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Environmental Anthropology and the Middle East

RoundTable IX-4, sponsored byAssociation of Middle East Anthropology, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

RoundTable Description
This Association of Middle East Anthropology (AMEA)-sponsored roundtable will explore the trajectory of environmental anthropology in the Middle East and North Africa. How do we understand the past, present, and future of these subfields? How does an environmental anthropology lens enrich Middle East anthropology? And how does attention to the Middle East enrich environmental anthropology? We will consider ethnographic engagements from across the MENA region.
  • Munira Khayyat
    Landscapes of Resistance and Survival In South Lebanon, an agricultural borderland and front, both war and living are rooted in the land. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in South Lebanon, in this presentation I consider the ways in which war grows resistant ecologies of living in an enduring landscape of war. In this warzone tobacco, goats and olives are key allies in the fight for life though ever-returning seasons of destruction. An environmental lens on Anthropocenic life-worlds brings to light the more-than-human relations that underwrite life-ongoing and survival in unlivable worlds – I call these vital relations resistant ecologies. Shifting the focus from entrenched and intractable disasters engineered and proliferated by humans, an environmental approach to such fraught worlds decenters human action, giving us a more heterogeneous and inclusive grasp of the stakes and horizons of all those who must secure a living in catastrophic zones – and it may provide fertile ground for more expansive, sustainable, grounded and hopeful political imagination and action.
  • Ms. Tessa Farmer
    As a participant in the Roundtable, I will draw on my ongoing ethnographic research to talk about the ways in which people in Cairo, Egypt are building on the longstanding tradition of charitable water fountains (sabils) to respond to climate change-induced extremes. The IPCC’s sixth report termed the Mediterranean as a climate change “hotspot,” and studies show that the MENA region will experience “unprecedented” heat waves, more severe and longer-lasting droughts and dust storms, and rainfall shortages. The overall picture is that the weather is getting hotter, and less predictable. These conditions impact cities' basic services, infrastructure, housing, human livelihoods and health. Many regional cities have long adopted urban forms that help to manage the high temperatures and often arid conditions: designing streets that manage the directionality and intensity of sun exposure and harness wind, houses that were built around courtyards, often with water features and windows set up high, and that were made of materials that function to absorb or deflect heat as needed. The patterns of life within these cities also responded to these conditions, often changing seasonally to capitalize on times of day with optimal thermal comfort. Many of these aspects of the built form and these behavioral patterns have become unmanageable over the course of the 20th and early 21st century because of shifts in the availability of materials and technology of building design, changing notions of what “good living” looked like, shifts in sensory expectations about thermal comfort, economic structures that shift the temporality and spatiality of labor, increasing urban density and changing land use patterns, and shifting social structures that dictate, for example, the layout of homes and their relationship to other spaces, to name a few. As heat has increased, the built form has shifted, and living patterns have reorganized, Cairenes have drawn on a longstanding tradition of sabils to maintain the livability of their city spaces. These practices are a response to changes in the conditions that shape Cairo’s thermal comfort range and dictate the circumstances for thermal human bioclimates (conditions of heat at the scale of a body). Difficulty maintaining a comfortable range for thermal human bioclimates is one aspect of the impact of climate change, making life in urban spaces more challenging.
  • The Terroir of Tear Gas This paper discusses the problem of cultivation of one’s land for food in the context of military waste. Land is always an issue in contemporary Palestine. While the land is not disappearing, Palestinian access to it is, sometimes as a result of Israeli “greening” projects, as the work of Irus Braverman (2009) demonstrates. In other cases, the land remains in Palestinian hands, but it may be, depending on its location, subject to military pollution. As in so many projects in Palestine, the projects of protecting foods are hindered by having very uncertain governance of their own territory and infrastructure. In the case of beer and wine producers, technical innovations from abroad and even products may be imported, but the branding emphasizes the place of production, Palestine. The role of tear gas and military waste, and of the disposal of ordinary waste itself, as the work of Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins (2020) indicates, is a salient issue in considering contemporary “taste of place” in Palestine.
  • Peter Habib
    As the essence of life, water is a resource of paramount concern for humanitarian and government authorities. In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley—home to the majority of the country’s Syrian refugees and the vast network of NGOs who assist them—water becomes a central substance that mediates relations between authorities and residents, both Lebanese and Syrian alike. As an element of governance, water becomes involved in elaborate calculations to ensure its constant provision. Such work necessarily broaches the speculative as aquifers replenish out of sight and water quality fluctuates with time. Constantly present with this water work are dealings with the unknown and unseen; the hoped for and anticipated. The limits of these technocratic projections broach questions beyond the political and social, into that of the ecological, ethical, and even theological. These speculative dimensions are fundamental not only to analyses of water, but examinations of environment more broadly. A consideration of water’s presence (or absence) in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley not only speaks to the limits of human control but offers insight into Anthropology’s efforts to grapple with the (un)known and (un)seen. I propose that thinking ‘with water’ in this way invites a similarly speculative posture beyond the borders of Lebanon into broader anthropogenic and anthropological concerns in the Middle East region.
  • Environmental social sciences and humanities scholarship focusing on Turkey have been on the rise especially in the past decade. In this roundtable discussion, I will try to situate where the conversation has been going, its relevance to the wider ME region and to cross-regional scholarship on environmental justice, infrastructure, climate, and expertise.
  • Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins
    What do Palestinians’ experiences of rest and non-rest tell us about ecologies of war and militarization? My first book considered waste as a subset of invasive materialities in Palestine. I argued that military occupation in the West Bank helps turn waste siege-like. Waste becomes both an element of the experience of occupation and an inundating ecology in its own right. In this roundtable I will consider the relationship between militarization and two other things: one is the home and the other is rest. I will show how what I call “occupied sleep” and the home intersect, in particular when we think about the ways in which ecologies are transformed by settler colonialism and military occupation. I will raise the question of how foregrounding practices and experiences of rest (and non-rest) may allow us to see how the home and body become elements in a broader militarized ecology. That is to say, how do the home and the body become invasive materialities that challenge but also shape the experience of being alive?