Towards an anthropology of defeat : rethinking the aftermath of the Syrian revolution

Al-Khalili, Charlotte (2022) Towards an anthropology of defeat : rethinking the aftermath of the Syrian revolution. Condition humaine / Conditions politiques, 4. ISSN 2742-9318

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial No Derivatives.

Download (547kB)


How does one study a revolution and its defeat in the aftermath of large-scale political violence? What traces does a revolution, its repression and defeat leave on people’s bodies, self, social and gendered norms, as well as lifeworlds? Based on long-term ethnographic work with Syrian revolutionaries displaced to the city of Gaziantep, located in the Syrian-Turkish borderland, between 2013 and 2019, this article interrogates what an anthropology of a defeated revolution looks like. Drawing on the anthropology of trace and erasure in the context of mass political violence (Napolitano, 2009; Navaro, 2020; Trouillot, 1995; Scott, 2014), this article maps out the effects and consequences of the revolution, its repression and its defeat on the Syrian lifeworlds.

This article asks: How does the anthropologist study a defeated revolution, a revolution whose very existence is contested, a revolution that seems to have disappeared? In other words, how can anthropology study a defeated revolution, a revolution that has been erased? The Syrian context of revolution and war leads us along further lines of enquiry: What kind of tools does the anthropologist have to retrace unwitnessed events, the very occurrence of which is denied, and whose traces are being deleted? What remains of the 2011 revolution and its defeat, and where might it be located?

Such an ethnographic endeavour thus turns out to be an attempt at locating the silenced revolution’s traces in different domains and on various scales of Syrian lifeworlds—in other words, to draw a fragmented picture of the revolution’s afterlives through the (re)collection of linguistic, mnemonic, material and bodily marks. It does so through the ethnographic exploration of revolutionary Syrians’ stories of involvement in the 2011 revolution and through the recounting of the transformations of their lifeworlds in displacement. This article thus argues that an anthropology of the Syrian revolution and its defeat can only be fragmentary.

This approach presupposes a shift from the seen and the present to the unseen, the hidden, the absent, and therefore from an ocular-centrist epistemology to other modes of knowing, through an anthropology of the invisible, for instance (Bubandt et al., 2019; Mittermaier, 2019). Indeed, one has to start with what is missing, what is absent and what is unknown to make sense of the revolution’s defeat and its aftermaths. This simultaneously suggests the rethinking of anthropologists’ methodological tools of enquiry as well as anthropological concepts, and proposes to walk away from a Eurocentric ontology and epistemology inherited from the Enlightenment (Ghamari-Tabrizi, 2016; Trouillot, 1995).

By doing so, this article aims to locate the Syrian revolution, its repression and defeat in unexpected places: in scale (the intimate) and domains (religious and social) that sometimes seem apolitical, in the social fabric, in new marital alliances, in people’s bodies, in pictures of the deceased and in conceptions of the witnesses.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2022 14:36
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2022 11:31

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update