Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Malay Firoz

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2019 class of Fellows includes Malay Firoz, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Brown University. Malay recalls the field work experiences that influenced his research:

When I began my research on humanitarian aid for Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, I didn’t think my identity as a South Asian would be particularly relevant. I had wanted to be a global researcher, to estrange myself in a “field” far from “home” as classical anthropologists had done. But the conditions of anthropological knowledge production, as I discovered, are always already marked. Despite the institutional resources at my disposal, my race and citizenship mattered far more in determining (and restricting) my access to the field, such that the access I did secure came to feel less like an entitlement and more like a practice of improvisation. The profound cognitive dissonance produced by this experience, I later realized, was not an impediment to methodological rigor, but rather, a generative opportunity for new modes of thought.

Over the course of 20 months in the field, I stumbled upon different notions of ethnographic commitment and critique than the ones I had been trained to expect. I discovered an unlikely translation with my interlocutors, founded not on an expressly defined politics shared across cultural distance, but on a more intuitively embodied cohabitation of the contradictions of postcolonial nationhood, conditioned by its experiences of racialization, its sensibilities of mobility, and the forms of interpersonal reckoning and solidarity produced by that inheritance. To have understood this inheritance, to have grown conscious of its intimate and daily workings, was one of the most important and life-changing takeaways of my fieldwork period. It is the provenance from which I now write my dissertation.

Malay’s dissertation, titled Humanitarianism and the Resilience Paradox: The Ethical Quandaries of Aid in Jordan and Lebanon, examines the ethics and politics of humanitarian aid for Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, specifically examining a turn towards a “resilience-based approach” to aid that has profound implications for the ethical principles driving the humanitarian project. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.



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