Synopsis and book structure

Institut Franćais du Proche-Orient, Damascus



Baudouin Dupret, CNRS

Zouhair Ghazzal, Loyola University Chicago




The main purpose of our collective project La Syrie au présent is to propose new horizons for research, based on the social sciences, on contemporary Syria. As already noted during our Damascus meeting on 10 and 11 December 2004, the rarity of publications on contemporary Syria poses a problem. Moreover, the bulk of current research focuses mainly on broad political and economic phenomena, and at times, their social and cultural underpinnings. We would therefore like to explore the possibility of doubling the broad political and economic stakes with a démarche that would take into consideration major social transformations from the vintage point of view of the social actors (or users) themselves. A rapid look at recent articles extracted from Internet databases (see bibliographical annex) points to a certain desire, coming from researchers which at some point focused on Syria, to transcend the purely political and economic towards more precise objects of research which would require a fieldwork experience at a micro level. What we would therefore like to attempt would be to integrate and experiment with various levels of macro research in conjunction with smaller fieldwork experiences. In short, our book shall be composed of broad chapters of synthesis on politics, the economy, law, society and religion, in conjunction with much shorter fieldwork experiments. More specifically, the book will be structured around a dozen articles of “synthesis” to which will be added some “frames on an image,” which are much shorter pieces, and whose number will finally depend on adequate volunteers with adequate fieldwork experience. In the final conception of the book, the two parts—that of “syntheses” and “frames on an image”—will not be, however, necessarily separated: we are thinking more in the direction of intermixing the long articles of synthesis along with the other much shorter ones, so that the latter would act as a counterpoint to the former (the work directed by Pierre Bourdieu, La MisŹre du monde, could serve as a model in the way it combines various texts with different tonalities).


Let us illustrate our démarche with an example. Syria goes as one of those Arab countries which “failed” its transition from a feudal and decentralized Ottoman system towards a liberal and “national” Syrio-Arabism. Upon the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, the period of the French mandate pushed for a broadening and a better hold on the political and economic bases of the urban Syrian bourgeoisie. Syria’s independence was, however, marked by a series of coups d’État, a three-year union with Egypt, suddenly conceived and then aborted (1958-1961), and then, since 1963, came the accession of the Baath party to power and its consolidation as an authoritarian régime. What is important for us would be to determine which were the most significant “breaks” at several levels: the juridical sphere constitutes, for instance, most probably the easiest level to delimit: since 1949, the sudden promulgation of the Syrian Code civil introduced a “break” within juridical reasoning, as well as in civil and penal procedures, even though, during the mandate, a quasi-official “French” code de facto imposed itself at the margin of the Ottoman Majalla. Since 1949, Syria did not, however, witness any major juridical transformation. Would a similar transformation apply as well to the political and economic? Would that date-event of 1949, which, as far as the juridical is concerned, was a major breakthrough, apply as well to the political and economic? And what about the “social”? It was in effect not before 1958—the union with Egypt and the beginnings of nationalizations—that the political and economic foundations of the Syrian bourgeoisie began a major shakeup for the worse: a process that was instituted with Nasser in 1958, then consolidated in 1963, prior to its completion in 1965. In the last four decades, the state’s control over the political and economic has considerably weakened the public sphere and cultural production. But if the period between 1958 and 1965 constituted all by itself a break which at the same time was political and economic—the end of the “bourgeoisie” of the mandate—would the same apply to the “social”?


It is in effect at this level that all messes up—hence the necessity for fieldwork studies that would bypass the general framework of “synthesis.” It is also at this level that experimentation has no limits, because all would depend on the “access” (or lack thereof) that researchers would have for their respective fieldworks. While at this historical juncture Syria is commonly represented as undergoing—with so many hesitations and constraints—a “liberal turn,” it is the “social” per se which is directly implicated. In effect, a great deal of the current research on Syria proceeds with a methodological shortcut: the state control over the economic and cultural would imply an effective and total “social control” (similar to the notorious “total institutions” of Erving Goffman). We find, for instance, that kind of shortcut in Lisa Wedeen’s Ambiguities of Domination (Chicago UP, 1999). In her attempt to study political “representations” as having a direct “effect” on the behavior of individuals, Lisa Wedeen commits a common error in assuming that the so-called “representations” act as if they were Foucauldian “disciplinary” strategies over the (apolitical?) “subjects” who end up in taking them for granted. But a great distance separates such “representations” from their “interiorization” as “normative values.” Even if we assume, for the sake of experimentation, that such “representations” consolidate as “norms,” which would help organizing the political strategies of assimilation propagated by the state apparatuses, they would nevertheless be “assimilated” very differently among individuals, groups, and regions.


In sum, even if what remains of the public sphere seems much constrained by the state representations, which we normally assume as corresponding to the dominating political norms, the “social” and “cultural” are overflowing in all directions. Which is precisely what we expect from the contributions that we have labeled “frames on an image”: to bring visibility to housing, the family, sexuality, education, labor, the arts, tribunals and prisons, the city and its licit and “illicit” neighborhoods, the countryside and its villages and tribes. So many unexplored zones, among many others, but through which we can discern the life that agitates them, in face of a “public” silence that traverses them in every direction. It is that kind of silence that we would like to break.


Tentative schedule


-        End of January 2005: Distribution of the present circular, and authors of the “synthesis” section are to be individually solicited. For the section on the “frames on an image,” other authors will be solicited, while hoping to receive proposals for additional names and topics. A call for shorter papers will also be distributed simultaneously.


-        End of July 2005: All articles that have been individually solicited must be received by that date, either as an email attachment, or else as hardcopy addressed to the Institut Franćais du Proche-Orient, Damascus. The possibility of circulating all articles among all contributors remains open. Another possibility: the creation of a website with a password for the consultation of all contributions as soon as we receive them, and once all revisions are complete.


-        End of December 2005: Communication of commentaries and suggestions by the coordinators (and, if possible, by other contributors) in order to redraft the articles for their final versions.


-        February 2006: Deadline for submitting the final drafts.


-        December 2006: Publication of La Syrie au présent.



Plan and structure


1. Major presentations (6 to 10 contributions of Ī 30 pages)


-        Internal political transformations

-        The country and its regional and international insertion

-        Economic evolutions and transformations

-        The territory, city, rural world, their planning and transformations

-        Cultural anthropology

-        Religious practices and representations

-        The law, formal and practical structures


2. Frames on an image (20 to 30 contributions of 1 to 5 pages)


-        The waqfs

-        Tribal structures in the badiya

-        Language today

-        Demography

-        Aleppo

-        The bookkeepers

-        Fieldwork on public health in Aleppo

-        Translation

-        Eco-project

-        The planning of the neighborhood of the Dummar project

-        New trends in the theater

-        The provincial towns: the example of Raqqa

-        Mobilities between the province and Damascus

-        Development of the littoral and djebel Ansariyeh

-        Parental authority in the Aleppo souq

-        The Conseil d’État

-        Literary production today

-        The cinema

-        Muftis and ifta’

-        Salafism in Aleppo

-        The magistrates of Damascus

-        The Ghouta

-        Water

-        Law and the economy

-        New information technologies

-        Political iconography

-        Psychoanalysis today



Recent publications


We have limited ourselves in this selective list of recent publications, ordered by date of publication (beginning with the most recent in 2003), only the articles on contemporary Syria (ca. 1993-2003) with a sociological or anthropological inclination. We’ve mainly relied on the Sociological Abstracts Internet database (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts). With an average of 4 to 5 articles a year, the scientific production on Syria is at best extremely poor. What nevertheless remains memorable in such a list is the desire, particularly in the last few years, to bypass the traditional frameworks of research towards less conventional social and cultural topoi. Hence the interest that such articles might bear on our “frames on an image.” We should note, however, that the majority of these authors, which often work in teams, are not known as students of Syria, and that in general their contribution for the last decade has been limited to a single project-article. Moreover, and putting aside few well known cases (e.g. Wedeen, Perthes and Batatu), such fragmented projects on such themes as labor, identity, the family, health, and prisons, regrettably did not lead to a synthesis in the form of a monograph or book.



Sato, Noriko, On the Horns of the Terrorist Dilemma: Syrian Christians' Response to Israeli "Terrorism", History and Anthropology, 2003, 14, 2, June, 141-155.

Rubin, Michael, Are Kurds a Pariah Minority?, Social Research, 2003, 70, 1, spring, 295-330.

Abdelali-Martini, Malika; Goldey, Patricia; Jones, Gwyn E; Bailey, Elizabeth, Towards a Feminization of Agricultural Labour in Northwest Syria, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2003, 30, 2, Jan, 71-94.

Hijazi, Hussain Mohammad, A Survey of Women in the Informal Sector of Rural Syria, Journal of Social Affairs, 2003, 20, 79, fall, 291-316.

Frisch, Hillel, The Role of Religion in the Militaries of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, Orient - Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Politik und Wirtschaft des Orients, 2002, 43, 2, June, 207-224.

Maziak, Wasim; Asfar, Taghrid; Mzayek, Fawaz; Fouad, Fouad M; Kilzieh, Nael, Socio-Demographic Correlates of Psychiatric Morbidity among Low-Income Women in Aleppo, Syria, Social Science and Medicine, 2002, 54, 9, May, 1419-1427.

Al-Rajab, Buthaina T; Rahim, Amal Abdel, Unemployment and Deviant Behavior: A Field Study in Damascus Prisons, Journal of Social Affairs, 2002, 19, 74, summer, 266-298.

Turkeya, Baha El Din, The Influence of Education in Shaping Environmental Awareness among Housewives: A Field Study in Tartous, Syria, Journal of Social Affairs, 2002, 19, 76, winter, 326-356.

Arnon, Sara, The Influence of a Continuous State of Uncertainty on Social Processes in the Golan Heights, International Sociological Association, Brisbane, Australia (ISA), 2002.

Ngaido, Tidiane; Shomo, F; Arab, Georges, Institutional Change in the Syrian Rangelands, IDS Bulletin, 2001, 32, 4, Oct, 64-70.

Mouawad, Ray J, Syria and Iraq-Repression, Middle East Quarterly, 2001, 8, 1, winter, 51-60.

Rabinowitz, Dan; Khawalde, Sliman, Demilitarized, Then Dispossessed: The Kirad Bedouins of the Hula Valley in the Context of Syrian-Israeli Relations, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 2000, 32, Nov, 511-530.

Hivernel, Jacques, Bab al-Nayrab, A Suburb of Aleppo, outside the Town and in the City, Études rurales, 2000, 155-156, July-Dec, 215-237.

Lawson, Fred H, Explaining Outbreaks of Islamist Revolt in Syria and Nigeria, International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 2000, 37, 1, Apr, 7-25.

Haklai, Oded, A Minority Rule over a Hostile Majority: The Case of Syria, Nationalism & Ethnic Politics, 2000, 6, 3, autumn, 19-50.

Kedar, Mordechai, "Arabness" in the Syrian Media: Political Messages Conveyed by Linguistic Means, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 1999, 137, 141-146.

Wedeen, Lisa, Acting "As If": Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1998, 40, 3, July, 503-523.

Sagy, Shifra, Effects of Personal, Family, and Community Characteristics on Emotional Reactions in a Stress Situation: The Golan Heights Negotiations, Youth and Society, 1998, 29, 3, Mar, 311-329.

Hanafi, Sari, The Ideological Positions of Engineers in Syria, International Sociology, 1997, 12, 4, Dec, 457-473.

Lawson, Fred H, Private Capital and the State in Contemporary Syria, Middle East Report, 1997, 27, 2(203), spring, 8-13,30.

Sato, Noriko, 'We Are No More in Bondage, We Are Peasants': Memory and the Construction of Identity in the Syrian Jazirah, Journal of Mediterranean Studies, 1997, 7, 2, 195-217.

Winckler, Onn, Syrian Migration to the Arab Oil-Producing Countries, Middle Eastern Studies, 1997, 33, 1, Jan, 107-118.

Bhinda, Nils, Economic Liberalisation as "System Maintenance": Economic and Political Reforms in Syria since 1970, Scandinavian Journal of Development Alternatives, 1996, 15, 3-4, Sept-Dec, 233-264.

Watenpaugh, Keith D, "Creating Phantoms": Zaki Al-Arsuzi, the Alexandretta Crisis, and the Formation of Modern Arab Nationalism in Syria, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 1996, 28, 3, Aug, 363-389.

Jouejati, Hazar S, Women and Work in Syria, Mid-South Sociological Association (MiSSA), 1985.

Alrabaa, Sami, Sex Division of Labour in Syrian School Textbooks, International Review of Education/ Internationale Zeitschrift fur Erziehungswissenschaft/ Revue Internationale de pedagogie, 1985, 31, 3, 335-348.

Drysdale, Alasdair, The Syrian Political Elite, 1966-1976: A Spatial and Social Analysis, Middle Eastern Studies, 1981, 17, 1, Jan, 3-30.