the academy (e.g., Bourdieu 1988; Gumport 2007; Kennedy 2015). For another example of how academic disciplines are formed in relation to specific geographic foci, see Pomeranz and Segal’s 2012 discussion of how, in the mid-twentieth century, “the West” was viewed as the discipline of history’s domain while the non-Western world remained the domain of anthropologists.

8. Hancock 2008: 173.

9. Haraway 1988.

10. We thank Flagg Miller for poison chalice.

11. For example, Bok 2004; Donoghue 2008; Ginsberg 2011; Taylor 2010.

12. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012.

13. This is happening in a climate of economic instability that may cause parents to feel anxious about whether or not their “investment” translates into their children learning skills necessary to lead an economically successful postgraduation life.

14. Government authority also affects private institutions, especially via federal financial aid and accreditation regulations, even when the latter processes are outsourced to private organizations (e.g., the Western Association of Schools and Colleges). Part of the administrative bloat in higher education is due to institutions hiring staff to manage the increasing reams of federal and state regulations on teaching and research that result from the particular kind of technocracy attendant to neoliberalism. See Harvey 2005; Mitchell 2002; Sharma 2013.

15. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), more than 50 percent of faculty in the United States do not hold tenure-line jobs, and 76 percent of all appointments are made outside the tenure track. The AAUP estimates that the total number of contingent faculty has risen from 43 percent in 1975 to 57 percent in 1993 and 70 percent in 2011. See See also

16. Schrecker 2010: 60. Not coincidentally, the trend toward hiring more adjuncts occurred at the same time as women’s and ethnic studies programs were beginning to challenge the white patriarchal status quo in theory, methods, and demographics. See

17. See the report at The AAA Committee on Labor Relations has also conducted an analysis of data from the subset of anthropologists who responded to a 2010 survey by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (full survey here:; AAA analysis available from the AAA executive director upon request). It found that 42.1 percent of anthropology respondents were employed part-time at one or more institutions; 22.9 percent were employed in a full-time non-tenure-line position; 82 percent described contingent employment as “essential” or “very important” to their total income; yet only 10.6 percent said that they “preferred” non-tenure-line employment.

18. Contingent faculty face even tighter political strictures on academic practice than do those with the security of tenure. A recent survey by the Middle East Studies Association revealed that 41.5 percent of contingent faculty modify their courses to avoid controversial topics (presented by Amy Newhall, MESA Executive Director at the 2013 MESA meetings). This is also gendered, as women make up the majority of contingent faculty labor. As Schrecker notes, “When student complaints can lead to unemployment, a vulnerable instructor will think twice before saying something that might upset a Christian fundamentalist or religious Zionist” (2010: 214).

19. See Hollinger 1996 on the importance of the GI Bill, alongside the discrediting of anti-Semitism, for the increase in Jewish faculty members across academic disciplines between the 1930s and 1960s.

20. Classifying class is frequently a challenge, particularly in the United States, where people tend to think it is irrelevant, or flexible and shifting. The academy, from many working class scholars’ perspectives, is a “class-phobic professional environment” (Anthony 2012: 305) in that discussions of class are marginalized in favor of race and that working class scholars experience discrimination. Organizations such as the Association for Working Class Academics ( and numerous blogs on the topic also indicate that class discrimination occurs in academia. Two of our interlocutors from working class backgrounds expressed feeling like outliers in academia because of their class difference. The intersections of class and race also affect many scholars’ lives (Brodkin, Morgen, and Hutchinson 2011). Yet class was not spontaneously mentioned in the vast majority of our interviews, and at first, we simply did not ask about it. When we realized our error, we sent a follow-up email to our interlocutors, asking them (in anthropological fashion) to describe their class backgrounds in their own terms. Many respondents asked us to define what we meant by class and/or discussed how difficult it was to determine their social class. Our careful analysis of the over one hundred often lengthy and rich qualitative responses we received—attending to descriptions of class background, parent and grandparent occupations, geographic location, and possession of economic, educational, and cultural capital—showed the diversity of the subfield’s class composition. There was a strong clustering of anthropologists in the middle (39 percent) to upper-middle classes (27 percent), with a notable 15 percent from the working classes, and another 14 percent from the precarious lower-middle classes (3 percent were from upper-class and 2 percent from poor backgrounds).

21. We use “region-related” to include “native” scholars who immigrated to the United States for graduate school or before, and “heritage” scholars like Arab American or Iranian American anthropologists (who have one or both parents or grandparents from the region). This latter term also includes what many refer to as “halfie” scholars, those who are “between cultures, the West of their upbringing, one parent, or training, and the culture of their origin, their family’s origin, their other parent’s, or some part of their identity” (Abu-Lughod 1990: 26). “Region-related” is our term and includes the Arab League states, Iran, Turkey, and Israel. Our interlocutors usually used the terms native, heritage, and halfie in ways that align with our definitions. We understand region-related anthropologists to be racial or ethnic minorities in the United States and in the US academy in particular. A number of scholars have discussed the myriad ways in which Arabs and others of Middle Eastern (and/or Muslim) descent are racialized in the United States (Abraham 1989; Gualtieri 2009; Naber 2000; Jamal and Naber 2008; Rana 2011; Salaita 2006; Saliba 1999; Samhan 1999; Stockton 1994). Arabs, like Iranians and Muslims (especially of Middle Eastern and South Asian background), are frequently presumed to be “different than and inferior to whites” due to “culturalist and nationalist logics that assume that ‘they’ are intrinsically unassimilable and threatening to national security” (Naber 2008: 31). Thus, the entire US military-industrial-security-oil complex, after World War II but especially after 9/11, has been a major force in the racialization of those with MENA and/or Muslim heritage, even if US censuses have often classified them as white. They may not self-identify as such. Our data show that this racialization occurs frequently in the US academy (see also Hagopian 2004; Salaita 2006). Understanding these scholars as both members of ethnic minorities and as racialized allows us to better understand their described experiences and understandings. Finally, these categories are not fixed. People are often placed (or place themselves) in different or multiple categories situationally. And experiences are often discipline-specific: an interlocutor trained as an anthropologist who works in a different disciplinary context reminded us that anthropology is better than some fields in relation to racist and other discriminations. For more on racism in the academy, and in anthropology in particular, see the report Racism in the Academy: The New Millennium, available at

22. Within the category of region-related anthropologists we see increasing numbers of male scholars, with more region-related men than white men entering the field in the last two decades. Perhaps anthropology is becoming a more acceptable career among region-related men, or they are growing more likely to challenge family expectations regarding traditional professional paths (e.g., engineering and medicine). Over time, more people from working class backgrounds have entered the subfield; class did not significantly correlate with gender. Also, the relative proportions of interlocutors from working class and middle-class backgrounds are very close to the overall ethnic/racial breakdown of our sample. Nonwhite, non-region-related interlocutors were more likely to be from working class backgrounds (12.5 percent, versus 8 percent of all interlocutors). The largest racial/ethnic contrast is between the lower-middle classes, (86.6 percent white versus 6.7 percent region-related) and the upper-middle class (55 percent region-related versus 38 percent white). The general clustering of region-related scholars in the middle to upper-middle classes suggests that relative economic stability for immigrant groups plays a role in choosing anthropology as a career path. Several region-related scholars were also raised (or partly raised) in MENA, adding another layer of complexity to their class positions and understandings. Quite a few lower-middle- and middle-class people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds mentioned having much higher cultural or educational capital than economic capital. Possession of cultural or educational capital was a crucial aspect of their class self-definitions, perhaps due to political leanings that might lead one to downplay economic privilege.

23. These numbers reflect larger disciplinary patterns: according to an unpublished AAA analysis of the 2012 NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates (available from the AAA executive director upon request), Black graduates received only 3 percent of doctorates in anthropology in 2012, while Hispanic graduates received only 7.2 percent.

24. Women comprised 65.9 percent of doctorate recipients in anthropology in 2012 (as compared to 46 percent of all doctorates that year). Ibid.

25. Abu-Lughod 1990: 27.

26. On the ways that anthropology departments remain “white public spaces” despite some demographic shifts, see Brodkin, Morgen, and Hutchinson 2011.

27. A term specific to US educational institutions that currently includes African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and mainland Puerto Ricans.

28. Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 2012.

29. The AAA Commission on Race and Racism in Anthropology found that there was a “steep growth spurt” in minority faculty hires in anthropology between the late 1970s and 1980s, which prefaced a smaller growth in minority PhDs beginning in the mid-1990s. Yet there was no growth of minority faculty between 1988 and 1998. Contemporary data are sparse and unreliable (see Brodkin, Morgen, and Hutchinson 2011).

30. Constantine and Dorazio 2008: 1290. The term microaggression is generational, an example of a term taken up by recent scholars to describe what have been previously called everyday discriminations.

31. Homophobia and heterosexism also affect academe, and queer and queer-allied scholars have long histories, including in anthropology as a whole, of confronting those discriminatory discourses and practices. We do not discuss these dynamics for two reasons: because queer studies has only recently intersected with MENA anthropology and its influence has yet to be strongly felt in the subfield, and because issues related to sexuality came up in so few of our interviews that discussing them ethnographically would reveal those interlocutors’ identities.