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A state of conspiracy: Syrian challenges to political authority in the course of the everyday

A state of conspiracy: Syrian challenges to political authority in the course of the everyday


Department of Social Anthropology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UNITED KINGDOM.


Ethnography of the state has long been focused on either a state’s reproduction of itself or on ‘the people’s’ resistance to it. In both cases, the state is cast as a unified, holistic identity that exists in diametric opposition to the people living within its borders. There have been some recent attempts to speak back to these assumptions (e.g. Navaro-Yashin 2002), but we are still left with a monolithic image of the state. This thesis is an attempt to break down the ‘obvious’ divides between the reified concepts of People and State, especially in regards to Arab Middle Eastern countries. My analysis is based on 13 months of fieldwork in Damascus, Syria, where I witnessed how politics are lived and described in the course of everyday life.

This work focuses on popular stories about and interactions with what might be labeled global and state politics. Thus I read their stories to not be just narratives but narrative actions—a concept I suggest considering as a ‘narraction’ to encompass its seemingly dualistic, but practically singular nature. Political narractions in Syria often take the form of identity-work or conspiracy theory; this thesis approaches these as ethnographic objects and undertakes a more performative analysis of these narractions. I suggest that in narracting these stories, Syrians are doing a form of relations, making connections and disconnections between the various subjects within the narractions (and themselves) in a manner that is highly fluid and flexible and can seem somewhat ambiguous (if not in the conventional use of the term).

That there can be simultaneous connections and disconnections is not as mutually exclusive a state as it would appear and is also one that Syrians experience in relation to kinship and friendship. In a comparative turn, I suggest that in both familial and political relations, the disconnections (challenges) are not a form of ‘resistance,’ but are a negative (Narotzky and Moreno 2002) aspect of relations that are just as essential to the overall construction and maintenance of a relationship as the positive ones we are more familiar with (e.g. familial affection or political activism). Finally, I argue that this process of ‘making connections’ via observing and narracting relationships can provide a broader model of knowledge production that applies to the work of anthropologists as much as to the conspiracy theorizing of Syrians.