University of Cambridge
Dr Paul Anderson is the Prince Alwaleed Lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge, the Assistant Director of the University’s Prince Alwaleed Centre of Islamic Studies, and a Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge. Dr Anderson is a social anthropologist interested in the articulation of economic, moral and religious life. His research has a particular focus on Islam, value, moral personhood and the sociality of trade. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Syria and China, and is currently part of an ERC-funded research project studying the global trade in low-grade Chinese commodities. He is also working on a monograph of Aleppo as a trading city before the outbreak of the current conflict in Syria. At the University of Cambridge, he teaches courses and supervises research on the anthropology of the Middle East, and the anthropology of Islam.
「 Rethinking the "war economy": locating Syria in Eurasian trade routes 」
Many attempts to analyse the economic and social effects of the ongoing Syrian conflict have drawn on the paradigm of the “war economy”. For all its strengths, this paradigm is limited by a methodological nationalism, which obscures our understanding of the regional and transregional Eurasian circuits of exchange in which Syria is embedded, and of the way in which these have been reconfigured by the conflict. The paper describes some of these wider circuits of commerce, industry and investment which have operated since 2011, and which connect Syria both to neighbouring countries and to China, Africa, and the Gulf. First, it documents transAsian supply routes for mundane non-essential goods such as toys and cosmetics, between the city of Yiwu in southeast China, and the Syrian capital Damascus – which complicates our understanding of Syria simply as a war economy. Second, it describes how Syria’s conflict-generated diaspora has fostered the emergence of new patterns of investment. Rather than constituting a “war economy” characterised by capital flight from Syria to Sudan, these have embedded Aleppo in ongoing regional and transregional circulations that connect Yiwu, Aleppo, Khartoum and Riyadh. Third, it describes the new regional trading patterns that have emerged with the shifting of zones of sovereignty and the opportunities for smuggling that these present. Such routes include Yiwu-Mersin-Sarmada-Turkey; Yiwu-Mersin-Sarmada-Lebanon; Yiwu-Lattakia-Beirut; Yiwu-Mersin-Sarmada-Jordan. Again, they indicate that Syria is party to new regional circulations and should not simply be understood as an isolated war economy. Fourth, it argues that the regional trading patterns enabled by these shifting zones of sovereignty have fostered new and reemerging regional identities which contest the official (“Syrian Arab”) discourse of the Baathist nation state. These identities (“Levantine, not Arabian”) serve to facilitate and legitimate the new regional patterns of trade. By describing how the Syrian conflict has altered the way that low-grade Chinese commodities move around the Middle East, it argues that far from being an isolated “war economy”, Syria is embedded in shifting patterns of regional and wider Eurasian circulation.