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Meet the Fellows: 2018 Newcombe Fellow Douaa Sheet

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship fosters the original and significant study of ethical or religious values in all fields of the humanities and social sciences. The 2018 class, announced by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, includes Douaa Sheet, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Douaa’s dissertation, The Influence of Differential Conceptions of “Dignity” on Transitional Justice Efforts in Post-uprising Tunisia, explores the role of the moral idiom of “dignity” in animating the politics of Tunisia’s transitional justice efforts in the wake of the 2011 uprising.

Douaa explains her thought process behind approaching her field:

Most introduction to anthropology textbooks will present the discipline with some version of how it “strives to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” My first time teaching introduction to cultural anthropology was to a class of undergraduate business students who thought anthropology was about ancient civilizations. My students were looking forward to visuals of rituals with feathers, headdresses, face paint, dancing, chanting, and maybe some animal slaughtering. Having been born in Kuwait, raised and educated in Lebanon, living in New York to complete a graduate degree about my research in Tunisia, my life experience has involved multiple modes of translation.

Unsurprisingly, this experience has informed both my research interests and my approach to anthropology. My interlocutors are former Tunisian political prisoners, the majority of whom are observant Muslims—a tradition that invokes the above imagery to no end—struggling to translate their past experiences of violence and torture in ways that allow them to keep their dignity. My work is deeply engaged with the question of how to write the complexity of their pious and militant histories in ways accessible to the non-expert but also in ways that don’t turn the groups under study into an exotic, thereby alien, spectacle. Toward the end of the semester, my students and I bring the question of translation home, to how it manifests in their own day-to-day experiences—a question at the heart of the discipline, and what brought me to it.

For more information about the 2018 Newcombe Fellows and a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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