The Sounds of Revolution: Improvisational Labor and the Independent Music Scene in Egypt
The last thirteen years have witnessed a renaissance in global independent music production. In Egypt, this scene took shape through the practices of a younger generation of musicians rooted in western musical styles that sought to produce an alternative to the commercial values of the mainstream music industry – a process enabled by the adoption of neoliberal and entrepreneurial models of productivity. Although this emerging music scene has become a driving force within Egyptian youth culture, it has received no scholarly attention among anthropologists. This project centers on fieldwork with independent musicians and music studios in Cairo in order to provide a broad picture of the intersections of art, publics, labor, and economy in a deeply uncertain post-revolutionary Egyptian context. I will examine the creative labor and economy of independent music production, asking how musicians' improvisational musical and entrepreneurial practices generate new public spaces and forms of identity. This project challenges the common assumption that neoliberalism is destructive of the social, arguing that independent musicians make use of the grammar and resources of neoliberalism by altering its logics and values to suit their own needs and musical aspirations. Furthermore, this research argues that in constituting alternative publics and markets, musicians' creative labor should be understood as eminently political acts.
Life, Law and Belonging: Contested Land and the Politics of Claim-Making in Central Sudan
The new, yet old, phenomenon of "land grabbing" is often characterized in media and NGO reports as an unstoppable tidal wave that has swept the African continent. Informed by anthropological approaches, my research seeks to conceptualize and examine foreign land acquisitions less as a unidirectional, extractive process imposed by powerful investors on homogenous, rural communities and more as a multi-directional set of historically situated interactions, contestations, and practices shaped by varied interests and relationships. My investigation is situated in the agricultural Gezira region of central Sudan, where government elites recently devised a plan to revive the nation's post-secession economy by attracting foreign investments in agriculture from within the Muslim world. Prompted in turn by the 2008 food and financial crises, foreign agribusiness companies have since leased large tracts of land, previously farmed or owned by Gezira residents, to grow and export food. My project explores how these foreign land acquisitions are reshaping social relations between various stakeholders with competing claims to Sudanese land. Specifically, I seek to understand the social transformations set in motion when different forms of religious and political authority, understandings of Islam, and notions of belonging are invoked and mobilized to lay claim to land. I approach this inquiry by focusing on the role prominent Sufi Muslim leaders (shaykhs) are playing in mediating land disputes and in shaping local efforts to reclaim lands leased to foreign investors.
Migration, Ethnicity, and Uneven-development in Ghana: The Case of the Upper West Region, 1887 to the Present
The Politics of Festival Music in Kazakstan
Approaching Islamic Law: Women, Gender, and Law in Morocco, 1310-1465
My investigation centers on how women approached Islamic law in fourteenth and fifteenth century Morocco. Research over the last few decades shows that women were active participants in the Islamic legal courts, defending their rights to property and inheritance, demanding their rights in their marriages, and conducting numerous types of business transactions across the Ottoman world. This research will turn the focus to North Africa, and examine the diverse ways in which women interacted with Islamic law in Morocco from 1310-1465. I will investigate three aspects of women’s interaction with Islamic law: the participation of women in the Islamic legal courts; the ways in which women and gender were described in juristic discourse such as doctrinal texts and legal opinions (fatwas); and the lives of women who engaged with Islamic law at the level of advanced scholarship. This study will employ theories of gender, providing an example of the construction of gender in Islamic legal texts. This research will add to the literature on women in Islamic legal history and female scholarship by bringing women and gender to the forefront in Moroccan legal studies, and extending the field of analysis to the intellectual environment in which legal scholarship flourished. The goal of my project is also to expand our understanding of the range of possibilities for women as actors in Moroccan and Islamic history. History is not monolithic, and my attention to gender here will help illustrate this point, as it shows that in certain times and places our understanding of what is normative behavior is challenged, for example, by the presence of elite women who engaged in exceptional activities. On the other hand, I anticipate that my study will confirm for the Islamic West the ordinariness of women’s participation in Islamic courts that has been shown for other parts of the Islamic world.
Scandal as Social Form: A Sociological Study of the Political, Financial and Cultural Scandals of the Third Republic
The Noblest Commerce: Intelligence and Sinology on the "Russian Route," 1685-1825
My dissertation deals with the way Russians came to understand, study, and spy on their southeastern neighbors, the Qing Empire, as the two states confronted each other between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. Intelligence, in the sense of practice-oriented knowledge gathered by actors working on behalf of the state, was vital for diplomatic and commercial relationships: for instance, ambassadors not only needed to know how the Qing court functioned, but also how best to make their way to the Chinese border and beyond. But embassies and trade caravans also shaped the way knowledge was created and circulated. The same ambassadors who had relied on the works of their predecessors returned to augment the Russian state's store of intelligence; for their part, trade caravans provided ample cover for spies as well as often serving as the only means of carrying letters and papers. A particular focus of the project is the relationship between the new Russian Academy of Sciences, created in 1724, and the Jesuit missionaries in Beijing. By forging scientific ties, the two groups nurtured each other's political hopes, with the Jesuits aiming to develop Russia as a link between Europe and China and the Russians hoping to cultivate their new correspondents as a privileged source of influence and intelligence at the Qing court. The role of the Jesuits as well as the increasing volume and importance of trade between the two empires ultimately gave the Russo-Chinese relationship crucial, and wide-ranging, global ramifications. By the end of the eighteenth century, the story had come to involve not just Russia and the Qing but also Britain, France, and the United States. In the nineteenth, the complex of intelligence-gathering mechanisms developed in the previous century produced, and gave way to, the specialized academic discipline known as sinology.
Blasphemy and the Dialectics of Mediation: A Proposed Study of Courts, Conflict, and the Media in Contemporary Pakistan
Muslim Modernities and Rule of Law Projects in Afghanistan: The Nizamnama Codes of Shah Amanullah and the Indo-Turkish Juridical Nexus, 1919-1929
The limited historiography on Afghanistan conventionally tributes Shah Amanullah (1919-1929) for laying the foundations of a modern Afghan state though his promulgation of the 1923 Constitution and subsequent Nizamnama law codes. A cursory glance at these reforms has led many observers to describe Amanullah with such labels as “progressive,” “secular”, “ahead of his time”, or even “pro-Western modernizer.” What these readings elide, however, was the reformist king’s resolve that Afghanistan’s constitution and the totality of his reforms fully comply with sacred Islamic law, the Sharia. The premium Amanullah placed on promoting a simultaneously modern and Islamic identity for the Afghan state is evident in the composition of the Nizamnama drafting commission—an eclectic group of Muslim jurists and politicians that included liberal bureaucrats from the palace administration, conservative ulama linked to Deobandi madrasas in India, Pashtun tribal notables, and Turkish legal advisors. The latter included Badri Bey, a former Istanbul police chief who served as the Nizamnama commission’s director. Through archival research in Turkey and India, including declassified government papers on Afghan affairs, private writings of commission members, student records, and newspapers from the popular presses of both countries, this project examines the contours of Young Turk and Indian Muslim influence in the Nizamnama drafting process, and how Turkish officials such as Badri Bey negotiated reforms with traditional ulama and the burgeoning intelligentsia of Kabul. Focusing on emerging legal debates and transformations rather than Amanullah’s “failure” to build a strong state in Afghanistan, a social-intellectual history of the Nizamnama commission presents a rare, non-colonial glimpse into the shared struggles of Turks, Afghans, and Indian Muslims from diverse social and ideological backgrounds to build home-grown (and heterogeneous) visions of the rule of law on their own terms.
Children at Risk: Economic Motivations of Child Fostering in Burkina Faso
Forms for Our Time: Modern Art and the Problem of the Human in Baghdad, 1940s-1960s
This project is a study of the emergence of modern art in Baghdad, in between World War II and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Rather than focus on the specific difference between Iraqi modern art and European modern art, I ask how modern art might have contributed to the formation of the socialist-secular modernity of Ba'thist Iraq by producing a concrete image of "the human" [al-insaan] as a suffering being – one both quite different from the abstract ideal of "the human" constituted by the European discourse of rights and yet descendant from the same genealogy, coming to Iraq by way of communist cells established in the late Ottoman Empire. I inquiry into how modern art constituted such an image of the human, and how the problem of the human constituted a particular practice of modern art in Iraq. Specifically I argue that modern art's search for forms that would be "of the time" [mu'asira] converged with a contemporaneous search for forms that could think "the human" as an epistemology for suffering; by giving concrete forms to the abstract "human", modern art then gave intelligible form to life in Baghdad. This research will demonstrate that modernity involved not only political and economic transformations but also the elaboration of entire creative projects to generate new means of expression capable of articulating the vicissitudes of life, and death.
Cosmopolitan Terror: Secular Imaginaries, Transnational Governance, and the Security State in Urban Kenya
My research explores the ethical and political subjectivities of Kenyan Muslims as they grapple with their nation's entanglement in the 'war on terror.' Working in a range of leadership capacities (parliament, NGOs, media) urban middle class Kenyan Muslims are torn between daring to challenge controversial state practices of counter-terrorism on the one hand, and invoking the very discourses of security that reinforce state-sanctioned violence on the other. Deploying an ethnographic lens to cosmopolitan spaces of politics and public engagement in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, I will examine how socially invoked categories of 'moderate' and 'radical' Islam emerge in relation to contemporary forms of state-craft, historical memory, and transnational governance to shape new understandings of religion, politics, and violence.
Long-Term Development in Post-Disaster Communities
Traditional Bodies: Sufism, Knowledge Practices and the Making of the Modern Public
This project explores the conditions that enable a Sufi tradition with its spiritual legacy and original institutional form rooted in pre-modern societies, to thrive in modernizing urban settings. It attempts to address such a challenge by examining the Ba'alawi sayyids; a group of migrants in Indonesia from the Hadramaut valley of South Yemen, who has been acknowledged as descendants of Prophet Muhammad. It tries to understand how Ba’alawi scholars reconfigure their Sufi tradition, the Tariqa ‘Alawiyya through their interaction with Indonesian nationhood and Islamic reformism, which necessitated the observation of embodied practices involving Ba'alawi scholars and their students in the transmission of knowledge through time. The aim of this project is therefore (1) to understand how textual knowledge that makes up a religious tradition becomes embodied; and (2) to observe how the embodied knowledge enters into the larger public through other ways of interaction, such as various Sufi rituals that engage broader public. This requires an ethnographic approach that looks at different forms of knowledge practices as sites where the discursive tradition is transmitted, negotiated, transformed, manipulated through the interaction between scholars and students on one side and between them and the broader public on the other.
Locating Non-Violence: An Ethnographic Research of the Contemporary Palestinian Political Culture
Afro-Brazil: The Meanings and Uses of Africa in Brazilian Public Life, 1930-1988
Storm Clouds over China: Typhoons, State, and Society in Coastal Guangdong, 1660s-1960s
My dissertation seeks to reconstruct typhoon events, their societal impacts, and responses in coastal Guangdong, China's richest and most populous province, from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. It shows when, where, how often, in what intensity, and in what patterns did typhoons strike Guangdong and argues that their seasonal regularity made them play a constructive and not just destructive role in the governance, economy, society, and culture of this rich coastal province. Continuities and changes occurred between the Qing empire, Nationalist regime, and People's Republic of China as centuries-old ways of understanding typhoons interacted with new modes of meteorology, disaster relief, and social and political organization. The Qing, Nationalist, and Communist states all took typhoons into consideration when planning for the province and even learned to use these storms to advance their own agendas. The people of Guangdong too planned their lives around typhoons and learned to cope with them through the formation of various religious and social organizations that eventually shaped life on the coast. With most of China's long coastline, not just Guangdong, vulnerable to typhoons and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting stronger typhoons in a warmer-world scenario, being able to draw from its own rich history with typhoons is important to China as it heads into the future. As an interdisciplinary climate history that draws on historical climatology, anthropological fieldwork, disaster studies, and environmental history, this project contributes to the growing interest in understanding climate's role in our past, present, and future. It also bolsters the field of Chinese climate history, where very few studies exist that explicitly take climate not only into consideration but also as the focus of examination.
Property & Politics in Transition: Land in the South African Political Imagination
Implementing Environmental Protection: States, Private Interests, and Conservation in Brazil
Under what conditions are environmentally protected areas effectively implemented by subnational governments in Brazil? Despite their varying capacities to implement policies, subnational governments in developing countries such as Brazil have assumed greater responsibilities for environmental governance in recent decades. This leads to different rates of implementation in different regions of Brazil and elsewhere, and may reduce the effectiveness of conservation efforts. My study seeks to explain variation across states in Brazil in patterns of implementation of environmentally protected areas. Through a subnational comparative analysis of the adoption of management institutions and procedures to implement protected areas in six Brazilian states, I argue that the interactions between state agencies and non-state interest groups at subnational levels affect if and how these institutions are adopted, and the potential these institutions have to contribute to effective conservation of natural areas. To assess this argument, I will employ data published by the federal Ministry of the Environment and state agencies in Brazil, process tracing data from interviews with key actors and other observations, and original data that I will gather through a survey of protected area managers in all 26 Brazilian states. To carry out the necessary field work, I will live in Brasília from September, 2010, to September, 2011, and travel multiple times to the states of Amazonas, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Pará, Santa Catarina, and São Paulo. Completion of this study will be facilitated by my institutional affiliation with the University of Brasilia and contacts at regional universities.
Dengue Fever and Trash Collection in Brazil: Politics of Responsibility in Favelas of Rio de Janeiro
Dengue fever epidemics in Brazil are worsening, and are driven by entrenched poverty and political abandonment of the urban poor: inadequate trash removal in slums leads to environmental conditions conducive to dengue's spread. Unlike malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in rural freshwater, dengue is a disease of urban trash because its mosquitoes infest discarded bottles, cans and tires that accumulate in urban slums. An emerging dengue control strategy in Brazil promotes civil-state trash collection partnerships to remove container item refuse in poor neighborhoods. Although the poor are often held responsible for dengue in Brazil, and are criticized for resisting insecticide-spraying campaigns and home inspections that local inhabitants view as intrusive, innovative trash collection partnerships involve the urban poor in dengue control projects that structure new possibilities for public health citizenship. This ethnographic study will integrate theory and methods of public health and medical anthropology to investigate the politics of responsibility for dengue in Brazil within overlapping domains of public health and social activism. The study will answer the following three research questions. First, how does the intersection of structural factors and collective agency shape public health citizenship around dengue control in Brazil? Second, what are the cultural assumptions about the causes of dengue and where do they place responsibility for its eradication? Third, what is the relationship between socially marginal groups that participate in civil-state dengue trash collection programs, and groups that occupy existing power structures, such as state health authorities, NGOs, and international policy makers?.
Evildoers, Rebels, Anarchists: Armenian Revolutionary Parties and Violence in Oppositional Politics in the late Ottoman Empire
The last quarter of the nineteenth century was marked by the spread of the use of violent methods in oppositional politics throughout the globe. Concepts and ideological terminology made available by the global popularization of anarchism, socialism, and revolutions were adapted by social and political radicals within specific contexts. This dissertation seeks to study the practice of political violence by members of the two major Armenian revolutionary parties in the Ottoman Empire (the Hnchak Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation) between 1887 and 1908 within the context of a wider culture of individual and collective violence. The revolutionaries organized individual assassinations, bombings, and organized self-defense units in the countryside as a means to popularize their agenda, and engage with various audiences. Through extensive archival research in the Ottoman state archives in Turkey and the archives of the Foreign Office in the British National Archives, I intend to explore the logics and cultures of political violence as executed by its perpetrators, and as perceived and understood by its spectators. The identification and comparison of various practices of revolutionary violence in different settings as well as the intended and actual audiences of political violence constitutes one of the major goals of the project. The ideologies and practices of policing in Ottoman state institutions vis-a--vis the revolutionaries and Ottoman Armenians at large will also be examined as a constitutive part of the history of the Armenian revolutionary violence in this period. I hope to contribute to the debate on how political cultures and logics of violence are formed and reproduced by individuals and organizations that seek to represent such marginalized groups within society by focusing on an example from a period considered by many scholars as the formative years of modern political violence.
Peasant Political Culture, Indigenismo and State-Formation in the Southern Peruvian Andes
Echoes of Legal Pasts: Landed Property Relations in the Negev, 1858-1948
My dissertation research aims to explore the interplay of geography and law in a relational way in the Negev, now part of Israel, under two different regimes: the late Ottoman, since the enactment of the Ottoman Land Code (1858-1917), and the British Mandatory (1917-1948). Looking at both the social and the material dimensions of geography and law, this project examines the frequent reconfigurations of land relations in the Negev over the century preceding 1948 and how land rights were defined and reshaped within a unique legal order that evolved through the dynamic interaction of state law and tribal customary law. This dynamic relationship was influenced by fluctuating notions of modernization, sovereignty, authority, as well as ongoing capitalist development, all of which impacted the land regime and had significant social repercussions. Focusing on this region's Bedouin-Arab population, my project draws on Ottoman, British, and Israeli archives, personal papers and interviews, to explore the system and evolution of landed property relations, in the context of a broader analysis of state-society relationships. My dissertation will examine how the shifting understandings and categorizations of specific legal, spatial, and social realities by governmental and social actors (including courts, judges, regional governors, tax and land registry staff, inhabitants, and local leaders) shaped the geographic and legal order in the Negev. My project's focus on land relations in the Negev since 1858 provides an excellent angle from which to investigate the legal orders of imperial, colonial, and post colonial regimes in this particular region, and challenges the neat distinctions often drawn between each political order. Further, the research challenges scholarly tendency to treat the legal history of modern Palestine as if each regime brought with it an entirely distinct legal system.
The Politics of Labor and Environmental Regulation in Argentina: Constructing State-Society Relations for Effective Implementation
Phenomenology of Divination and Ethical Action in Karamoja
This study will examine relations between divinatory truths, action and morality among Karimojong, a pastoralist community in north-eastern Uganda. Karimojong highly value cattle and devote immense intellectual interest to them. They raid to increase their herds and use divination to determine the execution of raids. These often deadly raids have led state agents and NGOs to indict Karimojong as "amoral." Also, the 'unreasonableness' of their divinatory revelations and their seeming indifference to moral queries have induced earlier researchers to make comparable conclusions. However, divination and consequent actions are accompanied by a repertoire of poetry, body techniques and other aesthetic expressions. Through preliminary research over the previous year, I deduced that the difficulties of researchers in engaging Karimojong ethico-morals were due to their focus on discursive responses, the instrumentalities of raiding, and their assumption that "form and style [are] secondary" in understanding moral reasoning. I propose that a phenomenological account of aesthetic forms, perceptible in divination and other expressive practices, with particular focus on their connection to raiding, has the potential of contributing to a revision of previous understandings of Karimojong forms-of-life and should help illuminate their ethico-morals in a new way. The project will involve my immersion in concrete situations of performances and interpretations of divinations, processes of sacrifice, poetics of raids, dance, games, and the aesthetics of cattle with my Karimojong interlocutors. With this ethnography, I hope to account for how my interlocutors deliberate on what constitute a good life and truthful actions by attending to the "presentational" rather than "discursive" modes of justifying action.