Ali Hamdan is in his first year as a Post-Doctoral Researcher with GW’s Mount Vernon Society of Fellows, as well as an instructor in the Department of Geography. He received his PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and his Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College. Much of his effort goes toward increasing the contributions of geographers to the study of the Middle East, as well as exposing scholars of the region to research and theory from Geography relevant to the study of borders, war, and geopolitics.
His research investigates the relationship between war, forced migration, and transnational politics, focusing in particular on the ongoing conflict in Syria. During 2015-17, he conducted ethnographic research investigating political mobilization among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey. The work aims to both theorize exile as a spatial category of analysis, while also shedding light on some of the fraught relations between pro-opposition Syrian refugees and their American “allies.” His ongoing work further pursues this topic, but instead drawing on archival materials from the U.S. State Department, with the goal of explicating the role of private contracting firms in implementing US foreign policy with respect to Syria’s conflict.
What brought you to GW?
GW is uniquely close to Washington DC’s foreign policy establishment, in particular the U.S. State Department. It is my hope to continue my research on this “side” of the network that connects the United States to war in Syria.
What trends do you see in scholarly research on the Middle East?
One of the most fruitful trends in the last decade has been the explosion of global/transnational history in MENA studies. This has brought to light a lot of important (and oft-neglected) processes that shaped state-formation, capital accumulation, and meaning-making in the region, without necessarily being confined to nation-states — or even to the region itself. This has opened up exciting new opportunities for cross-disciplinary scholarship on topics like migration, borders, race, and infrastructure, in ways that engage both historians and social scientists.
What advice do you have for students thinking about going on to a PhD program?
I think the gap between “academic” and “policy-relevant” knowledge is overstated at times. A PhD is great for pushing yourself to find the practical implications of a lot of new, challenging ideas. In very few other settings does one have such an opportunity to truly think “outside the box.”