I am an anthropologist who is an interdisciplinary scholar of the state. My career has centered around generating deeper understanding of the production of state power in relation to sex, archives, the secular, and law. My work is located at the intersections of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Middle East Studies, and Anthropology. I employ archival, ethnographic, and legal research to center Lebanon, the broader Middle East, the War on Terror, and settler colonialism in the United States. My scholarship is grounded in feminist and queer theory, post-colonial theory, area studies, comparative settler colonialism, and theories of state power, sovereignty, and secularism.
Three themes structure my research. The first is sovereignty, state power, secularism and law. In my first book, Sextarianism: Sovereignty, Secularism and the State in Lebanon I trace how the Plenary Assembly, the highest court in Lebanon, performs and enacts sovereignty by legally and bureaucratically tying and untying the knots between sex and sect, and between religious personal status, civil, and criminal law. I theorize how biopolitical citizenship is constituted through the regulation of sex, sect, and sexuality. I call for a “sexuality studies” that foregrounds heterosexuality as a securitized disciplinary project, one that has different stakes for men and women. The second theme that structures my research is sectarianism, war, and political uprising. My work rethinks the history of and experience of the nation state in the Middle East by focusing on war, displacement, and resistance as recursive temporalities rather than “crises.” I explore, for example, how refugees and citizens are made and unmade in Lebanon. This perspective allows me to theorize political sectarianism as a technology of securitization that centers sectarian demographics, women’s sexuality, and racism, classism, and violence. Thirdly, my research explores the relationship between methodology and epistemology as they relate to different fields and locations of research, specifically the Middle East and the United States. I explore and generate theoretical approaches to archival and ethnographic research in area studies, gender and sexuality studies, and anthropology.
My first book, Sextarianism: Sovereignty, Secularism, and the State in Lebanon (Stanford 2022), rethinks state power and resilience; elaborates political difference at the intersection of religious and sexual difference; and reveals how secularism is staged nationally and transnationally as both a structural form of power and a set of values, practices, and aspirations. Sextarianism is grounded in more than ten years of original archival and ethnographic research in Lebanon. It theorizes state power from the vantage point of legal practice, court archives, and social movements. Sextarianism introduces three new conceptual frameworks; sextarianism, evangelical secularism, and an epidermal state. As a theory and method, sextarianism helps us understand how rule through discrete and abstract regulatory categories distributes the spoils and underbellies of liberal democracy. Making visible the intersectional experience of power, and the intersectional distribution of power’s effects within any given system, is key to understanding and dismantling the promises of liberal abstraction and universalization.
My second book project is also grounded in original archival and ethnographic research, but in set in a different location—the United States. It builds on my publication and teaching record on settler colonialism, archival power, and family history.
Three years ago, my aunt emailed me a document that she had downloaded from Ancestry.com. It was purportedly an autobiography of my great-great aunt, Eliza Morrison. Eliza Morrison was an Ojibwe woman who lived in the upper Midwest in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries until she was moved to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians Reservation in Wisconsin. My mother is an enrolled member of the Band River Band, as are my aunts, uncles, and cousins. When I began to research Eliza Morrison’s life, I was surprised to see that letters she wrote to her employer have been published five times. The publishers, editors, journalists, archivists and academics who wrote about Eliza were all white, non-indigenous settlers. These created her “autobiography,” one of few written by an indigenous woman in English, out of her correspondence, letters, oral stories, and diaries. I plan to focus on each scene of publication in my book, beginning with the publication of Eliza’s “campfire stories” in a now defunct Chicago newspaper in the nineteenth century, and ending with someone who describes herself as “obsessed” with Native American family trees editing and uploading a previous account of Eliza’s life onto ancestry.com in 2014. I have conducted preliminary research and located Eliza’s original letters, photographs, and writings at the University of Minnesota, where she is archived within and under an archive dedicated to her white employer’s grandson, whom she helped raise.
My third book writes the contemporary, sextarian history of Lebanon from the vantage point of five court cases, beginning in a WWI era case that pivots around sextarian transitions from the Ottoman Citizenship law, French colonial law, and Lebanese nationality law. The final case is also about nationality and revisits this sextarian legal history. It is currently being argued in Lebaese courts.
My public intellectual work as a filmmaker and writer are also informed by my research interests I have authored and co-authored over one hundred and ten articles for Jadaliyya and three for Middle East Report, the two premiere publicly facing sites for critical knowledge on the Middle East. I have also been published in Al Akhbar newspaper—a regional daily newspaper, and Mada Masr -an Egypt centered online magazine, and Al Jazeera. The main themes of my public scholarship have been gender, sexuality and feminism in the Middle East; the contemporary history and politics of Lebanon and the Levant; law, sectarianism and intersectional violence in Lebanon; the Arab uprisings; the War on Terror; queer exceptionalism; urban securitization in the Middle East; and settler colonialism in Palestine and the United States. In my writing I both respond to news events, such as the Lebanese Presidential Elections, and elaborate research themes such the regulation of sexuality in Arab majority states, and the importance of centering gender in our analysis of political uprisings globally.