Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, Yemen has been witnessing tumultuous phases of transition. Revolutions, coups, intermittent episodes of unrest and violence, and the spread of various forms of extremisms seem to be turning many old certainties upside down, while the outcomes remain unknown. Scholars concerned with modern Yemen have often paid more attention to immediate temporalities than to their historic roots and constants. In addition, a narrowing of the focus of research on conflict, security, and (forced) migration issues can be observed (Bonnefoy 2018). Indeed Yemen is a troubled country in transition, but it remains influenced by and dependent on its traditional society, values and environment. The consideration of long-term constants and developments is often more helpful than the appeal to immediate causal factors and phenomena. In other words, considering Yemen’s multiple pasts and historical legacies is essential for understanding the factors which gave rise to its conflicted present.

The project “Postcolonial Approaches to Memory, Continuity, and Change in Southwest Arabia” aims at exploring possible avenues of research into long-term processes of changing living conditions and the multiple social, religious, political, and ecological transformation processes underlying it. The special focus is not on the discourses and narratives of political, religious or economic elites but on the everyday worlds, cultures and lifestyles of groups that have been excluded from the centers of power and all too often neglected by historiography and research. The project thus resonates with postcolonial scholarship, for it privileges the views and voices of people and groups who are denied an official voice. It is committed to the writing of these alternative histories “from below”, in particular those of South Arabia’s subaltern groups and local communities who make up South Arabia’a people “without history” (in Eric Wolf’s celebrated term): women, peasants, minorities, underprivileged groups including artisans (muzayyinūn), slaves and their descendants (akhdām), refugees, dissidents, and tribal and Bedouin groups at the margins of the South Arabian state(s).

Following ethnographic traditions, the research privileges bottom-up approaches and the triangulation of fieldwork (in situ and digital) with archival work and literature review. The focus is explicitly on emic sources, perspectives and discourses, i.e. the exploration and critical assessment of indigenous Yemeni sources and the abundance of Yemeni scholarship that has become accessible through digitization in recent years. Moreover, because of its emphasis on daily life and the everyday cultures of marginalized groups, the project examines possibilities of opening up avenues of research through the exploration of material culture(s). Material culture constitutes an integral feature of the shaping of everyday experiences and practices of those people and groups who are usually absent from historical documents. The project is largely exploratory and aims at providing the scholarly framework for the elaboration of further project proposals.

Marieke Brandt

Januar 2023 - Dezember 2024