Masculinity in (a) crisis
in Rebel populism
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Chapter 5 is about what it means to be “a man” in Beirut. My argument is that what it meant to be a “man” and how far one can achieve socio-culturally specific ideas of “manhood” was impacted by the high degrees of pauperisation witnessed in Syria before the uprising. Contra literature that stresses the “crisis of masculinity” argument is “exoticist” or “orientalist,” I show through ethnography that my informants were very much concerned about their ability to live up to certain gendered expectations. However, I argue this concern is not at all uniquely “Arab,” for gender scholarship has revealed instabilities within hegemonic masculinity as emergent within similar conditions of economic austerity and neoliberal pauperisation across the word.

I classify three models of masculinity to which Syrian worker-rebels aspired, and around which they recognised themselves and others: (1) al-shabāb [lads], (2) al-kibār [elders], and (3) al-thuwwār [rebels]. The chapter deploys ethnographic vignettes to reveal how al-thuwwār, as with the martyrs in the preceding chapter, upset traditional patriarchal power relations between younger and older men.

An earlier generation of Syrian men working in Lebanon generated savings and transitioned from a period of youthful indulgences (al-shabāb) in the city to finally become heads of household back home (al-kibār). But as this pattern collapsed, Syrian labourers had little option but to begin building lives for themselves in Beirut. Now they do so without the economic means to anchor values associated with being an older man (i.e. providing for a family, building a home or raising children). This transition became, I argue, something like a performance without a stage.

Rebel populism

Revolution and loss among Syrian labourers in Beirut


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