The Geographical Review (): -, October Copyright © by the American Geographical Society of New York
Dr. Culcasi is an assistant professor of geography at West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia .
CONSTRUCTING AND NATURALIZING THE MIDDLE EAST
I have been writing about it in the Guardian for almost four years and I'm fairly sure that I have been there, but I have to confess that I don't know for certain where the Middle East is.
Deﬁning or locating the "Middle East" is a precarious endeavor.1 The territory and the characteristics that have been used to delimit and describe this world re- gion have varied immensely over time and space. Even a cursory examination of maps or encyclopedias quickly reveals that the Middle East and the various criteria that have been used to deﬁne it are variable and ambiguous. Nevertheless, the re- gion has been naturalized as a real and deﬁnable place. Indeed, popular and politi- cal discourses on the Middle East are so commonplace that we rarely scrutinize their socially constructed origins and connotations.
Critical examinations of naturalized geographical concepts such as "space," "scale," and "place-speciﬁc identities" have sparked vibrant discussions (Häkli ; van Schendel , ), but the world region has received scant attention. Gener- ally deﬁned as groupings of contiguous states that have some cultural, historical, economic, and even physiographic similarity, world regions are a taken-for-granted concept (N. Smith , -; Lewis and Wigen , ; Harvey , ). How- ever, world regions are not naturally existing, homogeneous spaces; rather, they are social constructs that are formed and altered in a myriad of discourses (Murphy , ; Paasi , , ; Hagen ). In this essay I analyze the construction and naturalization of the Middle East as a world region. Speciﬁcally, I provide a com- prehensive and critical examination of the origins, deﬁnitions, delineations, and meanings of "Middle East" that have been formative in incorporating this place in our everyday geographies. My goal is to move beyond questions such as "What is the proper designation of the Middle East?" "What is its actual extent?" and "What criteria best determine the region's...