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Migration and Inter-Cultural Relations in the Southern Levant and the Israeli-Palestinian Space

Third Doctoral Research Seminar of the French Research Center in Jerusalem – Introduction
Migrations et relations interculturelles dans le Levant Sud et l'espace israélo-palestinien
Sylvain Bauvais et Caroline Rozenholc
Traduction de Judith Grumbach
Traduction(s) :
Migrations et relations interculturelles dans le Levant Sud et l'espace israélo-palestinien

Texte intégral

1Since 2005, the CRFJ’s scholarship students have organized international scientific seminars on topics of their choice. Organized by and for doctoral and post-doctoral students, these seminars give young researchers from the French, Israeli, and Palestinian academic communities the opportunity to meet. They also allow them to regularly take stock of the research undertaken in different universities on topics that all center on the same geographic space. But more than evaluating where research on a specific topic stands, these seminars particularly aim at encouraging cooperation and the spreading of scientific works to a wide readership. These seminars thus promote international exchanges, create or reinforce existing contacts, and lead to the development of new projects.

2In that vein, in 2008, for the third consecutive year, the CRFJ’s scholarship students organized a two-day doctoral research seminar in Jerusalem, on April 28 and April 29. Sixteen researchers – young and more experienced ones – met to discuss the topic of “migrations and intercultural relations in the South Levant and the Israeli-Palestinian space.” The double definition of the geographic space in the seminar title indicated right from the start that researchers in the widest array of disciplines were invited to join and present their paper. This double definition also indicated that the two organizers of this third seminar – an archaeologist and a geographer – shared an interest in the topics of migrations and intercultural relations, though conducting research on these topics in different ways, each according to his/her discipline. Indeed, mobility and its impact are extremely rich and privileged topics of research in the “South Levant/Israeli-Palestinian space”: from the time of the first hominids’ arrival from Africa until today’s migrations, this area has been characterized by movements, settlements, exchanges, and conflicts.

3The CRFJ’s third doctoral research seminar thus bet on fruitful exchanges between specialists of disciplines as distant from one another as Linguistics and Architecture or Archaeology and Geography, on the topics of intercultural contacts and the processes generated at all times by mobility. Regardless of the theoretical or methodological approach from which a researcher studies the topic of migration, he/she can notice that contacts between different populationsand between different individuals invariably modify both the migrants’ and the local populations’ practices. The way cultural contents are redefined depends at once on the volume and on the rhythm of the immigrants’ influx, as well as on its motives, on the contexts in which this influx takes place, and on the transitional space created by the movements of populations. By opening up to both localized and dynamic approaches, the seminar allowed different study materials and different disciplines to meet. Indeed, while the topic of mobility – in this geographic space in particular – has provided Archaeology, Geography, Political Science, or Architecture with much food for thought, the different analytical levels and timeframes chosen by the different disciplines have led them to generate extremely varied understandings of a same phenomenon. Then arises the question of how to embrace such a complex phenomenon in the historical depth of this specific region.

4At the end of this two-day seminar in 2008, a number of conclusions on that particular point arose, and the seven articles presented in this 21st volume of the CRFJ Bulletin illustrate them well. But we should first introduce these articles and place them in the context of the discussions they prompted during the seminar, with a number of comments on scales, approaches, studied material, and temporal distance with the object of study. What should be highlighted first, in retrospect, is the following observation: obviously, a single theme is approached in different ways by different disciplines; different approaches, however, do not only depend on different disciplines: different approaches also depend on different types of study material and, consequently, on the different scales of analysis used during research. In the course of the presentations, it appeared that the study material – be it “material culture,” interviews with chosen contacts, and anything in between – was a most determining factor in shaping approaches and methodologies. “Material culture” – Archaeology’s main material – for example, is, by definition, fragmentary: it represents only a very small amount of social productions. Written sources, as for them, vary according to the periods and to the subjects of study. The fragmentary nature of this study material may be a source of distortion, but the written sources themselves as study material have to be analyzed with great caution. For approaches focusing on interviews, the individual as study material presents an added difficulty: as it is the case with texts, interviews present one point of view; yet, with interviews, the amount of information to be processed is huge, unlike Archaeology’s study material in which the information is essentially fragmentary. The approaches that use several types of study material then prove necessary in order to contextualize and to better understand an object of study.

5Observations about two parameters – and therefore about two conceptions of mobility – should be made: first, about the societal parameter – the individual, the group, the community; second, about the parameter of time in which migrations and their social productions take place. The first parameter, that of the actors of mobility, so to speak, depends on the available or selected study material itself. Archaeology’s material culture, for instance, leads the researcher to consider each society as a coherent whole in which everyone shares the same material culture and in which exceptions or individuals are not represented. Indeed, Archaeology is a discipline that tends to generalize, and its systematic use of typologies is a case in point. Contemporary disciplines, on the contrary, focus more on individual migration decisions and choices. The latter must be studied within larger contexts, of course, yet, while they cannot always fit into patterns, these individual migration choices are nonetheless relevant by themselves. For that matter, the point of view by which intercultural relations are studied – that of the migrant, that of the local population, or that of transnational populations – also dictates different contents. In any case, the mechanisms one researchesare not the same whether one studies migration in operation or whether one studies its long-term consequences. The study of migration in action mostly focuses on migrants, on their reason for migrating, on the modalities of their migration, and on migration intensity. The second level of the analysis of migration and its social productions focuses on the mechanisms of intercultural contact. Remarkably, all of the papers presented during the seminar dealt with the different mechanisms by which social productions evolve: separation, confrontation, convergence, parallelism, and reinforcement.

6The parameter of time is also quite influential. The various disciplines represented at the seminar research cultures which span the whole chronological spectrum from Prehistory till our days. In each, therefore, the temporal distance to the studied material varies. The discussions during the seminar showed that chronologically, from one discipline to another, from one studied material to another, a shift happened. A researcher of oral societies uses material culture as study material; the changes in this material culture allow the researcher to show evidence of migrations or other intercultural contacts. In the case of transitional periods – from oral societies to societies with literacy – the transition itself renders the interpretation of written sources and of material cultures more difficult. Indeed, when incomplete written material and material culture are interpreted at the same level, they generate more contradiction that corroboration and stir many scientific debates. In the case of recorded history, the primary study material is texts, which give information about the migrations themselves; the material culture, as for it, is used to highlight changes in daily life and changes in techniques that are not mentioned in written sources. A first shift in study material use thus occurs. A second shift in study material use occurs in the study of more recent migrations, when the primary study material is not the written source any more, but direct contact with the actors of migrations (political institutions or the migrants themselves). In this case, the written source becomes secondary, even though it allows to contextualize the phenomena related to migration. The material culture, as for it, is more often than not set aside – unless it becomes the object of a specific study.

7In conclusion, publishing some of the papers presented at the CRFJ third doctoral research seminar in the Bulletin goes to show the following: although the researchers who took part in the seminar came form a wide array of disciplines of the Human Sciences, their meeting was to their advantage. Discussing the topics of intercultural contacts and the mutation processes engendered by migrations, linguists, archaeologists, architects, geographers, and political scientists confronted their respective methodological approaches in a very fruitful way. Perhaps because they all focused on a single phenomenon in a wide chronological spectrum with both localized and dynamic approaches, these researchers from very different disciplines, with very different study materials – through top quality presentations – managed to produce a comprehensive picture of these topics.

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Sylvain Bauvais et Caroline Rozenholc, « Migration and Inter-Cultural Relations in the Southern Levant and the Israeli-Palestinian Space », Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem [En ligne], 21 | 2010, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2011, Consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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