Tale of two Syrias : a study of peacebuilding in a time of constraints
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This is a PhD by practice in Transdisciplinary Documentary Film. The submission consists of a 64-minute documentary film and a 32,574 word thesis. The main period of fieldwork and filming was conducted in 2010 in Syria and the editing and subsequent research were conducted during 2011/12, after the current Syrian uprisings and conflict began. The documentary portrays two very different experiences of life in the restricted world of authoritarian Syria. Boutrus, a Christian monk in Mar Musa monastery, seeks to achieve change through his religious activities, whilst Salem, an Iraqi refugee living in Damascus, begins to find life in exile intolerable. Through creating an intimate portrait of such diverse yet related lives the documentary seeks to contribute to the praxis of peacebuilding through the creation of new understandings of the possibilities for agency and identity within the constraints of Syrian authoritarianism in 2010. Whilst the praxis of peacebuilding and creative documentary filmmaking are the principal methods of research, the written thesis also touches upon the cognate fields of social and visual anthropology, political science, refugee studies and media studies. Exploring the theme of political agency within the Syrian setting, the thesis raises issues concerning political visibility and creative documentary practice as they relate to the challenges of peacebuilding analysis and research. In Chapter one, the role of practice-based research and my own particular approach to creative documentary filmmaking are discussed. Chapter two considers the Syrian socio-political context and the utility of the concepts of the state, power and identity for peacebuilding research. Chapter three examines the relationship between religion and the state in Syria and their connections to civil society, with a focus on the work of Mar Musa. Chapter four explores the case of Iraqi refugees in Syria by focusing on Salem’s life and predicament. In the final chapter I build upon the arguments in the preceding chapters, drawing out conclusions on the relationship between documentary practice, peacebuilding and the evolving Syrian context.