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.
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.
As the uprising turned ever more violent, death became an unavoidable presence in the lives of my informants. Men lost friends, kin, and comrades. Some died in battles with government forces, and Islamic State later murdered others. These tragedies produced deep longings for a return, with a dream of enacting vengeance. But men knew it was their work in Lebanon, and whatever remittances that work generated, that kept families back home afloat. In this chapter, digital is once again central. Academics writing on the Arab Spring have elsewhere drawn attention to the importance of cheap consumer communication technology in democratising martyrdom image-making, and that this meant commemoration could fall away from the state into the hands of the people. Rebel Populism goes one step further by revealing how technology facilitated a time-space compression, allowing for men without skill in graphic design, and little free time, to deploy user-friendly image creation apps on their mobile phones. Through these techniques, workers were able to produce posters and videos that celebrated lost friends and kin, placing them within a pantheon of the people’s eternal and heroic rebel-martyrs.
Rebel Populism describes the Syrian uprising and civil war through the eyes of Syrian migrant workers and refugees in Beirut. The book relies on many years of participant-observation in Lebanon, hundreds of semi-structured interviews, as well as life history collection, image and video cataloguing, and focus group analysis. Based on this data, it describes, first, how the same socio-economic pressures that pushed the people to revolt against the Syrian government can be located in the transformation of labour migration to Lebanon from a once temporary means of accumulating future-directed savings to a faltering survivalist strategy unable to keep pace with a growing gap between wages and prices. Syrian workers expressed their bottom-up insurgent anti-regime politics through the circulating protest art, anti-regime video clips, and alternative news sources. However, as the uprising collapsed into today’s bloody proxy war, the book then moves to chart how the men began to instead seek to build lives for themselves in Lebanon despite intense social, economic, and legal uncertainty. "
This chapter examines what migrant labourers said about the uprising, what kinds of socio-economic antagonisms they wanted resolved, and what shape their idealised future post-revolutionary society might take. It argues that men’s oppositional politics are neither a mechanistic material “bread riot” response to low wages and high prices, nor are they wholly an emotionally or “affect-driven” response to “shame and indignation.” Drawing on the work of Ernesto Laclau, I argue that Syrian labourers’ horizontal anti-regime demands and ideas are indicative of a populist rupture in Syrian state-society relations. I show how workers took time to reflect on their material conditions. Then they identified who they felt responsible for those conditions (what they called “the regime”) and decided on what was to be done (“support the revolution”). I show how their opposition to the Assad government is thus not only down to some threatened sense of “identity,” but that sense of threat, and even those identities, always emerge through a specific interplay between their objective material conditions under (neo-)liberal capitalism (as migrant laborers) and subjective understandings of the politically possible (“the people” having overcome the “barrier of fear”).
This chapter critically examines two dominant strands of diaspora theorising, one described as the ‘ideal-type approach’ and the other coined as the ‘hybridity approach’. The former focuses on the key characteristics of diaspora, that is ‘diaspora as a being’, often constructing ideal types (for example, Cohen 1996; Safran 1991). The latter examines ‘diaspora as a becoming’ and pays attention to subjectivity, fluidity and hybridity when discussing diaspora (for example, Bhabha 1990; Brah 1996; Clifford 1994; Gilroy 1993; Hall 1990). While the chapter recognises the conceptual clarifications these theories have brought, it raises various problems that they have introduced. The chapter attempts to push the boundaries of diaspora scholarship, which has can get hemmed into debates on either hybridity or the gardening tropes and ideal type definitions. The chapter advocates a discussion of diaspora that focuses less on who constitutes a diaspora or according to what criteria or conditions, and more on how diasporas translate and decolonise. It argues that diaspora overlaps with transnationalism and migration, but suggests that the distinction of diaspora and its potential as a critical concept can be revealed and enhanced through translation and decolonisation. The chapter offers a temporal and heterogeneous calibration of the concept of diaspora, yet it seeks to refrain from confining it to subjectivity. The chapter thus argues how we should develop an understanding of diaspora that reveals its capacity as a critical concept, claiming its transformative and far-reaching potential.
This chapter examines the translational activities, interventions and undoings of the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. It reveals how those in the Kurdish diaspora carries out translations of their ethno-political identity to two specific audiences: other Kurds in Europe and their non-Kurdish fellow European citizens. The chapter shows heuristically how some of the conceptualisations from previous chapters can be applied, but also how they can be extended further, including how diasporic mobilisations can be conceptualised by placing them in the Global South/Global North axis, examining their engagements with the Global North. The chapter provides an overview of Kurdish diaspora in Europe and discusses the methods employed before going on to explore in detail how translating the Kurdish identity and struggle in Europe involves strategies of rewriting, domesticating and also foreignising. It identifies similarities and differences in the how translations are offered to different audiences in Europe, reveals the futility of cravings for authenticity and shows how the translational activities of the Kurdish diaspora play a central role in transnationalising their battles, exposing links between their predicament, coloniality and the Global North. The chapter also considers how Kurdish indigenous identity is being anchored via translations and decolonisations of the Kurdish diaspora – that is, by those who initially had to dis-anchor themselves from their homeland. The chapter thus shows that we can uproot indigeneity, yet embed transnationality.
Corruption and economical reform in Jamaica, 1783–91
Between 1781 and 1793 the British government embarked on a programme of what contemporaries called ‘economical reform’, which aimed to address problems of political and administrative corruption revealed by successive defeats in the American Revolutionary War. It triggered a process that would, arguably, root out entrenched or Old Corruption from the British political system by the mid-nineteenth century. The underlying factors for its success have been debated, and one of the suggestions is that the campaign was no mere bureaucratic exercise but involved a series of dialogues between popular demands, political practicalities and administrative realities that made for effective, long-term change. Focusing on a comparable process of economical reform undertaken at the same time but on a smaller scale in Jamaica during the 1780s, this chapter shines some much needed light on the experience of anticorruption initiatives in colonial settings, and contributes to the wider literature by reinforcing the importance of the interplay between political support and administrative direction. It argues that reforms in Jamaica lacking such support failed, but where that support existed, it had to be channelled in productive directions, since the political ideology – Old or Country Whig – that gave the movement its edge could work both for and against effective change. The experience of Jamaica, for all the differences from Britain in its society and economy, also shared some important similarities and helps to clarify what enabled and inhibited successful programmes of anticorruption reform at this critical juncture for the British imperial state.
Economical reform and the regulation of the East India Company, 1765–84
The early development of the British Empire in India was decisively shaped by concerns for the domestic constitution, and, conversely, the East India Company was an important feature in debates on ‘economical reform’ in Britain. Studies of corruption in the East India Company have frequently focused on the allegations levelled against their overseas employees, dubbed ‘nabobs’, culminating in the spectacle of Warren Hastings’s impeachment trial. This chapter, however, uncovers the intersections between various forms of Old Corruption in the British state and those in the East India Company at a time when the Company was undergoing a metamorphosis from a private mercantile corporation into a quasi-independent imperial agency. Whereas Hastings’s impeachment took place after the passage of Pitt’s India Act of 1784, which settled the major contours of the relationship between the state and the Company until well into the nineteenth century, the corruption analysed in this chapter was intimately connected with the process of reform, and thereby had a far more significant impact on the development of the British Empire in India. In particular, the chapter argues that the legislative reforms imposed on the Company during the 1760s and 1770s, which aimed to curtail certain forms of corruption, inadvertently opened the door to many others, as the domestic and imperial became structurally entangled.
The Scottish crisis and the Black Legend of the House of Stuart, 1650–2
Shortly after the execution of Charles I and the establishment of the new Free State, authors sympathetic to the republican regime began developing increasingly lurid tales not simply about the dead king, but also about his extended family. It highlighted the Stuarts’ political misrule and religious indifference, but it also advanced a remarkably detailed, and eye-catching, account of their sexual depravity. Charles preyed on court ladies; James was addicted to lithe young men; Anne of Denmark – not surprisingly – had a marked preference for Nordic males; Mary Queen and Scots was sexually voracious, just as her mother Mary of Guise had been. All paid a steep religious and political price for their unchecked libidos, for by 1649, God – these authors all argued – had marked the entire family was destruction. This systematic denunciation of the Stuarts in the early 1650s, furthermore, corresponded almost exactly with the Third Civil War in which the Free State faced off against the unholy alliance of Charles II and the Scottish Covenanters. The direct political relationship between the emerging Black Legend and the Republic becomes even clearer since it was partly written and almost certainly coordinated by John Milton, Marchmont Nedham and their protégés. This chapter examines this development of the rhetoric of an Accursed Family in the early 1650s, and in the process, it underscores the utility of Ann Hughes’ work of printed culture and sexual politics during the English Revolution.