Lila Abu-Lughod


08 April 2021

In this Theory from the Margins event, we discuss a forthcoming work by Lila Abu-Lughod.

The Cunning of Gender Violence focuses on how a once visionary feminist project has folded itself into contemporary world affairs. Combating violence against women and gender-based violence constitutes a highly visible and powerful agenda enshrined in international governance and law and embedded in state violence and global securitization. Case studies on Palestine, Bangladesh, Iran, India, Pakistan, Israel, and Turkey as well as on UN and US policies trace the silences and omissions, along with the experiences of those subjected to violence, to question the rhetoric that claims the agenda as a “feminist success story.” Because religion and racialized ethnicity, particularly “the Muslim question,” run so deeply through the institutional structures of the agenda, the contributions explore ways it may be affirming or enabling rationales and systems of power, including civilizational hierarchies, that harm the very people it seeks to protect.

Lila Abu-Lughod is the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University where she teaches anthropology and gender studies. A leading voice in the debates about culture, gender, Islam, and global feminist politics, her award-winning books and articles have been translated into 14 languages. The books include Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society; Writing Women’s Worlds; Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt; and Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Her most recent book, published by Harvard University Press in 2013, is titled Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Abu-Lughod’s scholarship, mostly ethnographic and based on long-term fieldwork in Egypt, has focused on the power of cultural forms, from poetry to television soap operas; the politics of knowledge and representations of cultural “others”; violence and memory; and the question of liberalism and global projects of human and women’s rights. She has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, a Carnegie Scholar, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. Her research has been supported by awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She taught at Williams, Princeton, and New York University before moving to Columbia University in 2000 where she has since directed the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality; the Middle East Institute; and the Center for the Study of Social Difference. She is on the board of the new Palestinian Museum in Birzeit and is currently working on a collaborative international project for Women Creating Change and supported by the Henry Luce Foundation on “Religion and the Global Framing of Gender Violence.”

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