Scholar Imad Sayrafi finishes PhD on grassroots movements in rural Palestine

29. December 2021
photo of scholar Imad Sayrafi with landscape in background
Imad Sayrafi completed his PhD at University of Vienna on social transformations linked to everyday resistance and grassroots movements in rural Palestine in September 2021. In this article, he provides some insights into his research and his experience as a PhD student in Austria.

My doctoral dissertation is entitled “Transformation of rural Palestine, change and everyday resistance in a Palestinian village.” The research deals with the limitations of theoretical and methodological approaches to Palestine Studies in light of the complexities of lived realities. It thus resonates with epistemological approaches and the complicity of historical and theoretical knowledge on past and ongoing colonial violence, and the need to adapt knowledge in light of these conditions.  It adopts an indigenous approach centralizing human experience as a way to re-adapt knowledge, particularly focusing on colonial violence, resistance; and how these processes can be understood in relation to the settler colonial framework and indigenous theory; also studying social transformations in relation to these complexities. This is based on a case study approach, the village of Ni’lin, in the occupied West Bank, a site of Israeli settlement expansion, and the construction of the Israeli wall, where in 2003 a grassroots movement emerged against the wall. The study contributes to understanding how these processes manifest through analyzing people’s experiences, in addition to further contributing to theoretical and methodological approaches to Palestine Studies. Moreover, it further contributes to conceptualizing and understanding development as an interactive process that isn’t relegated by structural understandings. 

During my stay and doctoral studies in Austria at the University of Vienna, I was able to interact with various colleagues from around the world and learn about Development Studies in different contexts. In addition, I was able to participate in different academic functions, including those at the Department of Development Studies at the University of Vienna, but also other academic events such as the Vienna Anthropology Days Conference (VANDA). Thus, I was able to learn from different experiences and approaches and contribute to discussions over a variety of topics linked to my discipline and beyond. In addition, the support of APPEAR and OeAD was important in facilitating foreign students’ stays in Austria on different levels. This included regular events such as scientific functions, but also excursions and activities that allowed us to gain the most of our stay in Austria. We have visited various museums, cities, and locations in Austria through activities that were well coordinated. 

My PhD studies were linked to the project Rooting Development in the Palestinian Context | ROOTDEVPAL which aimed to strengthen capacities for producing critical knowledge on development and transcending Eurocentric models. Another aspect is strengthening institutional capacity in relation to this approach. With the completion of my PhD studies, I can thus contribute to the strengthening of institutional capacity through my work at the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University, particularly through further contributing to critical knowledge production in the field of Development Studies. 

Imad Sayrafi earned his PhD in International Development at the University of Vienna, Austria under supervision of Univ-Prof. Petra Dannecker. He is currently the Director of the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine. His current work is linked to developing theoretical and methodological approaches through research on development interventions, rural transformations, and political ecology approaches to Development Studies, utilizing social theory and empirical research.