Performing Alterity: The Translocal Politics of an Urban Youth Music Scene in Post-Oslo Palestine
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable time for the preparation of thesis into a monograph
This thesis is an ethnographic and gender-sensitive account of the identities urban Palestinian youth perform through their self-defined ‘alternative’ scene-based musical practices in the post-Oslo era. Departing from the problematic that Palestinian folkloric identity and/or the classical Palestinian national resistance paradigm dominate studies of popular and expressive musics in the Palestinian context, I ask instead how scene affiliates’ musical practices do, or do not do, political work, and in what way – if even at all – these relate to the nation, resistance, and Palestinianness. My approach is ‘bottom-up’ and qualitative, drawing on thirteen months of fieldwork in the interdependent cities of Ramallah (1967/West Bank), Haifa (1948/modern-day Israel), and Amman (Jordan). I carried out sixty-four in-depth interviews and fifteen focus groups with young musicians, bands, audience members, fans, DJs, beat-makers, emcees, producers, party planners, bar and club owners, and other related persons in the scene; as well as over eighty participant observations at concerts, parties, gigs, raves, and bars scenesters frequent. I conclude that their musics perform political work contingently, shifting according to the narratives and practices research lenses focus on, as well as the institutional and geopolitical backdrops hosting them. I argue that in a local Palestinian context, musics perform political, anti-colonial work beyond, and sometimes even against, the classical national resistance paradigm. Given Oslo’s failed ‘peace’ process, scene-affiliates critique the Palestinian Authority (PA), its institutionalisation of the national movement, and territorially-based two-state solution, re-drawing their community instead on the regional lines of bilad al-sham. However, while politicised content is foreground, it is not the only issue youth are concerned with. Many are reluctant to narrow their aesthetic positionalities to political frames, instead pushing musics’ social role as a site of conviviality where new (gendered and other) identities are imagined and enacted. Since Palestine’s globalising ‘turn’ in part enabled these emerging identities and social contexts, leisure and consumption play central roles in their embodiment. Hybrid and translocal in formation, scenesters use localised tropes of Palestinianness (dabke dancing, wedding musics), and globalised ‘hip’ fashions (tattoos, androgynous dress), musics (psy-trance, electro, reggae, hip-hop), and social practices (clubbing, raving, bar-hopping) to perform their imaginaries of alterity. Such translocalisms uncouple Palestinianness from Palestinian national identity, upholding Palestinian particularity while making room for internal differences. However, shifting research focus to a transnational context, I contend that when musicians are branded to London, their self-representations, or the representations their international hosts make of them, often foreground the national resistance, and/or folklorising identity paradigms disavowed locally. Reducing their complex subjectivities to narrow national-territorial frames, in this global circuit of consumption, Palestinian cultural practices perform British multicultural tolerance to ‘ethnic’ otherness on international stages. This, I argue, highlights that Palestinian musics’ reiteration of the nation, resistance, and/or Palestinianness often stems from the operation of geopolitical power, more than the musical content itself. My core argument in the thesis thus is twofold. Firstly, I make the case that scencesters’ musical practices express and enable neither merely resistance, nor solely submisson to the intwertwined status quos of settler-colonial occupation and neoliberal hegemony. Their musics are instead important sites of modest meaning-making. Moving beyond the revolution/co-optation binary reveals scenesters’ everyday and situated negotiations with various political and social powers. Secondly, I argue that since the transnational political economy of images often shapes how Palestinian musics travel in international spaces, we need not ask what Palestinian musics convey, but rather, why we are invited to take up a particular rendering of Palestinian art and culture, and – importantly – what can this tell us about the operation of geopolitical power translocally? Adopting transnational and translocal lenses to analyse how power shapes and normalises conceptualisations of Palestinian musics, my thesis thus calls for the need to see Palestinian cultural production beyond narrow national frames, and position it instead in the global contexts that inform, and are informed by, such aesthetic practices.
Economic and Social Research Council
PhD in Middle East Politics