- Making Do in Damascus: Navigating a Generation of Change in Family and Work by Sally K. Gallagher
With her third book, Making Do in Damascus: Navigating a Generation of Change in Family and Work, Sally Gallagher fills an important void in the study of the modern Middle East. Her thorough work carefully examines Damascene women's familial re lationships and labor strategies. Gallagher's other works have focused on thematically similar topics (i.e., family, relationships, labor, and piety), though none examined these in the Middle East. As a sociologist, the corpus of theory she draws on may be more salient to other sociologists, though her accessible writing style invites Middle East experts, as well as non-specialists.
The book is divided into eight chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. Gallagher discusses women's issues through ethnographic narratives grouped by class. She divides her informants into three economic groups: the wealthy, the middle class, and the working class. While this set-up is helpful in providing an overview to outsiders, it overlooks important differences such as rural/urban divides, as well as sectarian identities. Though Gallagher only mentioned Sunni Islam explicitly, it is likely that she spoke to non-Sunnis as well.
The first chapter introduces the three economic groups and outlines her research question which examines the intersection of class, labor rights, marital practices, and family relations. The second chapter provides readers with a historic overview of Syria. The author briefly comments on the Arab Spring. In the third chapter, Gallagher looks at women's education, their expectations, and their opportunities. She reports that the wealthy have the most access, the poor have the least. "It is among families in the middle that we see the most tension and the potential for the most change" (p. 101). The fourth chapter consists of stories about arranged marriages. It discusses religion mainly with regard to regimes of modesty and virginity. In chapter five, Gallagher relates women's anxieties about divorce, polygamy, and temporary marriages and looks at instances of violence and honor killings. Chapter six lays out how women convinced their husbands to allow them to go to work and how they managed. Chapter seven focuses on the impact of technology with regard to national discourses around security and questions of social change. It ties back to chapter two by emphasizing historical changes wrought by what she identifies as four stages of technological development: fax, phone, email, and the internet. The last [End Page 323] chapter is a summary wherein the author speaks to the literature about women in the region (particularly Lebanon and Turkey).
Gallagher's relative lack of Arabic terms and academic disciplinary jargon makes her book widely accessible at a time when Syria dominates the news. These qualities, and the inclusion of a thorough history in chapters two and seven, make the book useful to undergraduates interested in the Arab family. It may even be useful as a reading in a class on women and the family in the Middle East. For graduate students and Syria-specialists the book is interesting because of its rich and detailed stories.
Edith Szanto is an Assistant Professor in Social Sciences at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.