World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Fieldwork research in Syria (348) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: ESOMI Universidad de A Coruña (Spain)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Natalia Ribas-Mateos

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: No many collective efforts have been done in putting together social research contributions in this area of the World. The panel will mainly address such deficit in contrast with other countries in the region. All of the contributors to this panel have done their fieldwork in distinctively contemporary disciplines, but nevertheless they share a common context for their fieldwork location and will also contribute to current debates about interdisciplinary, the division between the foreign and the native researcher role in Syrian society, and the difficulties or advantages to conduct fieldwork in such a complex society as contemporary Syria. Apart from all contributing to decipher a piece of the mentioned society puzzle, the panel will also shed light on the general trends of fieldwork in Syria, by showing and reflecting the particular circumstances explaining how and why the research was carried out in Syria.

Chair: Natalia Ribas-Mateos (ESOMI-Universidad de A Coruña)

Paper presenter: Mohammad Mesbahi (The Islamic College, London), "A critical look at field work Study in the Middle East"
Carrying out research work in the Middle East, one needs to examine the topics, techniques, and challenges of conducting field work in the Middle East very seriously, and to elucidate the ways in which they can contribute to the study of research methods. Research in the Middle East has received increased attention since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, but given how critical this work is and will continue to be in future, what are the challenges of such research and should qualitative or even quantitative methodological tools be adapted for research in the Middle East? It is argued that support and training is essential to prepare and benefit researches in making field work studies in the Middle East. There is now a growing observation or even frustration that major literature published in recent years has largely focused on what is perceived to be democratic states and not on those perceived to be authoritarian and that has become a serious issue when crucial conclusions are made. Such growing chorus of voices are concerned with the balance among alternative methodological approaches in empirical research and publications and have issued a call to further develop and refine rigorous methods for qualitative studies, in contrast to studies that rely on quantitative methods. The report will further highlight the limits of civil societies in the Middle East including those perceived to be democratic. Considering fieldwork experiences of Islamic Studies researchers in the Middle East, this study will consider a range of issues related to preparation of fieldwork study to ascertain if there effective techniques to build rapport and trust in such environments? These include the methodology employed, what actually occurs in the field, and the way that these factors affect the final research product. Areas for reflection in this report will include the reliability of, and ease of access to, the way in which interviews were conducted, prior preparation and training, the difficulties and obstacles encountered in the field, the insiders help and support, and the extent to which these factors may be said to be particular to a country or region studied. While considering both qualitative and quantitative methods, the report will critically appraise means of information gathering.

Paper presenter: Issa Muhanna (independent researcher, Damascus), "Knowledge Economy is the main reason for brain drain"
The development of global economies towards knowledge economies leads to the role of this sector during the past decades, this growing draw a new trend for the economics of these countries in impact of the nature of its economic development through the known historical stages.
The new economic science sample has been adopted finally after the tangible realization and determine quantitative for the ability of this science to achieve the growth rates and quality leap in quantity economic indicators as returning productivity, its value calculate in two directions according to the latest studies, the first direction is from the total to partial or from partial to total according to different economic intellectual school in determine the relative role of knowledge economy from the side of enhancing macroeconomic indicators. In other direction, it focuses on structural constitution and frame to determine the system of main and secondary factors and their branches which distribute in its dynamic and progress. So, its role appear growing as an owner of biggest share during the past three decades – in Economic growth rates through playing main and crucial role in Global economic development during a tangible, concrete and various aspects are expressed in:
•Increasing the invisible capital at the expense of visible capital, so the visible capital was formed two thirds in the second half of ninetieth century and it was formed the quarter at the beginning of the twentieth century. So, the visible capital control on two third of the share in the beginning of ninetieth century.
•The contribution of these industries exceeded fifty percent of the gross domestic production in all countries of the European organization for cooperation and development in 1985, because of the continued expansion of knowledge industry such as (informatics, space and medicine).
•The rise of highly qualified business, where the last one shows the increasing of demand growth the higher qualification in the developed country, so the average of annual growth rate was as following between (1981 -1991) according to the country:
High qualified country, low qualified country Canada 3.5% - 0.6, Japan 0.7% – 3%, United States 1.5% - 2.7%, Germany 0% - 2.6%, France 0.6% - 2.25%, Italy 0.1% - 2.1%.
This growth of previous three developments which is resulting of economy knowledge role growth as crucial factor in global economy developments and progress so, it determines, defines and frames to us its components and ingredient, higher qualified is the most important thing for human crew. The available part of it, cannot meet the need and the capacity of these economics to cover the gap in its highly growth rates uniformly in general economic and particularly demand growth uniformly on high qualified which is obvious in previous quantity indicators. This fact leads these countries with its indicators and enforced it to search for the solution, which the local production does not satisfy it from these high qualifications, and at the same time it cannot satisfy the raising the qualifications of people who have a poor qualified timely and qualitatively. (This was negative in France’s case and zero in Germany and Italy case) – By branching the support science for this economic- the easiest solution remains is to be the closest in time to bring the high qualified from outside although it will be on the other expense. So, they brought about 3.148 million efficiency and scientist from professional class for these countries during the past 50 years and six fold from the third world parts, and what is remarkable is at the end of sixties their numbers were a few hundred annually it arrived, to tens of thousands annually at the end of 2000 in the best conditions (only Arabian brains and qualifications). This high frequency in using those harmonize and agree with the increased with knowledge economy share at the same time of macroeconomic to these countries, considering that the first is essential component cannot be abandon it in Knowledge economy.
In front of these amount facts, the knowledge economy appears as an active factor of brain drain and the relationship growth between these two factors so this connection raise with increasing the share of knowledge economy Gross Domestic Production (GDP) .So, knowledge economic takes first place in the main reason for the immigration of brain drain from south to north, so this reason separate the previous traditional circle for immigration reasons (political, economic, social, subjective and internal alienation) – as an effective cause – and re-arranged it in a new form suited to the current stage in the amount of economic progress according to the stage of current time.

Paper presenter: Elizabeth Buckner (PhD student-International/Comparative Education at Stanford University in California), "Syrian youth and their experiences in school, perceptions of higher education and the economic transition"
In 2000, after nearly five decades of state-led development, Syria instituted a number of ambitious economic and educational reforms as part of its transition to a social market economy. Syria’s young people are those most directly affected by these recent employment and educational reforms and therefore, much attention has focused on Syrian youth.
Reforms to higher education were central to Syria’s market reforms. Recent reforms include the establishment of private for-profit universities and new programs such as virtual learning, open learning, and parallel learning (Abdel-Wahid 2009). This has lead to massive expansion in higher education in Syria over the past decade. In 2000, there were four universities in Syria; while all public and free, they enrolled just 12% of 18-23 year olds. Today, there are 19 universities in Syria and approximately 21.7% of the age cohort is enrolled in university (UIS 2009).
By expanding educational opportunities to whole new sectors of the population and decoupling higher education from public sector employment, however, Syria’s recent reforms are altering the nation’s historic system of state-sponsored mobility. More specifically, recent reforms suggest that the role of the state in providing opportunities to its citizens is weakening. Despite our knowledge of the many consequences of higher education expansion generally, little research has tied massification policies at the national level to student perceptions of the university. There is still very little understanding of how recent reforms to expand and privatize higher education are altering young people’s perceptions of their educational and employment opportunities in Syria.
Based on interview research conducted with 25 young Syrian youth aged 18-31 in summer 2009, this paper will examine how the massification of higher education in Syria is altering young people’s experiences of higher education and their perceptions of the opportunity structure.
My paper will also discuss some of the difficulties investigating such a nuanced and potentially controversial topic in Syria. While interviews provide direct contact and in-depth perspective on young people’s lives, foreign researchers must overcome hurdles such as: lack of trust, language barriers, limited access, non-representative samples, and willingness to talk openly. While these barriers are real, I will argue that they should not prevent researchers from attempting to understand young people’s experiences of the economic transition and their perceptions of opportunity in Syria, as this is a much needed area of research.
Based on interview findings, I argue that while objective opportunities for both education and private sector employment may be expanding in Syria, youths’ subjective perceptions of educational and employment opportunities are not as optimistic, for a number of reasons. First, while today’s youth are extremely ambitious, access to higher education no longer promises the secure position in the state sector that it once did. Second, while the recent reforms have been successful at introducing diverse new tertiary education providers and decreasing the rigidity of student sorting, it is perhaps only those with the means to pay who can benefit. Lastly, institutional, family, and cultural pressures still limit young people’s educational and employment options, frequently directing them into majors and careers for which they have little interest.

Paper presenter: Natalia Ribas-Mateos (ESOMI. Universidad de A Coruña), "Damascus: focusing on new mobilities"
Economic and cultural globalization simultaneously leads to a reshaping of cross-national economic integration at different scales, such as transnational economic development areas and new mobilities or new forms of regionalisation that challenge the classical divisions of the Mediterranean. Within this new framework some researchers often refer to ideological constructions and social imaginary which shape a very particular social world. They do focus on particular spaces, such as cities (as lived spaces), borders, camps, deserts, seas… They do focus on particular social actors, women, men, children, youngsters. They do focus on movement, commuting, migration, displacement, exile. They do focus on trips, travel and tourism…
But the main question here relates to how we problematise a specific location?, Within this greater question, there are multiple related questions,:
*How do we think about the stereotypisation of a space as the Mediterranean or the South Mediterranean as the “Orient.” or even the South of Europe?.
*Multi-sited or multi-locale fieldwork is increasingly familiar to us, but it also brings us other problems such as:
How superficial can be it be or how in-depth can it be for our studies?,
*Fieldwork requires most than just passing though. How do we manage that? One must do more than conduct interviews, many times we have to be involved in many more activities, from forms of co-residence to various forms of collaboration and advocacy?
*How well can we capture mobilities, if we, as researchers, end up also on the move?
In order to respond to such issues will take here the example of the context of the research I am conducting on the mobilities in the Old City of Damascus, as a very clear, concise and specific location:
In a context of global changes characterised by a process of intense economic liberalisation, a process that we can see very evidently in the last five years in Syria, and most particularly in its capital, we will focus in a particular setting, that of the protected Unesco 1979 urban site of the Damascus intra-muros. The mobilities and cosmopolitisms of this city which has been inhabited for over 5.000 years, show us a suitable analytical perspective to see contemporary changes in Mediterranean conditions, which in such a case are very particular, in also a very particular setting of the Middle Eastern migratory pattern.