Graphic version of this page

The Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize


The Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize was established jointly in 1986 by the Leigh Douglas Memorial Fund and BRISMES in memory of Dr Leigh Douglas who was killed in Beirut in 1986.  The prize is awarded annually to the writer of the best PhD dissertation on a Middle Eastern topic in the Social Sciences or Humanities awarded by a British University in the previous calendar year. The current value of the prize is £600 for the winner and £150 for the runner up.

We are now accepting entries for the 2021 prize. This is for PhD theses defended successfully in 2020.

How to Apply

To enter, please send the following to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it by midnight on 31 January 2021:

  • An electronic copy of your thesis
  • A letter of nomination from your supervisor

Entering your thesis for this award does not preclude entering it for other awards.

2020 Winners

Winner (£600)

Ayşe Arslan
Industrial Workers in the Garment Industry, House-Workers in the Family: Women's Productive and Reproductive Labour in Izmir, Turkey
(SOAS University of London)

This thesis is of very high quality not only in terms of the originality of its argument but also the strength of the empirical research used to back it up. Theoretically it combines E. P. Thompson’s approach to class formation with a Marxist-feminist approach to women’s reproductive labour. In doing this, Ayşe Arslan contributes to the literature through innovative concepts of her own, such as ‘women’s reserve army of reproductive labour’, referring to the role of women relatives and friends of working women in reducing the women workers’ reproductive obligations by undertaking some of their responsibilities without pay. The thesis is also based on a rigorous research which combines an ethnographic extended case study with quantitative data and secondary sources. It fills an important gap in the literature on the relationship between class and gender in the Middle East through a systematic study of how the industrial and reproductive work of women workers shape each other in the garment industry in Turkey. The thesis also provides insights on the factors that might enhance the formation of solidarity rather than competition among women workers, a crucial intellectual-political question for socialist feminists struggling against the double threat of neoliberalism and conservatism in the Middle East.

Runner-up

Adélie Chevée
The Emergence of Syrian Grassroots Intellectuals: Critique and Political Commitment in the Revolutionary Press (2011-2017)
(SOAS University of London)

Adélie Chevée’s study about the emergence of grassroots intellectuals in the Syrian revolution is a creative and insightful. She compares the post-2011 generation of intellectuals to the one that dominated the socio-political scene before the revolution. The study is important in more than one way. It provides innovative tools to explore knowledge production in the context of the Syrian revolt. It sheds light on intellectuals who have an ability to communicate effectively through revolutionary media and who were able to build cultural (and revolutionary) capital through grassroots activism. Chevée proposes an original framework combining Gramscian and Bourdieusian theories to explore the role of the intellectual in revolutionary Syria. On the one hand, she proposes a sophisticated framework that builds on an extensive literature about traditional and organic intellectuals during political crises. On the other hand, she engages with Arab and Syrian scholarship about the role of critical intellectuals since 2011. This allows the author to formulate a solid critique of Western knowledge production about the region. Chevée debunks popular Orientalist tropes about cultures in the Middle East and the Arab regions. Finally, Chevée conducted interviews with key grassroots intellectuals in Beirut, Gaziantep, and Istanbul. This multi-sited study provides a nuanced account of the cultural field in Syria and the diaspora since 2011. It explains the tensions between older and newer generations of intellectuals and the evolution of the cultural field in the past decade. Ultimately, the study makes important contributions in several fields, including studies of nationalism in the Levant; knowledge production in the MENA region; as well as the history of the cultural sphere in Syria.

Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Simon Leese
Longing for Salmá and Hind: (Re)producing Arabic Literature in 18th and 19th-Century North India
(SOAS University of London)

This is an impressive piece of work, which takes as its subject an under-researched and almost wholly unexplored field that will almost certainly attract further attention as a result of Simon Leese’s preliminary explorations. It focuses on what Leese characterises as an ‘Arabic moment’ in the multi-lingual intellectual history of 18th- and 19th-century North India and investigates how Muslim poets and scholars in the area engaged with aspects of the Arabic literary heritage, moving between the ‘three languages’ (Arabic, Persian and Urdu) while careful to keep what he terms the ‘poetic terrains’ of those languages distinct. Much of the thesis is based on newly unearthed sources, which promise to provide material for much future research in this area.

The topic of the thesis clearly requires a knowledge of the languages involved that goes well beyond that of most PhD students but Leese demonstrates that he is well equipped for the task and it is hard to fault the detailed literary and textual analyses that make up a considerable proportion of the thesis. Leese’s argument that Arabic scholars in India during this period had a rich historical and geographical awareness is a cogent one, and seems certain to suggest possibilities for re-reading Arabic’s other multilingual pasts and multilingual poetics more generally. Not the least of the other merits of the thesis is that, despite the linguistic complexity of much of the material being discussed, it reads easily and is impeccably presented. All in all, this thesis not only makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in the literary and cultural history of the region, but also makes a highly significant contribution to the field of study.

2019 Winners

Joint Winners (£300 each)

Veronica Ferreri 
A State of Permanent Loss. War and Displacement in Syria and Lebanon 
(SOAS)

This thesis chronicles the trajectory of displacement of a Syrian community from al-Qusayr and its countryside to Lebanon. Based on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and the collection of oral histories, the work dissects Qusayris’ tasharrud, a term used by the community to define its own displacement and war. Veronica Ferreri has produced an outstanding piece of research, brilliantly laid out and evocatively drawing the reader into a compassionate understanding of the terrible loss which Syrians face in their displacement in Lebanon not only since 2011 but sometimes commencing decades earlier. Ferreri’s study is both original and persuasive. The redefinition of the term tasharrud as a state of permanent loss rather than the dictionary definition of homelessness, or vagabondage was both original and deeply convincing. The originality of this work lay in the manner in which Ferreri peeled back the meaning of tasharrud to show that is was a three-fold loss: loss of physical space; loss of social status; and loss of official documents. Ferreri’s clarity of exposition was faultless and she wrote with a warmth and approachability that gave the study great moral depth. The use of quotations was beautifully integrated into the discussions, supporting the analysis and not appearing as ‘anecdotal’ statements. Overall this manuscript makes a significant contrition to the field setting out the complexity first of the difficulty in distinguishing between forced and voluntary migration, and secondly in unpacking the significance of loss – as physical displacement, loss of social status as mutasharriduun, and what is so often overlooked, loss of legal documentations attesting to one’s citizenship, ownership, education, and other aspects of social and political belonging.  

Shiva Mihan
Timurid Manuscript Production: The Scholarship and Aesthetics of Prince Bāysunghur’s Royal Atelier (1420-1435) 
(University of Cambridge)

Shiva Mihan’s thesis puts the study of classical Persian painting in its early 15th-century golden age on an entirely new footing. The thesis is beautifully laid out and very well structured and is simply magisterial and mature beyond the years of its author. Its scholarship is profound, wide-ranging and all-encompassing, and that scholarship is the bedrock of the entire – and boldly ambitious – text itself. That text is, so to speak, the visible tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the iceberg, in other words the raw data which provides the basis for some 275 pages of closely-focused discussion, comprises a further 117 pages. Mihan meticulously examines and analyses the the physical state of these manuscripts: bindings, doublures, frontispieces, carpet pages, shamsas, ‘unwans, colophons, illumination, paper, calligraphy, seals, signatures and inscriptions. In other words, codicology in its fullest sense. No earlier scholar has come close to this breadth and depth of solid information for any period of Persian painting; a huge achievement, and a challenge for all future scholars. This is not to say that Mihan avoids speculation – she knows the scholarly literature, both Western and Persian, inside out, and has her own theories about it – for example, she takes issue very convincingly with the purpose of these manuscripts, the role of the patron, the detailed workings of his atelier, the intended audience of these manuscripts, their meaning, their distinctive style and why they developed it. Altogether, this as an absolutely outstanding thesis which is ready for publication more or less as it stands.

Joint Runners Up (£150 each)

Dena Fakhro
The Blood Vengeance Theme in Arabic Poetry: From the Classical Poetic Tradition to the Present 
(SOAS)

This is an extremely impressive and mature piece of work for a PhD thesis in which Dena Fakhro examines the theme of blood vengeance in Arabic poetry over fifteen hundred years. The range of primary material under consideration, the coherence of arguments, and use of the relevant secondary literature are all outstanding. Three things stand out as particularly impressive in this work. The first is the way in which, in addition to literary sources, the Dena Fakhro successfully navigates her way through material rooted in a number of different disciplines, of which anthropology is clearly the most important. The second is how Fakhro has succeeded in constructing from this astonishing range of material a narrative that is not only plausible and coherent but is also a pleasure to read, being marked by an uncommon clarity of expression as well as an almost complete absence of the typos, transliteration errors and other infelicities that mar many PhD theses. The third, and perhaps most important, is that she has succeeded in bringing classical Arabic poetry — a field that many would regard as somewhat esoteric and arcane — out of the shadows and demonstrated its relevance to the study of movements in the contemporary Islamic world that are of urgent concern to an audience that extends far beyond academics.

Lewis Turner
Challenging Refugee Men: Humanitarianism and Masculinities in Za‘tari Refugee Camp 
(SOAS)

Lewis Turner’s thesis investigates the ways in which the humanitarian sector deals with Syrian refugee men in the context of Za’tari refugee camp in Jordan, arguing that refugee men present a challenge to the gendered and racialized logics of the humanitarian sector as they fail to comply with notions of feminised victimhood. This thesis is based on a very impressive amount of fieldwork in Jordan, including visits to Za’tari camp, participant observations in relevant workshops and gatherings of humanitarian actors and interviews with humanitarian actors and Syrian refugees. The thesis is a wonderfully rich and closely observed piece of work that overflows with insights and provocations about and connections between the humanitarian sector, the securitization of refugees, the governance of refugee camps, the geopolitics of the Syrian conflict and of the ‘refugee crisis’, refugee agency, race and gender. It demonstrates how the construction of refugees within humanitarianism as passive and vulnerable shapes how humanitarian actors deal with refugee men as either problematic or invisible and how, in turn, this impacts upon refugee men in the specific case of Za’tari camp. This is the first study that I have come across that addresses the situation of refugee men and makes an original contribution to our understanding of humanitarian responses to refugees by carefully analysing the ways in which humanitarian policies are informed by gendered and racialized assumptions about refugees and how, in turn, this impacts upon male recipients of humanitarian responses. Moreover, this thesis makes an important contribution to how we understand humanitarianism in the context of conflict and displacement in the Middle East, marking a critical turn in which humanitarianism is viewed not as a solution to suffering and indignity but rather as complicit with forces of oppression, violence and injustice.

Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Gizem Tongo
Ottoman Painting and Painters during the First World War 
(University of Oxford) 

This study focuses on the Ottoman art world during the First World War and explores how the war changed the conditions of art production, its agents, and the art itself between 1914 and 1918, a topic that has remained peripheral to international cultural histories of the First World War and modern art more generally. This is an excellent thesis. Its subject is a tightly focussed study about art, art institutions and artists during the period of the First World War. Set against the political backdrop of the last half century of the Ottoman Empire, with a concise and highly readable narrative it explores, within a clear chronological framework, the institutions, the key actors, and topics such as the relationship with western painting, how art was brought into the service of the state, the fate of Armenian artists as a result of the genocide, how the arts in fact benefited during the war and much else. Well illustrated, and with an extensive use of source material, this is an extremely rich story that has been largely overlooked. While focussing on art production in all its forms from academic painting to propagandist posters, it touches also in major on social history and the place of art in society. There has been some literature on this subject, but nowhere near as detailed and multi-facetted as this. In my view, this is a highly original contribution to scholarship.

List of recipients 2001-2018