Grad Students

Ali Nehme Hamdan

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Emerging Political Geographies of the Middle East

I study political violence and the transnational dynamics of civil war in the Middle East.

For better or worse, politics in the Middle East are a matter of global importance. As a geographer this means casting a deep, critical eye on the many interlocking scales at which power is produced and challenged spatially in the region, a concern that ranges from contestations over the spaces of lived experience to how the boundaries of political community are established and maintained. Unfortunately, the geopolitical interests of particular actors (foremost among them states) tend to obscure this rich complexity. In its place they leave a mere few tired discourses that reduce politics to tropes of orientalism, sectarian violence, and counter-terrorism on one hand, or to nationalism, anti-imperialism and revolutionary mobilization on the other. These discourses are in the short-term harmful for the immediate effect they have on state policies in the region; and they are harmful in the long-term because they often become self-fulfilling prophecies that detach politics from lived experience in real contexts. My research examines the emerging political geographies of the Middle East, focusing on the ongoing conflict in Syria. By studying the emergence and evolution of Syria's opposition in exile, my research aims to: 1) Show how the spatial practice of power (and resistance) in the Middle East has changed over time; 2) link these practices to people in specific contexts; and 3) do so through ethnographic fieldwork, to show that these dynamics are not complicated beyond understanding. It is important that, as scholars, we not only critique discourses, but actively engage with actually-existing movements of resistance on the ground. This enables us to take the discussion of power beyond circular conversations about identities and ideologies and return it to where it belongs: how power is produced and contested based on the lived concerns of people in specific places.
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Fields of Study

Civil Wars & Political Violence; Transnational Political Activity; Popular Geopolitics.


John Agnew (Chair) 
Adam Moore 
Helga Leitner 
James Gelvin (External, History)


  • Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, Summer 2012
  • Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center Summer 2013 Grant (declined)
  • 2nd Place, California Geographical Society Graduate Student Talk Award, 2013.
  • Foreign Languages and Area Studies Award (Advanced Arabic), Summer 2014.
  • Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, Summer 2014.
  • Alice Belkin Memorial Scholarship, 2013-2014.
  • Graduate Research Mentorship, Academic Year 2014-2015.
  • Distinguished TA Award (Department of Geography), Academic Year 2013-2014.
  • Political Geography Sub-Group Student Travel Award, 2014-2015
  • ACOR-CAORC Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, 2015-2016
  • Maurice J. & Fay B. Karpf Peace Prize, 2015
  • Geography Department Summer Research Travel Grant, Summer 2015
  • SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 2016-2017


My general area of interest is the Middle East, but I focus on Lebanon and Syria - and to a lesser extent Jordan and Israel-Palestine. Broadly speaking, for my current project I study the transnational politics of civil war.




B.A. Geography, Middlebury College (2010) 
M.A. Geography, University of California - Los Angeles (2013) 
Ph.D. Geography, University of California - Los Angeles (ongoing).


Gleason, C.J. & A.N. Hamdan (2017). "Crossing the (Watershed) Divide: Satellite Data and the Changing Politics of International River Basins." The Geographical Journal 183 (1), 2-15. Click here for access.

Hamdan, A.N. (2016).  "The Displaced as Actors in Syrian Politics." For the Middle East Institute, click here for access.

Hamdan, A.N. (2016). “Breaker of Barriers? Notes on the Geopolitics of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham.” Geopolitics 21 (3), 605-627. Click here for access.

Hamdan, A.N. (2016). Review: Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi’ite South Beirut, by Lara Deeb and Mona Harb (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013). Arab Studies Journal XXIII (Vol. 2), 315-319.

Hamdan, A.N. (2016). “On Failing to ‘Get it Together’: Syria’s Opposition between Realism and Idealism.” Middle East Report 277, 28-34. Click here for access.

Hamdan, A.N. (2015). Review: The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, by Dina Matar, Lina Khatib, and Atef Alshaer (New York, NY: Hurst & Oxford University Press, 2014). Sociology of Islam 03 (3-4), 212-215.

Hamdan, A.N. (2013). “Where’s the State? Practicing the Past in Beirut, Lebanon.” MA Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.


Hamdan, A.N. (2017). "Thoughts from the Provinces." Roundtable contribution to International Journal of Middle East Studies 49 (2).

Hamdan, A.N. (2017). “Stretched Thin: Geographies of Syria’s Opposition in Exile.” For POMEPS Studies 25, to be accessible here.

In Review

Hamdan, A.N. “Sites of Memory in Lebanon: The Hariri Mosque in Downtown Beirut.” For Memory Studies.

Working Papers

Hamdan, A.N. “Opposition Governance and the Place of Borders in the Syrian Conflict.” For Territory, Politics, Governance.

Hamdan, A.N. “Finding a Vocabulary for the Syrian Opposition.” For Jadaliyya.

Hamdan, A.N. "Transnational Opposition and Syria's Civil War." 


  • BRISMES Annual Meeting, 2017 (Edinburgh)
  • AAG Annual Meeting, 2017 (Boston)
  • Political Geography Specialty Group, AAG Pre-Conference, April 2017 (Boston, MA)
  • Refugees & Migration Movements in the Middle East, POMEPS Conference, February 2017 (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture, November 2015 (Amman, Jordan)
  • AAG Annual Meeting, 2015 (Chicago).
  • Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Annual Meeting, November 23, 2014 (Washington, D.C.).
  • Center for Middle East Studies (University of Arizona) Graduate Conference, April 10-12, 2014.
  • Center for Islamic Studies (University of California, Santa Barbara) Graduate Conference, April 4-6, 2014.
  • AAG Annual Meeting, 2013 (Los Angeles)
  • AAG Political Geography Sub-Group Pre-Conference, 2013 
  • CGS Annual Conference, 2013 
  • LAGS Student Presentations, 2013