technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Syrians Caring for Syrians: Transnational Muslim Humanitarian Networks

keywords:

citizenship

humanitarianism

nationalism

While the anthropology of citizenship has investigated multiple modes of political belonging • from Locke’s rights-based citizenship to ‘imagined community’ and the refugee as ‘Other’ • it has under-theorized the role of giving. Citizenship has always been a territorial mode of belonging, but anthropologists since Marcel Mauss also remind us how transactions inscribe political community. This panel seeks to theorize the relations of (non) citizens to each other and the state through examination of the role of welfare, giving, and humanitarian aid. In calling for a conversation between the anthropologies of citizenship and of giving, we aim to investigate the responsibility claims of those who authoritatively govern. If citizenship and giving are both mainly articulated through a language of “responsibility,” what would be the role of anthropology in understanding this language? First, how does contestation over the question of who is a "citizen" or group member determine who gets aid • for minorities or especially for refugees and other migrants? How do transactions of welfare and entitlements (and the status thereby encoded) resolve questions over citizenship itself? How do "misgivings over giving" • and other anxieties over who deserves aid • exclude others? Christopher Taylor’s paper examines one such contestation among Muslims in India, as they face questioning of their very citizenship status, while Mari Norbakk investigates how expatriate "Qatar-born" Egyptians navigate conflicting notions of non-national belonging in private transactions and in civic spaces of education and commerce. Second, a growing number of anthropologists now focus on humanitarianism as a new form of governance. How do/can we (re)imagine citizenship when aid organizations extend the power of the state? When does the “governance” of humanitarian actors re-interpret extant state-oriented citizenships? Salwa Tareen illustrates how Karachi residents utilize charity networks, as opposed to state institutions, to respond to “everyday disaster." Yasemin Ipek’s paper on Syrian-led humanitarian efforts in Turkey complicates current critiques of humanitarian governance as many people find themselves re-working imagined community when identities of refugees and humanitarians merge. Third, voluntary organizations can also provide “alternative models of citizenship,” given how they foster governance autonomously from (even, in opposition) to the state. How do such non-state spaces add layered complexity to citizenships, echoing anthropologists’ work in legal pluralism? All our papers challenge the assumption that state law • or even the cultural determinants of “imagined community” • are sufficient for citizenship. While we ethnographically illustrate the deep complexity of civic identity and governance, we also recall anthropology’s old insight that the gift can offer an insightful and clarifying trope to understand these manifold layers of political belonging. Finally, we question our field’s (and our) assumptions about what social scientists define as "citizenship." Our ethnographic material adds to the critiques of essentialist notions of citizenship that are rooted in territorial, racial, or other modes of fictive political kinship. Finally, we hold ourselves responsible for how we can productively converse with powerful humanitarian and other powerful governmental actors while we maintain our commitment to speaking truth to power.

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