Topologies of Power in the Syrian Conflict: Re-Thinking Space through Bread

By Jose Martinez
Submitted to Session P5097 (Politics in the Levant and the Specter of Space, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Current Events;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Since the outset of the Syrian conflict, lines of support, assistance and hostility have not been bounded by the spatiality of the interstate system or that of some sectarian regional order. Transactions and movements across networks, between communities and amongst charitable organizations link imperial cores with hitherto unknown Levantine villages; Turkish border outposts with global markets; Lebanese ports with besieged Syrian towns; ISIS controlled electricity grids with regime-held areas. These linkages are far from banal. They shape interactions, resources and relationships that remain crucial to the everyday lives of Syrians, not to mention shifts and exchanges on the ‘battlefield.’ Yet their importance is not well captured by the version of the modern international that has monopolized Anglo-American international relations. Nor are they more accurately portrayed as the product of regional rivalries amongst states and their “proxies” on the ground. While students and scholars of the Middle East have largely, although not entirely, avoided these intellectual confines, discussions of certain wartime phenomena continue to lack the tools through which they can be more fully examined. Building on insights from critical human geography, this paper seeks to demonstrate the need to think “topologically” about the proximate and distant relationships shaping the daily lives of Syrians by honing in on one object crucial to their survival: bread. It draws on multi-sited research conducted between 2013-2016 to trace the pathways that make the availability of bread possible in wartime Syria. In so doing, it will illustrate the partnerships, political intermediaries, associations and connections that shape governance in two very different parts of the country (Idlib and Damascus). The more fluid set of political relationships that will be discussed help call into question the usefulness of continuing to represent rebel and regime held areas as territorially fixed. The paper concludes by discussing how thinking topologically about Syria compels us to not only see the war in a new light, but also to rethink the geographies of responsibility such that we relate to the conflict differently as well. Ultimately, and in conjunction with the rest of the panellists, the paper hopes to shift understandings of space from an ontological object characterized by its stasis to an ontogenetic one—always unfolding, produced through ongoing social processes.