Ms Caitlin Robinson
BAH Political Studies (Queen's), MPhil Social and Cultural Anthropology (Oxon)
The body, cosmetic surgery, beauty ideals, femininities, masculinities, post-war societies.
The discourses circulating in the local and international media that address the noteworthy popularity of aesthetic body modifications in Lebanon, in particular cosmetic surgeries, often draw upon the belief that patients electing to undergo procedures are motivated by a ‘post-civil war’ predilection for celebrating life, glamour, and living in and for the moment. Depictions such as these, which align with dominant tropes of “state-sponsored amnesia” towards past, and yet in many ways continuing, experiences of conflict and violence position Beirut (and its citizens) as the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes to reinvent itself afresh. While cosmetic surgeries are becoming increasingly popular the world over, in countries like Brazil and South Korea, the local Lebanese appropriation of these technologies raises a series of contradictory engagements in light of contemporary sociopolitical issues and historical circumstances.
This research brings together a series of ethnographic interviews, interactions, and episodes with a diverse range of interlocutors in order to address these issues and empower a more nuanced understanding of contemporary beauty work practices in Beirut. In particular, a linkage is drawn between the invitation and impulse to manage the body in the private sector of the neo-liberal market economy and the rebuilding of the downtown core according to private elite interests by property development company Solidere in the years following the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90). An emerging local definition of ideal feminine beauty along cosmetically enhanced lines, evidenced in the aesthetic choices of a number of celebrated Lebanese starlets, is unpacked in order to consider how this style of ‘modern’ self-transformation intersects with older debates concerning which interests will control the dominant image, and future trajectory, of the fragmented Lebanese state. As Beirut takes center stage 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 significantly reference representations of the female body and its cosmetic transformation in tandem with the city itself.
- 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.
- BRISMES Annual Conference, June 2014 (University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom). Panel co-convenor: On Ethnographic Scales: Anthropological Methodologies, Circulations and Frictions in ‘the Middle East’ and Beyond, and paper presentation: "Beauty Imaginaries: Cosmetic Surgery and ‘Frictions’ of Scale 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.