Who to Be, What to Wear: Ritual, Style and Violence in the Making of Lebanon’s Popular Organizations


Fri, 09/19/2014 - 3:00pm to Sat, 06/25/2022 - 4:13am

In studies on Lebanon’s wars, “popular organizations”—including scout movements, paramilitary organizations and political parties—are often framed as the agents of violence. Scholars argue that their divergent sectarian make-up and ideologies pitted them against each other, setting the stage for war. While this approach locates the roles of sect and ideology in conflict, it overstates the strength of these factors, detailing them as if they made war inevitable. More importantly, this approach obscures the cultures that formed around popular organizations, both inside and outside moments of violence. This talk focuses on everyday life in the early histories (1930s-1950s) of three popular organizations that would fight in Lebanon’s wars of 1958 and 1975-1990: the Kata’ib Party, the Najjadeh Party and the Progressive Socialist Party. Whether it was performing membership rituals, donning party clothing, outlining rules and regulations or memorializing a brawl with the police, this talk demonstrates that cultural practices played a major role in constructing the identity of these groups. Additionally, forming a distinct identity and style necessitated an “other,” setting the possibility for out-group antipathy in the face of perceived threats. These mundane practices, which are linked to discipline, strength and honor (not necessarily sect or ideology), are central to understanding later episodes of violence. Using the “cultural productions” of these organizations, including guidebooks for ceremonies, party chants, and reports on festivals, this talk seeks to bring ordinary people into the study of conflict and think beyond sectarian explanations of violence in the Middle East.

Dylan Baun is a PhD Candidate in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona in the Critical Studies in Modern Middle Eastern Culture and Society concentration. His dissertation is a history of “popular organizations” in Lebanon, which include social clubs, scout movements, paramilitary organizations and political parties. It is entitled "Winning the People: Popular Politics, Social Mobilization and Practices of Violence in Lebanon." Dylan has also been an instructor for undergraduate courses at the University of Arizona, including MENA/HIST 277B, “History of the Modern Middle East.” Outside of teaching, Dylan has worked as a researcher for a number of institutes and centers. They include the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore and The Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts at the University of Arizona.

PhD candidate
School of Middle Eastern & North African Studies, University of Arizona

MENAS Colloquium Series
Friday, September 19, 2014

Click to return to main Colloquium page