Housing and National Development: Transitioning Political Economies of Scale in Syria

By John Kallas
Submitted to Session S6704 (CUMES Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation, 2021 Annual Meeting
This paper serves as an examination of political economy and development in Syria from the early 1970s through to the present day by studying the housing sector in the past 50 years. The focus of my research is to compare the allegedly socialist state-mobilization era of the earlier years of Hafez al-Assad’s presidency to the neoliberal reconstruction projects currently being undertaken by Bashar al-Assad in the context of the contemporary war economy in Syria. Contemporary analysis of Syria often either overemphasize the regional and international scales or the local and national scales, resulting in analyses that fail to contextualize—and therefore misrepresent—certain dynamics in and around the country. This study encompasses all these scales by examining state-directed housing projects in relation to projects engaged/initiated by local communities, NGOs, the UN, other state actors, and even construction of informal housing. The project will be based on a close reading of government and non-governmental reports on housing and economic dynamics, advertisements for such projects, maps, and narrative histories centered on housing and displacement. I have chosen to conduct a comparative and historical study—on housing specifically— not to develop a better understanding of the shift in economic modes of the Syrian state over the aforementioned period, but rather to illuminate the ways in which the state’s relationship to citizens has changed within the context of shifting national, regional, and transnational conditions. Using such methods, I am able to reorient the study of political economy in Syria to place emphasis on the construction of localities—specifically using housing formations—and center Syrian people without divorcing them from scales that exist in dialectical relation to them.