Alyssa Miller

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20192020 Forum on Kinship

Alyssa Miller

Cultural Anthropology

Alyssa Miller is an anthropologist whose research centers on questions of youth precarity and social justice in Tunisia and the wider MENA region following the 2011 Arab Spring.  Her work interrogates the celebrated “success” of Tunisia’s model democratic transition, by documenting on-going struggles for dignified work, freedom of movement, and environmental justice in marginalized communities.  During her time at the Wolf Humanities Center, Alyssa will concentrate on a manuscript project that examines the intimate and political labor performed by Tunisian families to maintain bonds with absent kin who have migrated to participate in transnational jihad.  This research sheds light on transformations in citizenship, security regimes, and national identity in post-authoritarian Tunisia.  Alyssa received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2018, and her research has been published in Cultural Anthropology.     

Kin-work in a Time of Jihad: Transnational Violence and Transformations in the Tunisian National Family

One of the great contradictions of Tunisia’s democratic transition has been the alarming number of young people recruited to wage jihad in regional conflicts since the 2011 revolution.  As the Islamic State has suffered defeat and lost control over its territories, many of these young recruits are now seeking to return to Tunisian soil. Though viewed by state officials as a threat to national security, there often exists no actionable proof of the crimes they have allegedly committed abroad.  Tunisians returning from regional conflicts therefore face a situation of ad-hoc justice that is fraught with potential for abuse.  This project examines the ethical dilemmas faced by the families of Tunisian ex-combatants and other returnees, caught between competing loyalties to kinship and nation as they work to shield their children from prosecution under counter-terrorism laws.  In mainstream Tunisian imaginaries, the figure of the jihadi violates the symbolic kinship of nation, religion, and humanity, quitting national soil to engage in fratricidal violence against fellow Muslims. Tunisian nationalist ideology, moreover, has long promoted the nation as a basition of religious moderation and tolerance.  In a public sphere where the jihadi denotes a monstrous form of life, any advocacy for Tunisians entangled in these regional conflicts requires first recovering their humanity.  My research examines forms of kin-work that humanize ex-combatants and other returnees by refolding them into the family’s relational bonds, and tracks how circuits of transnational violence has reconfigured kinship itself. It also investigates the uneven reform of the state security apparatus, as Tunisia prosecutes a war on terror under new post-authoritarian restraints.