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The Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize


The Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize was established jointly in 1986 by the Leigh Douglas Memorial Fund and BRISMES in memory of Dr Leigh Douglas who was killed in Beirut in 1986.  The prize is awarded annually to the writer of the best PhD dissertation on a Middle Eastern topic in the Social Sciences or Humanities awarded by a British University in the previous calendar year. The current value of the prize is £600 for the winner and £150 for the runner up.

2020 Winners

Winner (£600)

Ayşe Arslan
Industrial Workers in the Garment Industry, House-Workers in the Family: Women's Productive and Reproductive Labour in Izmir, Turkey
(SOAS University of London)

This thesis is of very high quality not only in terms of the originality of its argument but also the strength of the empirical research used to back it up. Theoretically it combines E. P. Thompson’s approach to class formation with a Marxist-feminist approach to women’s reproductive labour. In doing this, Ayşe Arslan contributes to the literature through innovative concepts of her own, such as ‘women’s reserve army of reproductive labour’, referring to the role of women relatives and friends of working women in reducing the women workers’ reproductive obligations by undertaking some of their responsibilities without pay. The thesis is also based on a rigorous research which combines an ethnographic extended case study with quantitative data and secondary sources. It fills an important gap in the literature on the relationship between class and gender in the Middle East through a systematic study of how the industrial and reproductive work of women workers shape each other in the garment industry in Turkey. The thesis also provides insights on the factors that might enhance the formation of solidarity rather than competition among women workers, a crucial intellectual-political question for socialist feminists struggling against the double threat of neoliberalism and conservatism in the Middle East.

Runner-up

Adélie Chevée
The Emergence of Syrian Grassroots Intellectuals: Critique and Political Commitment in the Revolutionary Press (2011-2017)
(SOAS University of London)

Adélie Chevée’s study about the emergence of grassroots intellectuals in the Syrian revolution is a creative and insightful. She compares the post-2011 generation of intellectuals to the one that dominated the socio-political scene before the revolution. The study is important in more than one way. It provides innovative tools to explore knowledge production in the context of the Syrian revolt. It sheds light on intellectuals who have an ability to communicate effectively through revolutionary media and who were able to build cultural (and revolutionary) capital through grassroots activism. Chevée proposes an original framework combining Gramscian and Bourdieusian theories to explore the role of the intellectual in revolutionary Syria. On the one hand, she proposes a sophisticated framework that builds on an extensive literature about traditional and organic intellectuals during political crises. On the other hand, she engages with Arab and Syrian scholarship about the role of critical intellectuals since 2011. This allows the author to formulate a solid critique of Western knowledge production about the region. Chevée debunks popular Orientalist tropes about cultures in the Middle East and the Arab regions. Finally, Chevée conducted interviews with key grassroots intellectuals in Beirut, Gaziantep, and Istanbul. This multi-sited study provides a nuanced account of the cultural field in Syria and the diaspora since 2011. It explains the tensions between older and newer generations of intellectuals and the evolution of the cultural field in the past decade. Ultimately, the study makes important contributions in several fields, including studies of nationalism in the Levant; knowledge production in the MENA region; as well as the history of the cultural sphere in Syria.

Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Simon Leese
Longing for Salmá and Hind: (Re)producing Arabic Literature in 18th and 19th-Century North India
(SOAS University of London)

This is an impressive piece of work, which takes as its subject an under-researched and almost wholly unexplored field that will almost certainly attract further attention as a result of Simon Leese’s preliminary explorations. It focuses on what Leese characterises as an ‘Arabic moment’ in the multi-lingual intellectual history of 18th- and 19th-century North India and investigates how Muslim poets and scholars in the area engaged with aspects of the Arabic literary heritage, moving between the ‘three languages’ (Arabic, Persian and Urdu) while careful to keep what he terms the ‘poetic terrains’ of those languages distinct. Much of the thesis is based on newly unearthed sources, which promise to provide material for much future research in this area.

The topic of the thesis clearly requires a knowledge of the languages involved that goes well beyond that of most PhD students but Leese demonstrates that he is well equipped for the task and it is hard to fault the detailed literary and textual analyses that make up a considerable proportion of the thesis. Leese’s argument that Arabic scholars in India during this period had a rich historical and geographical awareness is a cogent one, and seems certain to suggest possibilities for re-reading Arabic’s other multilingual pasts and multilingual poetics more generally. Not the least of the other merits of the thesis is that, despite the linguistic complexity of much of the material being discussed, it reads easily and is impeccably presented. All in all, this thesis not only makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in the literary and cultural history of the region, but also makes a highly significant contribution to the field of study.

2019 Winners

Joint Winners (£300 each)

Veronica Ferreri 
A State of Permanent Loss. War and Displacement in Syria and Lebanon 
(SOAS)

A state of Permanent Loss. War and Displacement in Syria and Lebanon. This thesis chronicles the trajectory of displacement of a Syrian community from al-Qusayr and its countryside to Lebanon. Based on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and the collection of oral histories, the work dissects Qusayris’ tasharrud, a term used by the community to define its own displacement and war. Tasharrud,‘a state of permanent loss’,is constituted of three distinct facets: the loss of home, of social status, andofofficial documents. The study begins by tracing the rise and fall of the Syrian Revolution in Qusayr, and the origin of tasharrud which is situated in the community’s forced expulsion during the military campaign led by the al-Assad regime and Hezbollah militants. In Lebanon, the community retrieves a new ordinary life through the creation of the camp and an informal school. This ordinary life is nevertheless disrupted by the encroachment of two other types of loss that constitute tasharrud. Whereas the loss of social status mainly surfaces through discourses defining the camp as a site of poverty, the loss of the official Syrian papers creates a condition of legal death that lies ambiguously between illegality in Lebanon and statelessness in Syria. I conclude that a temporality of tasharrud co-exists and is entangled with a temporality of ordinary life, allowing the community to envision a future through its commitment to child education. Although these hopes are tied to its return to Syria, their power lies in the way they are instilled in the community’s life, reconfiguring these losses and eroding the informal and illegal nature of their displacement.

Shiva Mihan
Timurid Manuscript Production: The Scholarship and Aesthetics of Prince Bāysunghur’s Royal Atelier (1420-1435) 
(University of Cambridge)

The Timurid Prince Baysunghur (1397-1433) was one of the most significant patrons of the arts, and the output of his royal library in Herat marked one of the pinnacles in the entire history of Persian arts of the book. This dissertation presents a novel study of his manuscript corpus, emphasising both the scholarly attention paid to the texts, and the care lavished upon every art of bookmaking, including calligraphy, illumination, illustration, and binding. This thesis provides a sustained analysis of individual productions of Baysunghur’s atelier in chronological order and in relation to the famous petition-report, known as the ʿArza-dasht, written by the head of the library. This single extant document is a snapshot of the royal workshop with art and architecture projects in progress at a particular moment that has long demanded further clarification on various levels. This study defines the puzzling technical terms, establishes the date of the report, and more significantly, calculates the scribal work rates at the atelier for the first time. This study adds a considerable number of codices to those previously associated with Baysunghur’s library, which in turn contributes to a revised analysis and translation of the ʿArza-dasht. The corpus of Baysunghur’s productions is examined chronologically and in relation to the librarian’s report, and individual manuscripts are analysed with regard to their textual and aesthetic traits and their placement in an art historical context. The Shahnama of Baysunghur, which for many years has been inaccessible for close scholarly study, receives extended treatment. With a multidisciplinary approach, this study provides important new insights from codicological, historical, textual and aesthetic points of view. Different from many other studies of artistically refined codices, this research pays ample attention to the texts contained in the manuscripts and prioritises their codicological aspects (including binding, paper and illumination) over illustrations. Finally, it explores the choice and subject of texts selected for copying by the patron, an aspect that has not been sufficiently taken into account in previous work. It also reconsiders the role of the atelier’s head in shaping the patron’s taste and forming the Herat School of art. The overall aim is to enhance and extend understanding of scholarship and aesthetics in a unique royal library, that of Prince Baysunghur.

Joint Runners Up (£150 each)

Dena Fakhro
The Blood Vengeance Theme in Arabic Poetry: From the Classical Poetic Tradition to the Present 
(SOAS)

Graphic depictions of violence are by no means exclusive to Arabic cultural production, but they do play an ongoing role within the poetic canon as well as within accounts of legendary battles, lamentations for the deceased and the iconography of heroism. Blood vengeance is an institutional mechanism for restoring lost honour according to a ritual process which consists of poetic incitement, followed by active blood-letting, a period where tribal identity is reinforced and a poetic closure. Through an examination of verse from across the Arabian Peninsula, woven over fifteen hundred years, I focus upon the poetic ritual and how speech can shape memory, cement ideology and condition behaviour along an epic continuum of time and geography, with the mood music of a glorious history as accompaniment. Initially, I view conflict from the perspective of the ancient institution of the blood feud which facilitates survival in challenging desert circumstances, where resources are scarce and honour is bestowed upon a dominant hero. In so doing, I study the paradigm from anthropological, mythological and politico-economic perspectives, and demonstrate that the feud cycle is a continuous metaphor that contextualizes a vengeful act as an aspect of sectarianism, border conflict between empires, anti-colonial resistance or militant jihadism. Within my analysis, I consider classical examples of verse, such as the Jahili heroic poem, Kharijite verse from the early Islamic period and war propaganda of the Abbasid court; as well as a neoclassical poem from the mid-twentieth century and twenty-first century jihadist poetry. By identifying recurrent motifs, repetitive content and traditional forms, I argue that poems appear to transcend their own time and conform instead to a political meta-narrative of armed struggle, which variously involves tribes, class, religious affiliation and ethnicity.

Lewis Turner
Challenging Refugee Men: Humanitarianism and Masculinities in Za‘tari Refugee Camp 
(SOAS)

Feminist scholarship has demonstrated that ‘womenandchildren’ become the central and uncontroversial objects of humanitarian care and control in contexts of conflict, disaster, and displacement. Yet very little scholarly work has attempted to understand the place of men within humanitarian policies, practices and imaginaries. Through an exploration of the life and governance of Za‘tari Refugee Camp, Jordan, in which 80,000 Syrians live, this thesis argues that for humanitarianism, refugee men present a challenge. Humanitarian actors read Syrian men in gendered and racialised ways as agential, independent, political, and at times threatening. Refugee men thereby disrupt humanitarian understandings of refugees as passive, feminised objects of care, and are not understood to be among the ‘vulnerable,’ with whom humanitarians wish to work. Grounded in feminist and critical International Relations scholarship, and with an emphasis on the embodied, material and spatial practices of humanitarianism, this thesis draws on twelve months of fieldwork in Jordan, including participant-observation in Za‘tari Refugee Camp, and interviews with humanitarian workers and refugees. It demonstrates that humanitarian actors consistently prioritise their own goals, logics, and understandings of gender, over those of Syrians themselves, and exercise power in masculinised ways that actively disempower their ‘beneficiaries’. In the name of ‘global’ standards, humanitarian interactions with, and control over, refugee women are justified by a rhetoric of ‘empowerment.’ Refugee men, by contrast, are present but made invisible within the distribution of humanitarian aid, time, space, resources, and employment opportunities. These modes of humanitarian governance challenge Syrian men’s understandings and performances of masculinities. Yet when refugee men attempt to exercise agency in response to the disempowerment they experience in Za‘tari, humanitarian actors understand them as problematically political, and too autonomous from the control of humanitarian and state authorities, who attempt to re-assert their authority over the camp, and render Za‘tari ‘governable.’ 

Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Gizem Tongo
Ottoman Painting and Painters during the First World War 
(University of Oxford) 

This study focuses on the Ottoman art world during the First World War and explores how the war changed the conditions of art production, its agents, and the art itself between 1914 and 1918, a topic that has remained peripheral to international cultural histories of the First World War and modern art more generally. In modern Turkish history and art history too, the art of the war years has either been overlooked―buried in the images of the Independence War that followed―or distorted for ideological purposes―emphasizing the militaristic and pro-war aspects of wartime artworks and marginalizing or excluding non-Muslim Ottoman artists from the story. This study details the diverse institutions, exhibitions, patrons, collectors, critics, and artists who made up wartime Ottoman art world, as well as the rich variety of visual images produced during the war years, from popular illustrations to easel paintings. During the war, like other belligerent governments, the Ottoman state and semi-official patriotic associations commissioned artists to produce war-related works for internal and international propaganda purposes and, as the war progressed, as a historical record of national endeavour. Whilst some Ottoman artists gained a more popular appeal via the propagandistic wartime mass culture, the current of ethnic Turkism which fed into this posed a major challenge to the empire’s well-established cosmopolitan artistic milieu. Above all, this study reconsiders the view that propaganda, jingoism, and militarism entirely dominated the cultural scene between 1914 and 1918, recovering how Ottoman artists’ paintings often figured the struggles of soldiers in battle and of civilians on the home front in ways that were, if not openly pacifistic, more complex and ambivalent than later mythmaking allowed. The thesis hopes to make original contributions to the history of modern Ottoman/Turkish art, the social history of the Ottoman home front, and the international cultural and art history of the First World War.

List of recipients 2001-2018