Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures Volume 4: Economics, Education, Mobility and Space by Suad Joseph, general editor (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2007. 587 pages.)

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Andrew Rippin



An encyclopedia is popularly thought of as presenting the sum of all knowledge,
whether it be universal or on a specific topic. A moment’s reflection
reveals, of course, that such an understanding does not quite get at the real
concept, for there is no such thing as “all knowledge.” The historicalmoment
will always define the extent of the knowledge that is available. The structural
terms within which that knowledge is constructed – its headings and
subheadings – are historically bound as well. One of the features – both
admirable and disconcerting – of the Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic
Cultures is how the work makes the reader aware of these factors: that this
encyclopedia is, in fact, by its very act of being produced, defining a previously
non-existent area of encyclopaedic knowledge and that the gaps in
knowledge of the subject area, even after the production of the work, are substantial.
Volume 4, “Economics, Education, Mobility and Space,” illustrates
this point vividly.
As can be seen by the volume’s heading, the overall encyclopedia is
organized at the top level in themes. Within each volume, though, entries are
organized alphabetically. The main topics covered are “Cities,” “Development,”
“Economics,” “Education,” “Environment,” “Information Technologies,”
“Migration,” “Poverty,” “Slavery,” “Space,” and “Tourism.” Since
the ordering of the next level of headings is alphabetical as well, there is no
particular organizational logic to the sequence of presentation. Under
“Cities,” for example, the subheadings are, in order: “Colonial Cities,”
“Homelessness,” “Informal Settlement,” “Islamic Cities,” “Urban Built
Environments,” “Urban Identities,” and “Urban Movements.” It is difficult
to ascertain whether any theoretical structure has dictated these subheadings ...

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