My research engages the signification and relative value of place through Christian Orthodox narratives and practices. In particular, I ask; How does the geographical localization of sacredness order space and place, and what kinds of (dis)connections does this process effectuate? How do the literal and metaphorical prisms of space and place enact divisions between the sacred and the profane? What are the social, political, and economic structures that mediate the spatial manifestations of the otherworldly? And finally, what kinds of relations and alliances does Christian Orthodoxy establish on local, national and transnational levels? I explore these questions through journeys to major pilgrimage destinations in Greece, popular among both Greek and foreign Christian Orthodox worshippers. These destinations include places where saints have lived and died, places where visitations and miracles are known to happen, and places endowed with relics, icons, and other significant religious objects. While the value attached to these places is primarily framed in religious terms, these destinations are shaped by several other conditions, structures, and regulations, including national borders, law and bureaucracy, trade and market capitalism, transportation and the tourist industries. In this capacity, pilgrimage offers a privileged site for the exploration of encompassing narratives vis-à-vis the heterogeneity of space. Additionally, it demonstrates the multitude of meanings that operate in any given place, thus enabling, foregrounding and foreclosing relations between people and place, as well as the worldly and the otherworldly.
My ethnographic research in Egypt orbits around the notion of the ‘project’ (mashru‘). The study takes off from the observation that almost all men I meet in Egypt these days, regardless of social background, are on the hunt for a ‘project’: a business venture or investment that could provide additional incomes, increased social status, or opportunities for more lucrative work. In parallel, Egypt’s military-led government is spending huge resources on spectacular mega-projects, such as a New Suez Canal and a New Administrative Capital in the desert east of Cairo. Taking its orientation from anthropological studies of value, my research aims at identifying how projects of vastly varying scales generate similar or not so similar values. How does a project materialise futures and produce social and communal values that include but also exceed the monetary? How does its relative location – the ways in which it is connected and disconnected to places elsewhere – matter for what project is, does, envisions and promises? How is the widespread urge to set up projects linked to the current moment in Egyptian history, an historical juncture marked by austerity, economic decline and counterrevolutionary resets? What can it tell us about masculinity in contemporary Egypt?
Up until now (spring 2018), my research has been based primarily on fieldwork among football coaches, small-scale investors, and a company constructing artificial grass pitches across the Egyptian capital. My field research has allowed me to follow men who conjure, finance, and materialise valuable projects and futures within Cairo’s grassroots football industry. In the coming months and years, I will extend my investigation to time-spaces where the state executes projects on a markedly grander scale. I am also interested in exploring the threats of rising sea levels and flooding along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Here, notably, the state is not very keen on acting. Even though the dangers are immense, few projects are currently underway.
My research project focuses on examining the changing meanings and relative locations of the Beirut littoral, examined through notions of public and private space and environmental perceptions. The study is inspired by the lively discussion in the city around extensive real estate development in locations considered public and diminishing unbuilt coastline and green spaces. Looking at processes of enclosure, both in the sense of making claims to space as public, and erecting fences and construction sites in places considered public, my research seeks to understand the role public space plays in the urban change in Beirut. Furthermore, I outline the significance of the debate for issues such as citizenship, state-society relations, and relative positioning of Lebanon in the Mediterranean. How is the constitution of a 'public' delineated on the coastline through places claimed as 'public space'? How does such a public relate to notions of citizenship? How are the places valorized through the real estate markets, and how are competing claims to value of spaces outside the market made? In my research I work with people from civil society groups and casual users of coastal public spaces to understand how the spaces are engaged, produced, and debated across the society in Beirut. Engaging the discussions and practices around littoral public space allows me to ask questions about the relationship between people and urban space, both in the context of Beirut and in the context of connections extending from specific places in Beirut to places far beyond Lebanon. In addition to discussion around the notion of public, my research has directed me to look at environmental concerns, including understandings of waste and pollution for the significance of the sea for the city.
My research seeks to explore connected histories of emigration, environment and depopulation. It does through by studying the changing relations between ‘community’ and ‘land’ in Southern Italy. Petrizzi (Calabria) is like many small places in Southern Italy. After a demographic peak at around 3000 inhabitants in the 1930s, the town has been steadily depopulated and presently is home to around 900 residents. Its many crumbling homes – some constructed in the aftermath of the 1783 earthquake – are being sold at discounted prices as the town is converted into un albergo diffuso(a dispersed hotel) for individuals seeking to renovate, reconstruct and re-inhabit its space. Much scholarship in the humanities and social sciences on Southern Italy describes what Piero Bevilacqua refers to as a ‘non-history’: a tale of what the South was never able to become. Attempts to read modern Southern Italian histories through alternative narratives, on the other hand, emphasise intellectual (or ideological) currents that shape discourses on il mezzogiorno or practices that marginalise the meridionaleOther. These small places on mountainous Mediterranean shores, however, are not negatives of European modernity. These emptied towns, rather, embody rich regional, national, and global histories.
Studying relations between community and land in the context of depopulation raises several key questions: Through which archives and material landscapes might we access histories of depopulation? Which political and cultural processes are rendered visible by earthquakes, floods, landslides and crop failures? How do such events function as vehicles for social and political transformation? How are emptying towns shaped contemporaneously to urban expansion and other transregional processes? In what ways can we deepen awareness of the material histories connecting communities and land on European and Mediterranean peripheries?
Using the tools of global microhistory and historical anthropology, my research seeks to understand how Petrizzi and its material landscapes provide insight on processes that cross regional and temporal boundaries. I trace a series of events and questions connecting people and land. With the slow dissolution of baronial estates during the nineteenth century, a land-purchasing ‘mania’ fuelled emigration. Attempting to maintain power, landowners barred infrastructural development schemes, such as a road connecting the town to the countryside and surrounding towns. Peasants petitioned against this act and occupied public land. Over the course of the twentieth century, the growing occurrence of landslides, fires and crop failures was linked to the absence of maintenance due to emigration. In 1951, floods destroyed over 200 houses and pushed the municipality to consider relocating to the nearby ‘hamlet’ on former communal lands. From that moment onwards, the population declined to less than one quarter its population at the turn of the century. With this project, I hope to show how ‘community’ and ‘nature’ became increasingly entrenched, shedding light on the larger conjuncture of migration, environment and depopulation.