A New Old Damascus

A New Old Damascus : Authenticity and Distinction in Urban Syria

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"[F]illed with rare encounters with Syria's oldest, most elite families. Critics of anthropology's taste for exoticism and marginality will savor this study of upper-class Damascus, a world that is urbane and cosmopolitan, yet in many ways as remote as the settings in which the best ethnography has traditionally been done.... [Written] with a nuanced appreciation of the cultural forms in question and how Damascenes themselves think, talk about, and create them." -Andrew Shryock

In contemporary urban Syria, debates about the representation, preservation, and restoration of the Old City of Damascus have become part of status competition and identity construction among the city's elite. In theme restaurants and nightclubs that play on images of Syrian tradition, in television programs, nostalgic literature, and visual art, and in the rhetoric of historic preservation groups, the idea of the Old City has become a commodity for the consumption of tourists and, most important, of new and old segments of the Syrian upper class. In this lively ethnographic study, Christa Salamandra argues that in deploying and debating such representations, Syrians dispute the past and criticize the present.

Indiana Series in Middle East Studies-Mark Tessler, general editor
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Product details

  • Paperback | 216 pages
  • 156 x 230 x 16mm | 358.34g
  • Indiana University Press
  • Bloomington, IN, United States
  • English
  • 21 b&w photos, 1 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
  • 0253217229
  • 9780253217226
  • 1,252,592

Review quote

"... A New Old Damascus is an ambitious attempt to shed light on the complexities of elite Damascenes... [I]t remains a noteworthy contribution to the emerging study of globalization, elites, and urbanism in the Middle East." -American Anthropologist "... Salamandra's book presents a compelling analysis that sheds light on the socio-spatial relations prevailing in Old Damascus and gives the reader a rare glimpse into the lives of upperclass Syrians." -H-Levant, June 2007 "... Recommended." -Choice "... [this] book will be required reading for scholars generally interested in sectarian politics in the Middle East and scholars specifically interested in Lebanese Shi'i history and politics because the rich account it offers is also helpful for positioning Shi'i activism in Lebanon since the 1960s." -Lara Deeb, University of California, Irvine, INTNL JRNL MID EAST STD - IJMES, Vol. 39 2007 Anthropological studies are most interesting and effective when they reach beyond broad generalization to convey sharp sociocultural insight and identify implicit regularity in seemingly haphazard behavior. Success is often inversely correlated with the scale of the population and/or space being analyzed. It is not surprising that an attempt to capture the essence of Damascus, one of the world's oldest cities, succeeds only in part. Indeed, it is not all of Damascus that is even the focus, but rather the old city; not really a description of present Old City Damascus life, nor even a construction of its past, but instead a meditation on indigenous discourse about Old Damascus. Salamandra (Lehman College) tries to enable an understanding of why Old Damascus has become a focus for contemporary elite nostalgia, a site for social encounter, and even political expression. She further examines the role of new wealth and its display, a fostering of Damascene authenticity (with attendant class, regional, and religious/ethnic friction), and Damascus's extensive portrayal and manipulation by Syrian media, often for political reasons. At its best, the book conveys the complexity of contemporary imagining of Old Damascus, but the city itself, the people and places, never really come alive. Summing Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries.L. D. Loeb, University of Utah, Choice, December 2005
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About Christa Salamandra

Christa Salamandra is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Lehman College, City University of New York.
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Table of contents

Note on Transliteration
Introduction: A Return to the Old
1. "His Family Had a House in Malki, So We Thought He Was All Right": Socio-Spatial Distinction
2. "That Color Looks Great on You": Consumption, Display, and Gender
3. Old Damascus Commodified
4. Ramadan Lived and Consumed
5. Conservation, Preservation, and Celebration
Conclusion: Weapons of the Not-So-Weak
Epilogue: Of Hubble Bubbles and Cell Phones
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Rating details

15 ratings
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3 47% (7)
2 7% (1)
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