Fear and Foreboding in Syria
A Talk by Lisa Wedeen
George Mason University
Merten Hall 1204
Thursday, 22 March 2018 | 3pm
Pizza and drinks will be provided!
“Fear and Foreboding” is excerpted from chapter five of Lisa Wedeen’s new book project, Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria. In this presentation, she considers the workings of ideology in times of tumult—analyzing the hardening of sectarian identifications in the context of neoliberal autocracy’s unraveling and retrenchment in Syria. Drawing on rumors circulating at the beginning of the uprising, the presentation pursues four main objectives: 1) to interrogate temporality in conditions of affective excess, in which the present is displaced by anticipatory fears—a hypothetical reaching for worst-case scenarios in advance of catastrophe; 2) to examine the violence at the heart of in-group solidarity; 3) to argue that a politics of what Octave Mannoni calls disavowal—je sais bien mais quand même (I know very well and yet nevertheless…)—can be crucial to the maintenance of status quo conventionality, perhaps particularly in moments when order is profoundly threatened; and 4) to raise questions about the nature of factual credibility and its salience for ideological uptake. Part one unpacks these points. Part two considers the cultivation of communal loyalties in excess of material incentives as a way of understanding how distinct political imaginaries proved crucial to regime survival. Part three discusses what Raymond Williams called “structures of feeling,” a concept associated for him with two others— “residual” and “emergent” forms of sociality—that together help us theorize how sectarian identifications can displace emancipatory possibilities for political solidarity.
Sponsored by the Middle East and Islamic Studies Program, the Arab Studies Institute, and Global Affairs
Lisa Wedeen is the Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and the Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago. Her publications include Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (1999); "Conceptualizing 'Culture': Possibilities for Political Science" (2002); "Concepts and Commitments in the Study of Democracy" (2004), Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power and Performance in Yemen (2008), "Ethnography as an Interpretive Enterprise" (2009), "Reflections on Ethnographic Work in Political Science" (2010), and "Ideology and Humor in Dark Times: Notes from Syria" (2013). She is the recipient of the David Collier Mid-Career Achievement Award and an NSF fellowship. She is currently working on a book about ideology, neoliberal autocracy, and generational change in present-day Syria.