[P6466] State and the City: Presences and Absences in the Mashreq

Created by Jose Martinez
Friday, 12/03/21 11:30 am


Where is the state? How is its power fashioned, formed, and assembled? This panel explores these questions through an interdisciplinary exploration of the presence and absence of political authority in urban settings in the Levant. By way of archives and ethnography, we unpack the social and material forces at play in the everyday, examining the ways they congeal to (mis)govern the denizens of five different cities across Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

Pushing back against conceptions of the state as a unitary and coherent institution, we scrutinize the mercurial practices through which it is produced. Each paper uncovers a set of uncommon agents intimately, yet perhaps unexpectedly, involved in the tasks of urban government. Under Ottoman imperial authority, and then British mandatory governance, urban life in Palestine is often historicized as subject to the whims of foreign power. Through close scrutiny of municipalisation and urban development in Jaffa and Nablus between the 1870s and 1930s, more complex governing mechanisms emerge, ones which foreground local residents as critical agents of statemaking. Peopled relations are similarly implicated in the production of political authority in Beirut. The forced migration that occurred during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) was to be rectified by the Ta’if Agreement, which would facilitate residents’ return to their homes. More than 30 years later, the continued displacement of former residents of the city’s Karantina district illuminates how coercive dispossession exemplifies presences and absences of state power across time.

Checkpoints in Baghdad remain ubiquitous nearly two decades since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Exploring the daily labors of the soldiers who man them through the prism of bureaucracy allows us to consider how ordinary tasks not often associated with governance transpire. That is, these soldiers do not just enforce a monopoly on coercion; they work to constitute the body said to hold that monopoly. Similarly, bakers in Amman would hardly be considered bureaucrats at first glance. But as they produce and sell government-subsidized Arabic bread, these bakers become implicated in materializing the state even as they highlight its truancy in other areas. Read together, these two papers strive to conceptualize dexterities and skills - “bureaucraft” - critical to effecting the state. In conjunction, the four panellists dissect how political authority articulates in and through the city, interrogating the state not as something that is, but as an assemblage that does, and does not.


Geog; Geog; Geog; Geog




Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins

(Bard College)
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins received her PhD from Columbia University in 2015. She is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bard College. Her research has been awarded funding by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council,...
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Omar Sirri

(University of Toronto)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Jose Martinez

(University of Cambridge)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Diala Lteif

(University of Toronto)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Nadi Abusaada

(University of Cambridge)
Aga Khan Postdoctoral Fellow in Islamic Architecture and Urbanism at MIT
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;