'You love us as much as you eat!' Furniture, food and the methodological compartmentalisations of hospitality in Damascus, Syria.
(University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores how the boundary-making of hospitality in Damascus illuminates specific confluences of the political and the phenomenological. I argue that the terms of hospitality figure and ground the ways ‘the everyday’ was implicated in the police state of Syria prior to the civil war.
Paper long abstract:
Hospitality as a Middle Eastern trope is central to ethnographic elaboration on local practice; conjoined with what is often dismissed as 'belly dancing and couscous' its implications beyond anthropology are often treated uncritically. This paper uses the terms of hospitality among middle and working class Damascenes prior to the civil war to show how attention to hospitality and indeed 'belly dancing and couscous' is crucial to understanding the grounds and figurations of political practice and the categories we use to denote them. Ethnographic praxis forces the anthropologist to experience the utterances, rhetorics and phenomenological configurations of boundary-making and compartmentalisation. By exploring such processes from a domestic vantage this paper addresses the methodological terms of the 'everyday' and its specific configurations with the 'political' in Syria's police state. I use the sensual experiences of hospitality and its attendant reciprocities, compartmentalisations and compositions of furniture, food and domestic spatial arrangements as a heuristic device to demonstrate why hospitality is a politically implicated trope. By paying attention to the ways one is asked to situate oneself within such hospitalities, reciprocities and assemblages of dependence, methodological categories such as 'the everyday' are brought into question. This I argue simultaneously destabilises the grounds on which ethnography is legitimised and enjoins us to take seriously ethnography as 'methodology', in order to situate the emic requisites of categories such as the political, the everyday, the hospitable and the terms of bearing witness to radical social change and violent rupture.
Hospitality, dependence and mutuality: negotiating positionality and methodologies in the Middle East