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Mashriq & Mahjar 5, no. 1 (2018), 127-131 ISSN 2169-4435 Ali Nehme Hamdan RESEARCH NOTES: WAR, PLACE, AND THE TRANSNATIONAL The current global turn in Middle East studies certainly does not want for material. For the last several years, historians have unearthed networks of interaction that provincialize nationalist myth-making. Meanwhile, politics everywhere are increasingly marked by forms of entanglement, mobility, and encounter that span great distances rather than confining themselves to dusty Cold War categories like "the Middle Eas!." Nowhere is this more undeniably so than with respect to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Whether one points to the intensity ofsupport for the warring parties from the outside or to the ripple effects of mass displacement as they cause Europe's current "migrant crisis," the war over Syria is not necessarily a conflict in Syria. Rather, it is considered by many to be the worst humanitarian and political crisis of the twenty-first century. Key to interpreting these new sorts ofpolitical encounters has been the concept of "the transnational" which, variously defined, suggests that phenomena that cross state borders differ qualitatively from those that do no!. But do these new entanglements and encounters from afar merely constitute a new, albeit different, geography of politics for Syria or "the Middle East?" Or is there new room for agency opening up? New opportunities for domination? Ali Hamdan is a PhD candidate in the Department ofGeography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He received his BA from Middlebury College, Vermont. His dissertation is titled "Exile, Place, and Politics: Syria's Transnational Civil lVar. "His research interests cover the transnational dynamics ofconflict in the Levant, and his work has been published in Geopolitics, Middle East Report, and ladaliyya.©Moise A. Khayrallah Centerfor Lebanese Diaspora Studies 2018 128 Ali Nehme Hamdan New conceptions of community? How, in other words, does this changing geography not simply reflect, but itself alter politics in the region? Abuzz with these broad concerns I began work on my dissertation, "Exile, Place, and Politics: Syria's Transnational Civil War," seeking to use a geographic perspective to set conflict and displacement in dialogue with one another. Drawing on the conceptual tools of political geography in particular, I hoped to approach displacement and conflict not simply as connected temporally (one as a consequence of the other) but as spatially interconnected processes, breaking down what some geographers call "the false dichotomy between processes and zones of war and peace."! To this end, I conducted preliminary visits to field sites along Syria's borders that, although peripheral, were nevertheless deeply embedded in the transnational processes shaping Syria's conflict. These visits clarified that many displaced Syrians have continued mobilizing against the Assad regime even from exile in Turkey and jordan, but also that they face enormous structural obstacles that profoundly shape how they are able to "reach back" into Syria. The dissertation project thus aimed to sketch out how geographies of displacement give rise to and shape new forms of political mobilization that, in turn, shape the processes of conflict from which they arose. Research on "the transnational" poses considerable challenges. Methodologically, I have confronted obstacles quite familiar to researchers investigating conflict, but also migration: that direct access to a conflict zone is often impossible; that displaced Syrians are spread across five different countries within the Middle East, to say nothing of the many thousands in Europe; that interlocutors often choose or are otherwise forced to relocate in unpredictable ways; and, crucially, that my topic ofstudy is by its nature buried in layers oftrauma. There are conceptual hurdles as well. For one, the category of the "Syrian refugee" masks considerable variation within countries hosting Syrians with regard to their everyday lives, in addition to between countries; likewise, it does not map onto a single, neat political subjectivity, since not all Syrians are pro-opposition, even if they express anti-regime sentiments. Moreover, the "opposition" (which itselfdoes not quite merit status as a proper noun) is itself highly fragmented. No Single government-in-exile or armed group encompasses the opposition sufficiently to offer a clear referent for delineating units of analysis, cases, or even method - all of the traditional elements of strong...


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