PAPER: "Cascades of Displacement: Kurdish Syrian Migrant Men in Beirut." Brown University

Presentation: "Cascades of Displacement: Kurdish Syrian Migrant Men in Beirut"
Conference:  "
Displacement and the Making of the Modern World." Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Brown University. April 2017.

This paper is based on fieldwork (2006-2013) with Syrian Kurdish laborers in the context of Beirut.  I historically/ethnographically address how we might think through layers of a longue durée of “displacement." Many of these men come from areas where Arabs were settled in the 60’s, had no formal “papers,” and grew up in a tenuous state in Syria. This was doubly complicated when climactic situations created waves of rural migration across Syria - and into neighboring Lebanon.  

In the context of Beirut many of these men were viewed like other “Syrian worker,” but as the Syrian conflict intensified the rhetoric of the refugee, the figure of the “Syrian Male,” and Kurdish nationalism overshadowed many of these men’s place in Lebanon. How can we think through examples of Kurdish migrant men (pre/during-conflict) to problematize waves of displacement and belonging? How does “displacement” mesh – and cojoin – with migration? How might we understand these relationships through a sliding scale that cascades, overflowing from moments and events, to larger phases of our lives? I will present ethnographic material to problematize displacement akin to waves, overlapping scales of time and place.


Through a yearlong series of workshops, seminars, courses, and cultural activities, Displacement and the Making of the Modern World will explore themes that integrate disparate studies of displacement.

No major field of scholarly inquiry, scientific endeavor, or literary and artistic expression is untouched by the ways that displacement has shaped the modern world. Indeed, it is fair to say that the modern disciplines in the liberal arts and their enduring concerns developed through a centuries-long productive tension between enabling this world and producing critical knowledge about it.

Yet, precisely because of its pervasiveness as a central element of the modern human experience, studies of or relating to displacement are fragmented and largely confined to silos of disciplinary and topical expertise. The central mission of this proposed seminar is to create an interdisciplinary commons, informed by the approaches and concerns of the humanities and interpretive social sciences, for the exploration of displacement not simply as a product of “other” forces, but as an engine for the formation of the modern world since the fifteenth century.

This Mellon Sawyer Seminar addresses three overarching themes: (1) Histories: Displacement as a global and historically enduring phenomenon; (2) Ecologies: Displacement as an environmental and technological phenomenon; and (3) Subjectivities: Displacement as an affective and discursive phenomenon. A common thread is a focus on displacement as formative of power relations of inclusion and exclusion.

Displacement and the Making of the Modern World pushes at the seams of the humanities, social sciences, and the natural and physical sciences by exploring long-term drivers of displacement.  The wager here is that focused interdisciplinary conversation about displacement as an enduring and global phenomenon integral to the making of the modern world can lay the seeds for imagining alternative futures.