Spy versus spy: observation, kinship, and the state in pre-war Syria
Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork in Syria, this paper will examine how the processes of doing kinship via spying and conspiracy theorizing mirrored everyday engagements with and understandings of the state intelligence apparatus. Rather than dividing people and state, these forms of interaction were kinning them.
Paper long abstract:
One of the hallmarks of the Syrian state under Hafez al-Asad was its pervasive intelligence service. Syrians claimed that 19% of the population were government informers and assumed that every action was observed and reported. Even after Bashar reduced this capacity, Syrians looked both ways before "talking politics." However, such observation was a two-way street, as people continuously monitored and analyzed the regime, watching for signs of conspiracy. On a seemingly unrelated note, while living there, the more I integrated into local social networks, the more I came under intense observation—not by secret police, but by my adopted family. Syrians kept a close eye on their kin. Brothers watched sisters, fathers set one son to spy on another, and husbands and wives constantly tested for adultery. Spying, then, is not the sole purview of the government. When collective honor is at stake, it is everyone's responsibility to watch each other. Observing and being observed are a core part of kinship—the act of monitoring is not a divisive, but an inclusive one. That the regime was involved in similar patterns of observation suggests that the "state" in Syria was not an impersonal leviathan, but a part of the family. Based on ethnographic fieldwork from 2004-2005, this paper will examine how the processes of doing kinship via spying and conspiracy theorizing were mirrored by everyday engagements with and understandings of the state intelligence apparatus. Rather than dividing people and state, these forms of interaction were, in fact, kinning them.
Kinning the state - state kinning: reconnecting the anthropology of kinship and political anthropology