The Critical Arabic Urban Lexicon (CAUL) is part of a wider project of knowledge dissemination developed by the Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research (CLUSTER) to interrogate the discursive gap between the Middle East and North Africa and the centers of knowledge production in the "First World." CAUL aims to address the interdisciplinary nature of urban studies and the proliferation of borrowed terms from social sciences and humanities, including political science, geography, and cultural studies. CAUL is part of a larger knowledge dissemination and resource sharing platform organized around a network of libraries in civil society organizations (PILOT) in the Arab region.


CAUL includes a working glossary of terms relevant to the context and urban transformations of the Arabic speaking world. Terms such as spatial practice, territoriality, and gentrification are but a few examples of concepts which have been masked by an asymmetry within standard translations in the Arabic language and which consequently perpetuate urban inequalities through public discourse. Further, CAUL critically engages the regional variations of key terms in different translation traditions exploring the Levantine, Egyptian, and North African versions of the same term (i.e. public space, urbanism). In doing so, CAUL attempts to contest prevalent mainstream media and official discourses, including pejorative terms such as slums, squatters, ‘ashwa’iyat, by offering and thus legitimating, alternative definitions.


CLUSTER’s ongoing CAUL translation workshop series builds upon grounded professional practices in the region, aiming to bring together linguists and translation experts with academics and practitioners in the fields of art, architecture, urbanism and the social sciences through a series of sessions organized around a specific theme related to current urban questions. The CAUL online platform was developed by CLUSTER to disseminate translation workshop outcomes. This online resource is intended as an initial step towards facilitating a common language for sharing information (in particular as relates to spatial inequality) as well as understanding how certain terms’ meanings may change in local contexts. A pilot for the CAUL online platform was developed by CLUSTER in 2017, in partnership with Columbia University’s Center for Spatial Research. The expanded CAUL platform was launched by CLUSTER in 2021, with support from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC). 


For a full list of CAUL workshops and partners, see the workshops section.