Fuad Musallam is a political anthropologist who specialises in the study of activism, labour, and subjectivity, particularly as they relate to the making of community and the political imagination. He has been conducting fieldwork in the Middle East for over ten years, and has worked variously with religious youth groups, political activists, and migrant workers. He has written on ethnographic description and the phenomenology of urban space, the temporal frames of political action, and the role of storytelling and narrativisation in political activism.
His doctoral research in Lebanon, conducted between 2013 and 2014, investigated what drove young people to struggle for change and how, in the face of failure, activists came to understand the possibility of worthwhile action in the future. Between urban spaces that were good to do politics in and others that were overtly hostile, it explored the key roles played by politicised emotions and diffuse solidary feeling states in making the social worlds activists inhabited sensible.
Building on his doctoral research and further fieldwork conducted since 2017, as ESRC LSE Postdoctoral Fellow he is preparing a monograph, entitled A break in the future: feeling like an activist after the Arab uprisings. It explores how political activists keep alive their capacity to engage in transformative action when failure makes demobilisation and despair appear inescapable. When political change seems most unlikely, a temporality of rupture has been central to Lebanese activists’ belief that their actions can still transform their world. Experiencing exceptional moments (protests, occupations, politically-motivated violence), when the memory of that experience is cultivated through storytelling and made part of an ideological formation, can maintain one’s desire and capacity to act transformatively even in the face of failure and retrenchment. The book ultimately suggests that the experience of moments of rupture radically transforms what seems possible, and that the cultivation of these experiences keeps movements going when things appear to fall apart.
In 2018 Fuad began new fieldwork with the Beirut-based Migrant Community Center (MCC) for a project on how migrant workers create political community. In Lebanon, migrant workers only recently began campaigning collectively for their rights, having become precariously permanent residents in the face of racialised social exclusion and a sponsorship system that delegates care and surveillance from the state onto individual employers. The Migrant Community Centers are particularly important spaces that promote recognition and mutual aid: language classes, computer courses, health checks, childcare, cultural nights. They act as inclusive spaces in which community is created. They also provide an important opportunity to grasp migrant worker agency in what remain fundamentally hostile circumstances.
As part of this project Fuad has facilitated the creation of a participatory material and digital archive of antiracist organising housed at MCC. This archive is a collectively-curated mixture of protest paraphernalia, image library, and community history that has so far produced a rolling permanent exhibition of protest banners, housed at the Center, and a visual primer of key moments in MCC history compiled with MCC members, which is currently being used for public engagement and to introduce the Center to new members. There are plans for further public exhibitions in the coming years.
Since 2014, Fuad has taught courses on the history of anthropology, anthropological methods, gender and sexuality in the Middle East, and political analysis, and provided specialist teaching on activism, revolution, and electoral politics in Lebanon. His research has been funded by the Max Weber Foundation and the ESRC.