Yazan is an anthropologist whose work straddles the linguistic and socio-cultural branches of the discipline, with close engagements with social and legal theory, conceptual and social history, and moral philosophy. His work blends ethnography, genealogy, and history to shed light on the question of social justice in contemporary postcolonial contexts, with Jordan as a primary field site.
Yazan’s current research and book project takes the Arab Spring protests in Jordan as an ethnographic entry point to think the postcolonial political present, and the paradoxical status of ‘the rule law’ in it – both as the mark of post-Cold War emancipatory projects for social justice, and the condition of possibility for various kinds of injustices. The project traces the career of the concept of ‘corruption’ from the neoliberal economic reforms of the mid-1980s up to the present where it serves as a diagnostic of various kinds of social and political evils. It asks what kinds of ethico-political projects are afforded by popular concerns about corruption, and to what effect? The project draws on long-term ethnographic research since 2011 among grassroot activists, anti-corruption civil society organizations, governmental agencies, parliamentarians, street-level bureaucracy, and the royal court. It also draws on archival research since the late 1980s, parliamentary and legal discussions, as well as corruption court cases since the establishment of the state’s anti-corruption agency in 2007.
Since 2015, Yazan has been involved in another project that looks at social transformations in the Jordanian border zone with Syria in the context of the Syrian civil war. Juxtaposing the precarious life of Jordanians in the border zone with that of Syrian refugees, the project seeks to trouble the distinction between citizens and refugees on which humanitarian practice is premised. It also charts the conflict between two logics of national security that Jordan grappled with: one premised on the geopolitical demand to keep armed conflict at bay by closing and securitizing the border zone, and the demand to secure economic and social life by keeping the flow of people and goods.
Yazan’s third project, currently in the early planning stages, looks at contemporary practices of customary tribal justice in Jordan, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq in order to explore other imaginative possibilities for justice beyond law. The project is at once ethnographic and historical. It seeks to highlight the differences in notions of justice between secular-modern law and customary tribal justice, but also to elucidate their intertwinement in modern state governance. It traces tribal justice to its pre-modern-state form, through its tense incorporation into legal state structures, and to its continued practice despite the abolishment of mandate-era tribal justice laws. More broadly, the project is an attempt to rethink the history of the present away from religious-secular paradigm which has been a dominant framework for theorizing the contemporary Middle East.