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The living dead: revolutionary subjectivity and Syrian rebel-workers in Beirut

Proudfoot, Philip (2016) The living dead: revolutionary subjectivity and Syrian rebel-workers in Beirut. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is about the emergence, materializations, and transformations of revolutionary subjectivity amongst male Syrian migrant workers in Beirut. It documents how these processes surfaced within, and impacted on, their daily life. On the basis of over twenty-four months of participant-observation, semi-structured interviews, and oral history collection, it identifies some of the key mechanisms through which the uprising was experienced and lived out at a distance. For an extended period, Lebanon has maintained a significant population of Syrian migrant workers. Many arrived in Beirut before the first rumblings of the uprising, but when it broke, some temporarily returned to Syria hoping to participate via peaceful protest or, later, armed resistance. Yet many also found space in Beirut, through new communication technology and face-to-face interaction, to take part in the uprising. The often neglected perspective of Syria’s labouring diaspora is critical because, for these ‘rebel-workers,’ the same socio-economic pressures that structured their initial decisions to migrate from the countryside to sell labour power in the city resembles what many have identified as the material foundations for the uprising itself. The study begins with an outline of Syria’s history and its political economy to reveal how the Ba’athist state once achieved a degree of legitimacy amongst impoverished and rural workers. Legitimacy was won with thanks to a system that prevented absolute poverty and rising inequality. When this system collapsed, a major support base for the state fell away. From this foundation, the remaining chapters describe how the journey to ‘rebel’ became variously represented, reinforced and re-made. To reveal how uprisings are experienced at a distance, and how rebel identities form in conditions of displacement, these subjective processes are described in chapters that evaluate, in turn, the nature of populist political language; the role of electronically circulated art objects; the emergence of martyrdom commemoration practices across new media networks; the challenges to maintaining patriarchal gender identity in exile and finally the proliferation of conspiratorial discourse. I conclude that the Syrian uprising was fundamentally populist in nature and thus powerfully explosive, but external structures ultimately determined its transformation into a simultaneously civil and proxy war. While this transformation was at first ‘resisted,’ these revolutionary subjectivities ultimately appeared as if they were beginning to fold into, and reflect, the degradation of the uprising itself.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Philip James Proudfoot
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Mundy, Martha

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