Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

By Richard A. Lobban | Go to book overview

Preface

As a non-Middle Eastern male, what am I doing writing about Middle Eastern women and their often unrecognized role in the economy? My answer rests chiefly in intellectual curiosity and methodological challenge. True, I have spent a quarter of a century researching and writing about Middle Eastern urbanization in Sudan, Egypt, and Tunisia, as well as traveling in Yemen and Lebanon, but there is more. As an anthropologist, I have always sought to see human society from the grassroots, from the bottom up. I have always been skeptical of the top-down approach, or the analysis of "significant" figures and events that were supposed to reflect what was really happening. Published documents, statistical tables, and detailed census counts seemed to lack a measure of authentic street sense. Common, practical domestic activities never seemed very clear. Most of what people do during a day escapes official record keeping and personal diaries. I knew that I was not getting the full picture.

Writing about the Middle East as a Westerner is always problematic because the quest for balance is difficult to achieve; the approaches of sympathetic interpretation and critical analysis can sometimes result in contradictory positions. As a male writing on gender, I feared additional pitfalls, not to mention examining an "invisible" economy that many think does not exist, an activity that might border on madness. Yet I believe it was these methodological and empirical circumstances that made me curious and kept me vigilant. A heightened consciousness has been required for this unusual work. This comment is certainly not meant as a defense or an apology for weaknesses and failures in my analysis, or integration, for which I am compelled to take responsibility.

Three years of research on urban social networks in the Sudan, during 1970-72, 1975, and 1979-80, proved that even the traditional approach

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