SOAS University of London

Caitlin Robinson

My time within the Anthropology and Sociology Department at SOAS has afforded a number of opportunities to fine tune my research skills and broaden my academic horizons. The calibre of research among members of my cohort has been particularly inspiring.

Following the completion of an MPhil in Social Anthropology in 2009, I travelled to Lebanon during the summer months to visit friends. After hearing Beirut commonly referred to as the plastic surgery capital of the Middle East – attracting patients from the Lebanese Diaspora, the Gulf, and beyond – I decided to pursue the contemporary appropriation of these practices as the subject of my doctoral research. While cosmetic surgical procedures of aesthetic enhancement are becoming increasingly fashionable, affordable, and accessible in all corners of the world, my research interrogates their practice in salons, beauty institutes, private clinics and hospitals in Beirut. Despite longer trajectories of beauty adoration in this locale, media treatments have consistently linked the emerging popularity of cosmetic forms of body intervention to a hedonistic ‘postwar’ ethos said to follow the cessation of civil conflict in the 1990s.

Challenging these assumptions, my research employs a more robust temporal analysis of subject formation in order to speak to local conceptions of the body, self-making, and modernity among a diverse group of beauty seekers. In doing so it adds an essential layer of complexity to existing understandings of these practices while making a number of key contributions to the anthropological discipline. More specifically my research demonstrates how beauty functions as a lens capable of bringing the nuances of quotidian life into focus – from relational social intimacies and gender dynamics to ‘postwar’ rehabilitation projects and sectarian affiliation. Looking back through this lens, I evaluate how on-the-ground realities are in turn shaping local desires to become beautiful through particular invasive techniques and technologies of beauty work.

My time within the Anthropology and Sociology Department at SOAS has afforded a number of opportunities to fine tune my research skills and broaden my academic horizons. The caliber of research among members of my cohort has been particularly inspiring, as are the diversity of contexts and approaches selected as areas of ethnographic interest within the wider department. The potential for language training was also crucial in my decision to study at SOAS, and as a result my Arabic language skills developed significantly. Moving forward I hope to explore the potential for further ethnographic research in Beirut and locales further afield. I am particularly drawn towards exploring how visual methodologies such as photo-elicitation and ethnographic filmmaking can present some fresh ways of approaching narratives of beauty work that so often go overlooked.