I am a social anthropologist, with research interests in the political and economic anthropology of the Southwest Asia and North Africa. My work is concerned with transformations in the relationship between governing authorities and governed subjects, especially in contexts of revolution and liberation movements.
My first monograph, Sovereignty in Exile: a Saharan liberation movement governs (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), examines sovereignty through the case of the government-in-exile of Western Sahara’s liberation movement. Through a study of revolutionary social change, legal reform, democratization, and economic entwinements of aid and informal trade, Sovereignty in Exile explores insights into state power brought to light by the changing significance of tribes amongst Western Sahara’s refugees.
Sovereignty in Exile won Honorable Mention in the 2017 American Anthropological Association Middle East Section Book Award.
My second book, Afterlives of Revolution: Everyday Counterhistories in southern Oman (Stanford 2023) focuses on legacies of the former liberation movement in Dhufar, southern Oman. The book examines how kinship practices, everyday socialising and the unofficial commemoration of some former revolutionaries generate ongoing social legacies and afterlives of Dhufar’s revolution. These afterlives invite a rethinking of revolution, counterinsurgency, and conventional postwar histories. I held a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant and Addison Wheeler Research Fellowship at Durham University to conduct fieldwork for this project. I held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship 2019-2020 and a Derek Brewer Visiting Fellowship (2022) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, whilst writing the manuscript. A presentation on this research at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Islamic Studies is available here.
Key themes in my research
Sovereignty in Exile examines how Sahrawi refugees both draw on and transform longstanding social relations as they build revolutionary state power. I argue that while revolutions pursue new social contracts between governing authorities and governed constituencies, revolution is also a moral contract the terms of which can prove more enduring in the face of social, political, and economic changes over long decades of revolution. Afterlives of Revolution analyses long-term legacies of revolutionary social change in Dhufar, and the implications of that legacy for revisiting revolution, counterinsurgency, conventional narratives of postwar histories, and postwar platforms for progressive politics. My research has also addressed the comparative anthropology of revolution, and the politics of the visibility of revolutionary movements in Southwest Asia and North Africa in 2010-2011 .
My work on Western Sahara examines how a liberation movement has kept going over long decades in exile, occupation and diaspora. My research in Dhufar addresses how a liberation movement that was not able to continue over the long term as an activist movement nevertheless has ongoing everyday legacies in social life, and legacies in political life. More broadly, I use ethnography and detailed reading of archival sources to trace the intersectional lines of inclusion and exclusion within liberation movements, and the varied outcomes of their projects for social change.
Sovereignty in Exile traces how Sahrawi refugees have transformed the social relations of one project of sovereignty, tribes, into the social relations of another project of sovereignty, state power in a revolutionary form. Through the apparently anomalous case of Sahrawis & exile, I revisit the relationship between sovereignty, people and territory. Ethnographically I focus on the abundance rather than the absence of projects of state power in Sahrawis & exile. I argue that sovereignty plays out as relations between governing authorities and governed constituencies in relation to resources that can take both territorial and nonterritorial forms, such as rations and refugees & labour. I situate the anthropology of the state and sovereignty within an anthropology of social relations of sovereignty that are historically specific, and changing.
Mobility, forced migration and protracted displacement
By tracing the movements of Sahrawis within the refugee camps and beyond, I have shown that both mobility and the curbing of mobility have been strategies of state building for the rival state authorities and their target populations in the Western Sahara conflict. I have analysed intersections of mobility and revolution in post-exile forms of migration. I have also addressed the spatial and social ambiguities of ‘sedentarisation’ in refugee camps for refugees who identify with life in nomadic encampments. I show that protracted exile brings both opportunities and constraints for not just a government-in-exile, but also the governance of a civilian population or “governance-in-exile”.
My work examines how state authorities and voters engage with elections as opportunities to rework lines of inclusion and exclusion. Sahrawi refugees take part in elections through which they rehearse the notion of an electorate that many hope will one day take part in an act of self-determination. They do so overshadowed by “democratic casualties” relating both to the constraints of democratization in a prolonged state of exception, and to the lack of accountability in international relations which creates impunity for the suspension of Sahrawis & right to self-determination. My ongoing research on elections examines the effects of gender quotas. on Sahrawis voting practices. In the Omani case, I address how electoral practices challenge traditional social hierarchies in Dhufar.
Redistribution taxation and aid rations
By taking up cases where taxation is not straightforward - such as liberation movements (from Western Sahara and Dhufar) and rentier states (such as Oman) - I recast “classic taxation” as one particular form of a wider range of extractive and redistributive relationships between governing authorities and governing constituencies. For Sahrawi refugees, aid rations become one of the means through which Western Sahara liberation movement operates an “innovated taxation”. This innovated taxation highlights the underrecognised interplay between extraction and redistribution in North African and Euro-American tropes of state power.
Anomalous geopolitical territories
Through comparison between Western Sahara and Tibet, and other cases, the special issue for which I was a guest co-editor examined the Introduction. production of legitimacy in anomalous governing authorities such as unrecognised states, annexed territories and refugee populations.