Bridging the Micro–Macro Divide in Approaches to the Middle East

in collaboration with the American University of Sharjah

LSE PI: Dr Aula Hariri
Co-PI: Dr Yuting Wang
Duration: August 2018 – August 2020

A man walking in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Photo: Bruno Vanbesien, Flickr.

A core choice faced by scholars in their methodological approach to studying the Middle East is whether to adopt a micro or macro approach. As with all methodological choices, each approach can be understood as a lens through which to observe a single reality, where a macro approach highlights large-scale systemic processes while a micro approach reveals small-scale local processes.

This project aims to develop a multidisciplinary relational methodology to studying the Middle East, which bridges the divide between macro and micro approaches. Such an approach has not yet been meaningfully applied to the Middle East, and offers a more fluid understanding of political space. This relational methodology will be applied to two in-depth case studies, one historical and one contemporary.

Case Study 1: State-Society Relations in Revolutionary Iraq (1958-1963)

This case study seeks to explain state-society relations in Iraq during the revolutionary period under Staff Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim (1958-1963). The research explores why revolutionary independence leaders like Qasim ascend to power on popular social agendas and yet resort to patronage and clientelistic networks to cement political loyalties. It develops a relational understanding of state formation in the Middle East, as the by-product of the interplay between international/macro and domestic/micro dynamics.

Case Study 2: The Domestic and Transnational Migratory Routes of Chinese Muslims into the Arabian Gulf

Over the last decade, China has become the second largest trading partner of the UAE and an increasingly important strategic player in the MENA region. While these macro politico-economic shifts are vitally important to understanding China–UAE bilateral relations, they tell us little about the rich flows of Chinese migrants between China and the UAE, and how these migrants facilitate these macro changes whilst navigating between these two spaces. This project seeks to examine the global rise of China in the Arabian Gulf through studying of the role of a transnational network of Chinese Muslim entrepreneurs in the UAE. Adopting a relational approach, this study examines how Chinese Muslim transnationals negotiate multiple identities through their involvements in various entrepreneurial and professional networks between China and the UAE.

This project forms part of the Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme, funded by the Emirates Foundation.

Project Outputs

Research Team

Aula Hariri

Aula Hariri | Principal Investigator 

Aula is Research Officer working on the Historical Sociology of the Middle East building on her thesis which examined the role of the Iraqi Independence Movement on state formation in Iraq.


Yuting Wang | Co-Principal Investigator

Yuting is Associate Professor at the American University of Sharjah. Her research mainly focuses on immigrant Muslims in the United States, Chinese Muslims, and the changing worldviews and values among young adults in the UAE.


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