School of Social and Political Science

We complain to God, then to the shaweesh: rethinking unfree labour through the study of refugee workers in Middle Eastern agriculture

Seminar Series
04 February 2022
15:00 - 17:00




This paper revisits the notion of “unfree labour” through the study of displaced Syrians working informally in Middle Eastern agriculture. It argues that the International Labour Organization’s definition of “forced labour” does not capture Syrians’ experience of “unfreedom”, born out of the interplay between restrictive asylum policies in Middle Eastern host countries, globalised food systems requiring cheap, mobile labour, and the intimate kinship ties through which Syrian refugees are recruited into such workforces. Adopting a broader definition of “unfree labour”, the paper asks: if all labour contains some degree of coercion, what could “free” labour look like?


Short biography: Dr Ann Zuntz is a lecturer in anthropology of development at the University of Edinburgh. She is a political and economic anthropologist, with a focus on the intersections of labour, (forced) migrations, and gender, in the Mediterranean. Since 2015, Ann has conducted in-person fieldwork with displaced Syrians in Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, and Bulgaria, and, remotely, in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. She works closely with displaced Syrian academics within the University of Edinburgh’s One Health FIELD Network, an interdisciplinary group of agricultural, veterinary and social scientists, and artists.

Seminar Organisers:
Jiazhi Fengjiang

Resto Cruz

Key speakers

  • Ann Zuntz (University of Edinburgh)