Scholars in Context: Dina Hadad
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research, and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Dina Hadad (DH): My research focus has always considered politics of exception and laws in times of crisis within the Middle East. This includes how emergency powers affects human rights in times of crisis and to what extent permanent emergencies would change the dynamic of relation between law, an established rule of law, and society. At the moment I am considering the international environmental crisis and its manifestations within the Middle East during/after the pandemic. My research reflects on climate change as a local and international crisis at the same time. This calls for consideration of environmental causes of climate change and legal responses. It attempts further analyses into the link between conflicts in the area and progressive capital powers in times of globalization, regionally and internationally. I look at environmental issues within the lens of crisis and question whether “environmental rule of law” as a concept is still fit for purpose and how the recent pandemic has revealed shifting dynamics between the Global South and Global North.
I am also interested in a feminist reading of international law and the role of women in advancing legal reforms at both a historical and more contemporary level. I am looking at the case of Syrian women and reading recent changes in law in terms of women’s rights and personal status laws, while reflecting on other comparative material within the Arab world.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literature does it address?
DH: Theoretically, a third world reading of international law (TWAIL) feeds into my research and provides a structure for reading history of state establishment within the Arab Middle East and offering possible explanations of legal and governance challenges.
When looking at women’s socio-legal developments, my starting point has always been analyzing the local significance of human rights and why women as agents have gained or lost their role throughout a specific national process.
J: What brought you to this work? What was the source of inspiration?
DH: Coming from Syria, a country that has remained in a permanent state of emergency for over forty years, before collapsing into acute conflict that dismantled the claimed social structure, prompted me to pursue critical legal studies to better understand this legal phenomenon. A third world reading of international law and the south-south dialogue provide some promising pursuits in terms of analysis and lessons learnt. At the core of the critical reading of third world approach is the critique of the origin of the state as a concept and the institutional establishment of international law as an operative system. These lines of discussion resonate with my analysis of politics of law when discussing human rights legacies and the relation between the “national” and the “international.”
J: What audiences would you like to reach, and what kind of impact would you like your research and writing to have?
DH: I strongly believe that academia should not be pursued in detachment from the public. Looking into international law and human rights often alienates audiences who are less familiar with the history and institutional process of the law. Seeking to engage with the public in terms of empirical research and hopes for legal change is my constant aspirational focus.
I started my professional life as a lawyer and an activist. While life paths can lead in various unexpected directions, I always hoped that my focus of work and research would materialize with change and reform and hoped that it would not be stuck in a truth abundant/truth-seeking research. As the reality of constant conflict, however, makes legal changes less significant, my research seeks to understand through gathering empirical data the process of change and tackling socio-legal challenges.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
DH: I am working on pedagogy and teaching international law in the Middle East. My teaching experience extends across different sub-regions within the Arab Middle East. Expectations from international law as a discipline vary depending on the states’ foreign policy and their national educational agenda. While looking at areas that foster the empirical research of pedagogy, I have also been intrigued by the positionality of an international law scholar and seek to investigate further how self-awareness of students would serve stretching their critical skills and ability to relate to experiences beyond themselves and their territory.