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FUTURESYRIA Report Summary

Project ID: 658133
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FUTURESYRIA (Mapping an uncertain future: Social and spatial change in conflicting Syria)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

This research project aimed at understanding the spatial and social dynamics of the Syrian conflict. Held at the most important research centre in forced migration (the Refugee Studies Centre of the University of Oxford), It has however been mostly concerned with the transformations of the Syrian society over the crisis that has engulfed this country since 2011. It is a project in the field of Human Geography, situated more generally within the social sciences, and which borrows analytical tools from political economy, sociology and anthropology. It purports to map social, political and economic displacement within Syria, which also has consequences for the territories beyond its borders.

The territorial fragmentation that Syria is currently undergoing — partly a consequence of the repression and warfare tactics of the Asad regime — has profound and long-term effects on Syrian society. Further, more than half of the Syrian population has been displaced, having either taken shelter outside Syria (refugees, some registered, some not) or within Syria (Internally Displaced People-IDPs). The extent of destructions is high, casting a doubt as to the ways in which people can ever ‘return’, if at all. Syria faces therefore massive changes both in its social outlook and in its territorial fabric, in the short-term as well as in the foreseeable future. Structural changes and challenges may affect the neighbouring countries as well, as they bear the weight of sheltering the Syrian refugees and find that their borders are being undermined. Departing from media analyses of the conflict in terms of struggle between regional powers, the aim of this research was hence to explore the territorial and ‘social’ changes that have taken place in Syria since 2011.

The investigation has focused on local contexts and has lead to a mapping of the interrelated movements of people (IDPs and refugees), of the logic and impacts of destructions, and of the local dynamics of warfare. I have focused on exploring four main aspects of the transformations of Syria: First, the forced displacement of the Syrian population within the country-an aspect that was not covered by academic research. I also explored some aspects of its external forced resettlement, mostly in Lebanon, where I conducted most of my fieldwork. Second, I researched the transformations of the territory of the nation-state and the future of the Syrian authoritarian state, in particular through an extensive enquiry on the borders of Syria, where local, regional and international dynamics play out. Third, I developed a field of enquiry related to the transformation of the economy in the war, and the emergence of economies of war. Finally, I have pursued my former work on the destruction of the material environment in Syria, and in particular of the urban fabric of the country.

The research allowed the gathering of an exceptional amount of data and information, based on a close following of the events on the ground, and on interactions with people affected by, and/or involved in these events.The research programme has build an original database, based on collection of data through primary as well as secondary sources : (remote) interviews with people inside Syria, refugees outside the country, humanitarian workers, political and economic actors in neighbouring countries; information collected through social networks; open data such as newspapers, reports from NGOs and from International organisations; analysis of satellite images.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The two years of the project have been dedicated to the collection of data, to my training into Forced Migration studies, at the Refugee Studies Centre of the University of Oxford, and to the production of the first outputs of the project.
I presented aspects of my research in different academic contexts: internal conferences, workshops and seminars, or when invited to present my research to members of the general public interested in understanding the Syrian conflict and its consequences. I organized one panel a an international conference (MESA Novembre 2016), an international conference on Syria in paris (May 2016) and the Seminar series of Refugee Studies Centre during Hillary term (January-March 2017). I published three articles in peer-reviewed journals, I am preparing three other articles to be published in 2018 as well as a monograph book (Title 'How Syria was destroyed: Mapping Displacement and Spatial Change').
Finally, I supervised the research work of four students during my time in Oxford.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The different articles I published and will publish in the near future, as well as a forthcoming book entitled 'How Syria was destroyed: Mapping Displacement and Spatial Change', will contribute to our understanding of the 'new wars' of the 21st century in general, and to the Syrian conflict in particular. These wars are linked to the weakening of the State in times of globalisation, and especially of the authoritarian state. In such wars the distinction between categories is blurred (state and non-state, public and private, military and civilian, external and internal, economic and political). This process of blurring is in itself as much a cause as a consequence of the violence.
The research shows that conflicts do not all have the same disruptive effects in the short and in the long term The scale of destruction in Syria, combined with the magnitude of the displacement of more than half of the population (about 12 to 13 million people have been forced to leave their homes, among which 6 million have taken shelter across borders), cannot be regarded as a mere ‘collateral effect’ of sad but inevitable warfare. The modalities of political violence being inflicted on Syrians need to be described and unpacked in order to explore the political features of this conflict.
Based on these premises, my research aims at describing and analyzing the transformations experienced by Syrian society throughout the conflict that began in 2011. The research documents the new territorial and population patterns that have emerged, both within Syria and in its borderlands, in order to produce an encompassing and synthetic understanding of the new human geography generated by warring Syria. These transformations are diverse, widespread, take place on a massive scale, and they constitute a turning point in the history of the country as well as of the region. The key premise of the research is that the structural and long-term mutations which are reshaping Syria’s social and territorial fabric transformations are paramount to understanding both the dynamics of the current conflict as well as the future of the country.

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