Document Type

Honors Project


I would like to thank the faculty of the Sociology Department at Macalester College for their inspiration and support throughout my four years at Macalester. In particular, I would like to thank Professor Erik Larson for encouraging me to pursue a topic that allowed me to connect my passion for the Arabic language with my background in Sociology.

I am also deeply grateful to Professor Brett Wilson, Professor Andy Overman, Professor Khadoun Samman, and Professor Erik Larson for the insight they provided as members of my defense commitee.

And of course, a special thank you to Professor Antoine Mefleh and Hisham Khalek for their perseverence in helping me to learn the Arabic Language.

Finally, without the support of my amazing friend Taylor Laemmli, i would never have had the willpower to persevere through this project.


Government designation of Arabic as a “strategic language” following WWII transformed Arabic language instruction in U.S. institutions of higher education. Funding from the government created a shift away from teaching students to read and translate classical Arabic for academic purposes and toward teaching modern varieties of the language for communication. I employ a three-pronged institutional analysis that takes into account the role of government, the role of professional associations, and the role of individual instructors in the redefinition of norms governing Arabic language instruction during the past seventy years. I find that coercive pressure stemming from government interest affected Arabic language instruction both directly, by creating new curricular materials and achievement goals, and indirectly, by facilitating the professionalization of language instruction and stimulating student demand. Although professional organizations and student demand mediate coercive pressure to treat Arabic as a professional skill rather than an academic skill, they continue to promote an agenda supported by government funding. However, instructors do not perceive student demand or professional norms as symbolizing government intrusion. My analysis thus suggests that even in the face of resistance, coercive power can effectively inspire institutional change if it is disguised as emanating from agents within an organizational field, rather than from an external agent. Furthermore, a case study of Arabic language instruction illustrates that accounts of institutional change must take into account power relations, and the potential of professional associations and individuals to act as partially autonomous agents within an organizational field.



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