How has the Syrian regime been able to bear the brunt of the challenges raised against it? And, what can we learn about the seductions of authoritarian politics more generally from the study of Syria? These questions animate Lisa Wedeen’s Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria (University of Chicago Press, 2019). Her answers to them journey far beyond narrow causal inferences about the war in Syria, into an empirically rich, theoretically sophisticated account of the part that ideology as form plays in the making of subjects. Drawing on a decade of multi-sited ethnography, Wedeen traverses the day-to-day violence of war to attend to how Syrians are interpolated into arrangements for political domination through logics of disavowal. Weaving her interlocutors’ cultural products and interpretations of conditions in Syria together with work by Althusser, Arendt and Wittgenstein, she offers a complex and unsettling account of how people are brought into deeply ambivalent relationships with neoliberal autocracy, at once desiring political change and craving social order.
Listeners interested in learning more about Lisa Wedeen’s research can find the data that she generated and drew upon for her book here. Additionally, among those video productions that she discusses in the book and the interview, the finger puppet satire Masasit Mati, or Top Goon, is available on YouTube, while the documentary Silvered Water is available for purchase on Amazon.
Listeners to this episode of New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science might also be interested in two other episodes on exemplary interpretivist political scientific studies featured in this series: Sarah Marie Wiebe on Everyday Exposure, and James C. Scott on Against the Grain.
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Nick Cheesman is a fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University, and a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group. He co-hosts the New Books in Southeast Asian Studies channel.