Biography: Suad Joseph

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souad-bekhSuad Joseph is a feminist activist of Lebanese origins born in the 1940s. In 1966, she obtained her BA in social science from the State University of New York at Cortland. She worked for a year as an anthropology graduate in the University of Pittsburgh before transferring to Columbia University where she finished her doctoral degree in Anthropology in the year of 1975. Her thesis was a dissertation that assesses to the Politicization of Religious Sects in Lebanon, especially in the region of Borj Hammoud, raising questions of ethnicity and state, local community organization and development.

This early work has greatly influenced her later anthropological field research that focused mostly on Lebanese women and gender. Later on, she researched on the intersections of politics, gender, and family in working class communities of Lebanon, alongside a comparative work in Iraq. Central to this research program has been her work theorizing culturally situated notions of “self”, “rights”, “citizenship” in the context of different political regimes and in the context of the pressures and processes of globalization. She refined her search by focusing on women, the latter being the bridge between family systems and the state and the civil society.

Suad Joseph is currently working on three projects:

  1. A long-term research project where a group of children in a Lebanese village are followed and observed, in order to understand how they learn to differentiate between the concepts of rights, responsibilities, nationality, citizenship, and the way these ideas grow from the small society that is the family to a wider political level.
  2. A study on Lebanese families that have migrated to the United States and Canada, and how the results of the research conducted in (1) differs in transnational families.
  3. A media project that reviews how Arab and Muslim Americans are represented in major print news media such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

She’s the founder of many organizations such as:

  • The Middle East Research Group in Anthropology, founded in 1976, which evolved into the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association.
  • The Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS), founded in 1984.
  • The Arab Families Research Group, founded in 2001, which consists of a group of fifteen scholars, policy makers and planners, who do comparative and collaborative research on family systems in Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and their diasporas.
  • The American University of Beirut, American University in Cairo, Lebanese American University, University of California, Davis, and Birzeit University Consortium, founded in 2007, that works on collaborative scholarly partnerships.

She has edited and co-edited many books, such as Women and Power in the Middle East (2001) in collaboration with Susan Slyomovics, and has written many articles and book chapters. Her most notable publication remains her Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC) project, a 6 volume project with 1,246 articles by 907 scholars from all over the world, of which she was the general editor. The Encyclopedia includes and discusses issues such as family, law, politics, body, sexualities, health, economics, education, mobility and space, practices, interpretations and representations.

Suad Joseph is currently a professor of Anthropology, Women and Gender Studies as well as the Founding Director of the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program at the University of California, Davis, where she’s been a faculty member ever since 1976.

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