Jowel Choufani

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Jowel Choufani



Program: Anthropology PhD

Year of Entry: Fall 2019

Advisor: Ilana Feldman

M.Phil (Anthropology), 2022, The George Washington University

M.Sc (Nutrition for Global Health), 2016, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

B.Sc. (Nutrition and Dietetics), 2014, American University of Beirut

Sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, obligation, solidarity

My research examines how people’s sense of obligation to others comes to be defined, experienced, and materialized within a context of organized state abandonment (Gilmore 2022). I investigate this topic through ethnographic fieldwork in Lebanon, a country where living amidst organized abandonment and experiencing multiple violent critical events are one and the same (Gilmore 2022, Das 1996). I have three field sites. First, I work with journalists who, in the aftermath of the 2020 Beirut port explosion, took it upon themselves to document and make visible non-citizen victims (refugees and migrant workers) of the Beirut blast unaccounted for in official state tallies. Through my work with the journalists on the list of victims as well as other projects, I investigate how they decide what and whom to report on, and why. The second sight includes cafes in a bustling Beirut neighborhood that caters to affluent visitors. I conduct participation observation and interviews at cafés to study how staff and customers respond to people who enter the cafés to ask for money, food, and/or medicine. I analyze how notions of obligation factor into the forms of monetary, in-kind, and affective exchange that happen through these café encounters. My third site includes a community kitchen NGO that distributes daily hot meals to members of three neighborhoods across Beirut and its suburbs. This community kitchen’s aim is to create solidarity networks within each neighborhood it serves. By analyzing the three sites alongside one another, my research investigates the factors that influence whom people feel obligated towards, how people put this feeling into practice, as well as their potentialities and limits. In doing so, my work contributes to what I term the “anthropology of obligation” by investigating the variegated processes through which obligation is brought into relief and called into question.

National Science Foundation (NSF): Cultural Anthropology Program - Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (2023)

Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB): Doctoral Fellowship (2022-2023)