Alyssa Marie Miller: Shadow Zones

Shadow Zones: Contraband and Social Contract in the Borderlands of Tunisia

Alyssa Miller

Alyssa Miller

In the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, scholarly and journalistic analyses have singled out Tunisia for its “successful” democratic transition against a backdrop of region-wide catastrophe. Yet, for the marginalized communities in the Tunisian interior, where the social movements of the Jasmine Revolution began, conditions of unemployment, economic precariousness and social marginalization have only deepened since 2011. This project resists narratives of Tunisia’s exceptional success by tracing everyday tactics of economic survival—such as smuggling and informal labor—that draw on national borders as a “natural resource” for livelihood. Under contemporary circumstances of state failure in Libya and the Mediterranean East, these marginal itineraries of economic survival can also serve as lines of flight from national subjection, connecting mobile Tunisian bodies to zones of Islamist militancy abroad.

Alyssa Miller is a PhD candidate in the Cultural Anthropology department at Duke University.  Her dissertation project Contraband and Social Contract in the Borderlands of Tunisia examines the historical legacy of uneven development in Tunisia following the 2011 Dignity Revolution by tracking the precarious labor of smuggling in a marginalized border community.  She is also interested in the performance of transitional justice by the Truth and Dignity Commission, and the ways it has framed processes of uneven development as a form of victimization by the postcolonial state.  She holds an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, where her research focused on depiction of violent affects through the trope of “becoming-animal” in the modern Lebanese war novel.  As a social scientist grounded in the humanities, her current research draws on literature, cinema, and other forms of cultural production in addition to classic fieldwork methods.

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