Introduction
Revolution and loss
in Rebel populism
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The introductory chapter sets the tone of the book by focusing on key moments in the life of Abdullah, a 26-year-old migrant worker from rural eastern Syria. From day-to-day encounters over five years, the introduction places his life within the fieldwork context and the Syrian uprising more generally. I highlight key themes and literature through his life history. And my aim is to avoid a dry and static introductory chapter by instead pinpointing the book’s core contribution through the ethnographic context itself.

The reader learns about Abdullah’s social network, how he first encounters the promise of revolution, and the diverse range of grievances he holds toward the state. As the uprising spreads across Syria, Abdullah begins to see himself not only as a “migrant worker” but now part of “the people” and fundamentally opposed to “the regime.” He frames his support not as a mechanical “bread-riot” reaction to impoverishment, but specifically through what his impoverishment means for the reproduction of his socio-cultural world – like his inability to display generosity during Ramadan, or the loss of educational opportunities due to excessive working hours. It is in this style that the book’s more extensive engagement with debates on art and aesthetics, neoliberalism, new technology, masculinity, the economic basis of the revolt, and revolutionary participation, are also introduced – but always with the intent of helping make sense of Abdullah’s emergent political commitments.

Rebel populism

Revolution and loss among Syrian labourers in Beirut

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