Ms Caitlin Robinson
BAH Political Studies (Queen's) MPhil Social and Cultural Anthropology (Oxon)
The body, cosmetic surgery, beauty ideals, temporality, ageing, civil-war/violent conflicts.
Based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, this thesis explores the increasing popularity of cosmetic surgical forms of body modification in Beirut by interrogating beauty practices in light of local negotiations of embodied subjectivity and temporality. Taking up the narratives of beauty seekers and practitioners, among other players in the realm of beauty work, the importance of “becoming beautiful” is contextualized from various of points of entry. This structure speaks to the difficulty of creating communal narratives in a complex, multi-sectarian country like Lebanon. Situating cosmetic surgeries within kinship networks predicated upon close relational intimacies between loved ones, I discuss how local particularities have led to the targeting of the body at crucial developmental stages to increase life chances. Critiquing the dominant ‘post-Civil War’ ethos of cosmetic rebirth in the wake of past episodes of violent conflict, which tends to position Beirut as the metaphorical phoenix rising from the ashes, I attend to the symbiosis between optimistic discourses that champion the economic rehabilitation of the war-ravaged cityscape alongside the continuous cosmetic ‘retouching’ and refinement of the body in local beauty salons and private clinics. I argue that in the desire to reconstitute Beirut as a regional and increasingly international hub for beauty services, drawing in patients from the wide-ranging Lebanese Diaspora and the oil-rich Gulf states, future expectations have significantly come to reference representations of the ideal, highly sexualized female body and its cosmetic transformation in tandem with the city itself. Finally I touch upon local reactions to an emerging aesthetic of cosmetic similarity between women, due to the surgical repetition of a narrow range of desirable bodily forms, and discuss what this may reveal about wider social anxieties of inter-sectarian resemblance in view of the precarious political history underpinning the contemporary Lebanese moment.
- Robinson, C. (2013). "Wasta Capital: Ethnographic Reflexivity at a Rooftop Nightclub in Beirut."
- Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 5(1).
- EASA Biennial Conference: Uncertainty and Disquiet, July 2012 (Nanterre, France): Anxiety at the Top Panel. Paper: "Ideal bodies and anxious selves: aesthetic surgery and social distinction in Beirut".
- Beauty: Exploring Critical Issues, September 2012 (Oxford, United Kingdom): Encounters with Beauty Past and Present Panel. Paper: "City of Spectacle: Ideal Forms of Beauty and Body Modification in Beirut".
- Global Ethnographies Showcase: "Creative Beirut", February 2014 (Department of Sociology, University of Edinburgh): "'Multiple Modernities': the Production and Reproduction of Beirut" & "Negotiating the City: Distinction in Beirut's Cultural Economy" Panelist.
- RAI Anthropology and Photography Conference, May 2014 (London, United Kingdom): Appropriating Photography: Global Technologies and Local Politics of Self-Representation, Panel co-convenor.
- Anthropology in London Day, June 2014 (University College London): Panel 1, The Body. Paper: "Pressure Makes Diamonds: relational social intimacies and motivations for cosmetic surgery in Beirut".
- World Congress for Middle East Studies (WOCMES), August 2014 (Middle East Technical University- METU/Ankara, Turkey): Aesthetic body modifications and gender in the contemporary Middle East and Central Asia Panel. Paper: "“Beirut is Back”: Cosmetic Surgery and Ideal Female Beauty in the 'Post-Civil War' City".
- Visiting Research Associate, Center for Behavioral Research (CBR), American University of Beirut.