“Issues of Global Mobilities of People, Knowledge, Ideas and Investments Have Always Fascinated Me” – Interview with Ala Al-Hamarneh

We regularly introduce scholars that work in the project by letting them answer three short questions. Today, we talk to Ala Al-Hamarneh. He earned a doctoral degree in Social and Economic Geography from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev (1994). During his 20 years of affiliation with the University of Mainz as assistant professor, he taught courses in human geography with regional focus on the Arab World, Germany, Emilia Romagna/Italy and the USA-Northeastern metropoles. He was affiliated as a senior researcher with the Center for Research on the Arab World (CERAW) at the University of Mainz. He was a visiting professor for sociology at the University of Sharjah/UAE teaching classes on “Modern Arab Society” and “Emirati Society”. Ala has published on migration, tourism, globalization of higher education, neoliberal urban development and Arab culture production. His latest publications include the co-edited volumes “Neoliberale Urbanisierung” (2019, transcript) and “International Tourism Development and the Gulf Cooperation Council States” (2017, Routledge).

What will you be working on while being involved with the “Knowledge Unbound” project and what did you work on before?

Within the framework of “Knowledge Unbound”, I am coordinating the research project “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc, 1950-1991”, and I am responsible for the yearly report of the overall project “Knowledge Unbound” to the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF).

My own research focuses on the Soviet/Russian Alumni Associations in the Arab World and the Jordanian students in the Eastern Bloc countries, mainly in the former USSR. While issues of soft power, cultural and knowledge relations as well as business and working relations are at the core of the study of the alumni associations, the investigation of knowledge relations and circulation of knowledge as well as biographical enquiries direct the research in the case studies of the Jordanian students in Eastern Bloc countries.

Before joining the team of “Knowledge Unbound”, I worked on international migration, internationalization of higher education, international tourism and urban development. Issues of global mobilities of people, knowledge, ideas, investments and cultural and social practices have always fascinated me. The spatial and political implications of people’s and societal interactions and circulations were at the core of my research.

What role does the concept of “knowledge” play in your own research?

I understand the concept of “knowledge” as a critical theoretical and practical state of understanding things acquired through learning and experiences. Facts, norms, skills, discerptions and perceptions are integral parts and attributes of my approach to the notion of “knowledge” within the general conceptual framing of the research project. This definition allows precise and accurate understanding, analysis and interpretation of knowledge relations and circulation as well as students mobilities within ideologically defined global spaces, the ideoscape.

Have there been any surprising moments in your research recently?

Indeed, there have been. I would like to mention two such moments. The first one is very much personal: during my studies in Kiev around 30 years ago, I had a good friend from Chile who was studying medicine. After we earned our degrees in 1994, we lost contact. I met her again after all these years by accident in Beirut in 2019 at an international conference of the Soviet/Russian alumni while I was doing my fieldwork. The second moment is rather part of the academic research: while conducting interviews with former Jordanian students in the USSR, it was surprising to recognize the positive attitudes towards what had been considered years ago as “negative” and “not good”: i.e. the quality of food in the Soviet students’ restaurants and the general living conditions in the student dormitories. It seems to be that such “attitudes” today are very much driven by nostalgia.


Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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