Familiar Futures: A Conversation with Sara Pursley (S. 8, Ep. 18)

Sara Pursley talks about her latest book, Familiar Futures: Time, Selfhood, and Sovereignty in Iraq, with Marc Lynch on this week’s podcast. The book is about the role of gender and family reform projects in Iraq, two ideas of modernization and economic development, from the 1920s to the first Ba’ath coup in 1963.

Pursley said, “For the 1950s, the discourses were really different. They were really focused on economic development as the basis for full political and economic sovereignties. We get different terms, different concepts playing a more important role and also much more of an emphasis on poor families, peasant families, and urban working-class families and how those could be reformed to produce workers and sort of loyal subjects of the regime.”

She goes on to explain, “The equal inheritance clause was indeed very controversial and there’s a lot of things written about it in this period, but every other aspect of this law was not a consensus but there was widespread agreement on the rest of the law, especially among state authorities, feminists, communist, Ba’athists, Arab nationalists, Sunni religious authorities…. The exception was the Shia religious clerics who had a broader critique of the law.”

“The differences in the public discourse kind of get submerged into the social reform project which all of the parties, you know, the Ba’athist, the communists, the other Arab nationalist party which was the independence Party, the National Democratic Party, those were the four main political parties that were sort of supporting the coup in the begging. They all, in spite of all their differences, [had] really strong consensus about the need for social reform, the need to create a new kind of Iraqi who would be the agent of economic development. And so really what I want to get at here is that consensus is partly what enabled the depoliticization of the Iraqi public sphere that many historians, not just me, have seen as kind of laying the groundwork for the 1963 coup,” said Pursley. 


Sara Pursley is an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. Pursley works on the cultural, social, and intellectual history of the modern Arab Middle East, mainly Iraq. She has explored questions related to economic development and modernization theory, histories of psychology and pedagogy, gender and sexuality, childhood and youth, revolution and decolonization, Islamic and secular family law, land settlement projects, and the transition from British to American empire.

Music for this season’s podcast was created by Feras Arrabi. You can find more of his work on his Facebook and Instagram page.

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