The smell of blood: Accumulation by dispossession, resistance and the language of populist uprising in Syria

Philip Proudfoot

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1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper is about how the Syrian government lost control over its rural and rural-to-urban constituents. From the twin perspective of ethnography and political economy, I show how the same pressures that structured men’s decisions to migrate from the countryside to sell labour power in the city resemble the material foundations for the uprising itself. The dominant narrative of the Syrian uprising is that protests calling for democracy were suppressed with violence, and with that the movement degraded into a sectarian civil and proxy war. Contra this narrative, I describe from a moment of cynicism expressed toward the Baʿth party’s official slogan how the government once relied not only on the ‘repressive apparatus of the state’, but also a politico-economic system that guarded against total impoverishment. Following liberalising reforms in the 1990s—deepened in the 2000s—this arrangement crumbled; agricultural input subsidies were stripped; food price capping was removed; guaranteed pricing on crops was cancelled; and import barriers fell. In attempting to answer challenges thrown up by Syria’s position within global capitalism, the government abandoned its welfare pact. In a context rapidly determined by accumulation by dispossession and mass impoverishment, Syria’s marginalised population vocalised chains of what Ernesto Laclau (2005. On Populist Reason. London: Verso) would recognise as ‘populist demands’. These demands were refused or responded to via transparent propaganda. Against a backdrop of uprisings across the Arab world, the Baʿth party’s remaining thread of a social contract snapped.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-502
Issue number3-4
Early online date12 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2017


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