Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Klaudia Wieser

Ph.D. candidate, University of Vienna

Researching the Struggle: Palestinian Affairs in Revolutionary Beirut

During the 1960s/70s, Beirut was a hub for revolutionary knowledge production, and the Palestinian question was at the heart of its intellectual debates. Next to the Institute for Palestine Studies, which was founded in Beirut two years earlier (in 1963), the PLO Research Center symbolized the establishment of Palestine Studies in the 1960s and 70s, and fulfilled the critical task of reconstructing and documenting Palestinian history and presenting revolutionary developments in light of the Zionist invasion of Palestine, the ongoing Nakba, and later during the civil war in Lebanon. In 1971, the PLO institution published the first journal directed towards an Arab readership, Shu’un Falastiniyya, that provided a multiplicity of ideological debates and standpoints by various Palestinian factions, political movements, and Arab/ Palestinian intellectuals on the Palestinian cause. 

Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with researchers and militants that worked at the PLO Research Center in Beirut during the time of the Palestinian revolution, this paper explores “microhistories''2 of intellectual labor produced during this specific juncture in time. It investigates lived experiences of cultivating revolutionary knowledge to confront colonial truth and researching strategies and practices to support the struggle. Drawing on articles in the journal that specifically focussed on Palestinian camps in Lebanon in the 70s – as economic hubs, spaces of resistance, voices of critique of the PLO leadership, and places of massacres – I excavate the specific epistemological and conceptual rupture these writings provide until today. 

This paper is inspired by a series of interviews that took place with the researcher Hani Mandas between 2018 and 2021 in Beirut. In the end of 1960s, Hani Mandas came to Lebanon to continue his career as an intellectual militant and joined the centre in 1972. Becoming head of the Palestine Studies department two years later, Mandas contributed to one of the centre’s most productive years, investing strongly in structuring and expanding their work on Shu’un. I argue that the knowledge produced at this specific juncture in time, written in a stimulating, realist but also visionary Palestinian voice3, serves as an inheritance to transcend neoliberal, colonial, and imperial categories of being in the world. A practice and strategy against the present, rooted in the past and, as Palestinian scholar Amira Silmi powerfully analyzed in her writing on the works of Ghassan Kanfani and Aimé Césaire, as “finding hope in the limit of the answer.”

This contribution is part of my Ph.D. research which investigates liberation as an epistemic category5traced in the archive of the monthly journal of the PLO Research Centre, Shu’un Falastiniyya. An earlier draft of this paper benefited from feedback during the Insaniyyat Conference 2021 Pessoptimism: Anthropologies of Palestinian Hope and Uncertainty.

Klaudia Wieser is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. The working title of her dissertation is Epistemologies of Liberation: Palestinian Affairs in Revolutionary Beirut.

Between September 2016- 2022, she was a Junior Fellow at the International Research Center for Cultural Studies in Vienna, an Affiliated Researcher at the Centre for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut, and a DOC Fellow at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Her research interests include anthropology of imperial violence, war and conflict, resistance studies, critical refugee studies, and feminist knowledge production. 

Currently, Klaudia Wieser is affiliated with the Syrian Center for Policy Research in Vienna and is a project manager at the Documentation and Counseling Centre on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim Racism in Austria.