I’m an anthropologist working at the intersections of political and media anthropology, with a particular focus on Lebanon and Syria and the aftermaths of their recent uprisings. I also have longstanding interests in the history and anthropology of art and cinema. I’ve conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork with a number of film and art organisations. Since 2013, I have been researching the work of Bidayyat, a Syrian organization that was set up in response to the Syrian revolution to support a younger generation of Syrians, Palestinians, and Lebanese in experimental documentary. Through a structure of mentorship, Bidayyat trained over a hundred young people, often ex-media activists, in documentary cinema, producing twelve feature documentaries and over fifty shorts during a roughly ten-year period. I’ve recently edited an issue of the documentary media journal World Records focussed on Bidayyat through the theme of generations, translating the concept from intellectual history and anthropology, as a framework for thinking about documentary production.
In addition, since 2014 I have been working with Abounaddara, an anonymous collective of filmmakers based in Syria and in exile. I’m currently editing a volume of collected essays on their work, which will be released alongside an exhibition programme aiming at a “restoration” of their 400 short films. In addition, the volume will include a selection of Abounaddara’s essays on “dignity” and the “right to the image”, as well as their ongoing research project on Soliman al-Halabi, the assassin of a Napoleonic general whose skeleton was taken to the Musée de l’Homme in Paris and displayed as an example of a “fanatic”. Halabi would posthumously become the subject of one of the first films by the Lumière Brothers, and a heroic figure for anticolonial nationalists in Syria and Egypt. This recent project is about the archaeology of representations and museum holdings, and the dilemmas of the postcolonial restitution of human and visual remains in the wake of the recent defeated Arab revolutions.
Through work with both of these groups, I have developed a research interest on the production, circulation, re-circulation of atrocity images. I’m interested in particular in the ethics of (re)circulation, where the generally assumed direction of causality from event to image, atrocity to its representation, is reversed. How to deal with situations where atrocities are committed so as to be filmed and circulated, where the move is from representation to event? In these situations, I argue, the ethical stakes of circulating and recirculating atrocity images have changed. As a result, alongside my interlocutors at Abounaddara and Bidayyat, I have been developing a concept of “dignity” and the “right to the image” as a way to handle, rather than proscribe, images of violence.
Finally, book manuscript, based on my doctoral thesis, is about militancy and media activism in Syria, taking a global and regional perspective. Each chapter begins by focussing on a media technology, infrastructure or organisation, and then thinks through the kinds of conundrums that come to the fore when struggles over narrative intensify, or when politics and technologies become mired in conditions of epistemological murk. There’s a particular focus on images, often footage uploaded and posted on social media, as well as the rhetoric of activists and their opponents, and the political, social, and epistemological implications of the circulation and recirculation of these images and discourse.
I completed my doctoral dissertation at Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, and Institute for Comparative Media in April 2022. I’m currently an Early-Career Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, and a postdoctoral researcher on the ‘Views of Violence’ project at the University of Copenhagen. My writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Visual Anthropology, Film Quarterly, World Records, Review of Middle East Studies, and the London Review of Books.