The Cultural Politics of Otherness: Arab Americans at Crossroads of U.S.-Arab Imagery

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The Cultural Politics of Otherness: Arab Americans at Crossroads of U.S.-Arab Imagery

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Important studies on Arab American identity and anti-Arab sentiment have proliferated since September 11, 2011, but to date there have been few comparative studies on how the Arab American subjectivity is narrated as a transnational dialogue between East and West. There is also a lack of scholarly research related to simultaneous articulations of Arab Americans’ cultural citizenship in both U.S. and Arab popular culture. Towards that end, this dissertation proposes a comparative case study of U.S.-Arab cultural productions, i.e. Hollywood and Egyptian cinemas, to draw attention to the role of cultural politics in mediating a multi-layered process of Arab American Otherness to American and Arab audiences. While Hollywood filmmakers have promoted post-Orientalist and racialized imagery of Arab Americans since the 1970s, the Egyptian filmmakers have explicitly engaged with the Arab American image through an overlapping Arabist, Islamist, and state nationalist critique of the United States since the 1990s. Moving beyond current concerns with questions of stereotype, the project addresses broader issues of identity and belonging, and takes into consideration post-9/11 emerging efforts in Arab, American, and Arab American films, which seek to reclaim the Arab American diasporic agency through interstitial activism and self-representation. The significance of this project lies in its response to recent scholarly calls in the area study field of American Studies and the ethnic study field of Arab American studies to locate the United States in a transnational space and define the experience of its immigrants beyond the restraints of the nation-state. It thereby unsettles the “national” as a theoretical category of analysis and proposes the “transnational” as an alternative category that forges a space for deeper understanding of the Arab American image at crossroads of U.S.-Arab sociocultural and geopolitical encounters.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2015. Major: American Studies. Advisor: Roderick Ferguson. 1 computer file (PDF); 254 pages.

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Mahdi, Waleed. (2015). The Cultural Politics of Otherness: Arab Americans at Crossroads of U.S.-Arab Imagery. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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