Theses Doctoral

Tracing Tarbiya: Women, Education, and Childrearing in Lebanon and Egypt, 1860-1939

Ferguson, Susanna

“Tracing Tarbiya” is a feminist conceptual history of education and upbringing as they were articulated by intellectuals writing in Arabic between the last decades of the Ottoman Empire and the outbreak of the second World War. It focuses on women writers raised in the educational crucible of Beirut and Mount Lebanon who moved to Cairo and Alexandria around 1900 to become theorists of tarbiya, an old Arabic word for cultivation and upbringing that came in the nineteenth century to refer to new structures of formal schooling, new pedagogies, and the feminized labor of childrearing, moral cultivation, and subject formation in the home. Through the work of these writers and others, the concept of tarbiya moved across gender, geography, and sect to enable new political imaginaries: upbringing became the way to shape men and women fit for representative politics, to produce an Arab world capable of facing rising European power, and to refashion Muslim, Christian, and European intellectual traditions for a new age.
"Tracing Tarbiya" makes three main arguments. First, while scholars have highlighted the ongoing importance of affective and embodied practices of subject cultivation within the Islamic tradition, this story shows how new pedagogies based around affect and embodiment captivated both Christians and Muslims between 1860 and 1939. Second, this work traces the ongoing power of discourses about motherhood and childrearing to show how writers in Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria came to identify tarbiya as the foundation of successful reform, making women, children, and the family into a primary site for political argument and action. Finally, “Tracing Tarbiya” puts gendered discourses about upbringing at the center of the history of representative governance in the Arab world, proposing that a non-Western political concept might help us to better understand the disjuncture between the promises of representative democracy and its actual outcomes in Egypt, Lebanon, and beyond. By adopting conceptual history methods, it shows how debates about tarbiya identified women's capabilities as childraisers as a way to bridge two contradictions central to actualizing liberal political ideals: first, the contradiction between legal equality and human difference, and second, the tension between the promises of mass politics and the desires of reformist elites.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Khalidi, Rashid
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 30, 2019