Discussion Group: (Re)Producing the Concept: On Arabic Critical Theory

Twentieth-century Arabic social and political thought engaged with European social theory: Existentialism first found its way to Egypt before travelling to Lebanon and Syria; the Soviet Union funded translations of Marxist philosophy and literature through their publishing houses; and many committed intellectuals studying in France brought back French theory to the Arab world in the 1960s. But the coordinates of Marxism, once rooted in the Soviet communist as well as Arab nationalist party-forms, underwent a process of transformation in the wake of the 1967 Arab defeat. The re-commitment of the Arab intellectual post-1967 to the question of national liberation from one of an implied Arab unity mandated rethinking the epistemological conjuncture of science, philosophy, and politics. While translation practices once took the task of Arabizing critical theoretical concepts lightly, many intellectuals became concerned with the status of the concept in Arabic. Lebanese Marxist theoretician Mahdi Amel stressed the importance of the task being not one of mere translation, but of (re)producing the concept through the specificities of Arab social and cultural formations. In this talk, Kiblawi will discuss his in-progress translation of Mahdi Amel’ s key theoretical works, reflect on Amel’ s  translation of theory from French into Arabic, and his own translation of Amel’ s work into English.

Registration is required. Please register via the Google Forms link here.


Ziad Kiblawi is a translator of Arab critical theory and a DPhil candidate in History at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, where he is writing an intellectual history of Arab social and political thought in the 1950s–1980s. He works on the historiography of modern social thought, critical theory, and modern art in the Middle East and the historical practices of translation (and ‘Arabization’) of German idealism, historical materialism, French structuralism, and psychoanalysis into Arabic. Ziad is a member of the Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR).