About

Dr. Reinoud Leenders is a political scientist specialising in the study of international and comparative politics of the Middle East. He teaches International Middle East Politics (MA) and Conflict and Security in the Middle East and North Africa (BA) at King’s College London, Department of War Studies. His research focuses primarily on Syria and Lebanon where he investigates authoritarian governance, post-conflict recovery, corruption, popular mobilisation, armed conflict, displacement and the politics of humanitarian aid. Leenders is a senior non-resident fellow with the Beirut-based Policy Initiative and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Mediterranean Politics (UK), Middle East Report (US), and the Journal of Syria Studies (St. Andrew’s University, UK).  At King’s College London he is a member of the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies and a co-founding member of the Lebanon and Syria Research Group.

The importance of strong research methodologies under challenging conditions​

 

My work entails a strong emphasis on research method design and innovative approaches to it. This interest has come about largely by necessity as my research has been strongly affected by the challenges posed by authoritarian governance and, especially since the start of armed conflict in Syria in 2012, by mass violence and mostly unworkable security conditions for fieldwork locally. At the same time, the burden of proof has significantly grown as have the stakes of the conflict and willingness to manipulate or even fabricate evidence to serve political agendas. These conditions have forced me to look for different research methodologies and to carefully assess their promises and downsides. A turn to thorough social media analysis, mostly in Arabic, provided one such alternative. Online interviewing, or conducting fieldwork in border towns near Syrian frontlines, provided another. Refugees became another pool of informants and eyewitnesses worth consulting. Yet for my work on outsourcing state violence and pro-government militias, remote interviewing via a team of local journalists, retrained to become researchers, proved especially effective in gathering data in areas where I and my peers could not and often still cannot go. The last few years have been highly instructive for me in thinking through and addressing the practical and ethical dimensions of such and other ways of conducting research to overcome or circumvent crippling conditions of research. In brief, and exactly due to the sharp limitations it has been posing on social science research, the conflict in Syria has made me a stronger methodologist.

Education

Reinoud Leenders received his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, London University) where he also obtained an MA in Middle East Studies majoring in the Economics of Development of the Middle East and North Africa. At the Free University of Amsterdam he graduated suma cum laude in International Relations and Comparative Politics. He studied Arabic at the Free University of Amsterdam, the International Language Centre in Cairo, SOAS, and the American Language Centre in Beirut.       

Speaking at Issam Fares Institute, Beirut, on UN humanitarian aid to Syria (14 July 2016)

Speaking at the American University in Beirut: “An Anatomy of the Onset of Syria’s Popular Uprising” (17 April 2012)

Past jobs

 Before joining King’s College London in 2013, Leenders worked as an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and as Middle East researcher with the International Crisis Group, based in Beirut and focusing on Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Earlier, Leenders worked as a human rights researcher on North Africa with Amnesty International and as a free-lance journalist writing on and from the Middle East, including for Middle East International (as Beirut correspondent) and the Dutch magazine OnzeWereld and NRC Handelsblad.

Peer reviewer

Leenders is a regular peer reviewer for the International Journal of Middle East Studies, International Affairs, Perspectives on Politics, British Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Political Economy, Mediterranean Politics, Cambridge Journal of International Relations, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Pluto Press, and Cornell University Press.

Teaching Middle East politics: The primacy of voices from the region

 

My teaching is explorative and probing, testing the limits of concepts and analytical arguments, and students’ and my own understandings of them. I provide literature and -research suggestions and extensive sources including primary sources, documentaries and literary accounts. I encourage students to hear and read voices from the region, including by vulnerable groups such as minorities, women and youth, to better understand their plight and at the same time appreciate their potential to help shape the environments they find themselves in. I emphasize alternative perspectives to more conventional and often elitist or top-down views on ‘security’, always asking whose security is at stake, at what costs and at whose expense. Where possible, my teaching has introduced some innovative elements. For instance, online teaching during Covid led me to introduce student assignments to virtually interview the authors who we read for the course, some of them residing thousands of miles away. This proved particularly popular among students and it helped critical reading and closer engagement with the subject material despite the less enticing qualities of mere online teaching. I also experimented with other less conventional teaching formats, including simulation exercises involving a Syria peace conference and, at the University of Amsterdam, student excursions to Lebanon where they met with key activists, politicians, experts and stakeholders. I see my interaction with students as that of a mentor encouraging, guiding and assisting junior researchers’ own hunches and insights in navigating complex topics and relevant literature, so each will make a unique contribution to the field.

PhD supervision

 At King’s College London Reinoud Leenders supervises PhD candidates working on matters close to his research expertise. Since 2013 the following candidates received their PhD under his supervision:

  • Bradley Lineker, “Humanitarian Population Management beyond the Camp: The Case of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan, 2011-2016,” October 2020
  • Francisco Mazzola, “Exhibiting Statehood in Lebanon: Clientelism, Security and the ‘Mediated State’, November 2019
  • Samar Batrawi, “The Palestinian Question in al-Qa’ida’s Public Discourse: A Critical Understanding,” October 2019
  • Nicholas Nassar, “Mediating for Peace: A Study on the Decision-making of the UN’s Mediation Efforts in Syria under Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Staffan de Mistura,” September 2018
  • Rob Pinfold, “Understanding Withdrawal from Occupied Territory”, March 2018
  • Catherine Fearlie Wilson, “The Independent State and the State of Independence. Chehabism’s Challenge to Lebanese Democratic Stability,” November 2017
 

Leenders was a PhD examiner for the following candidates:

  • Thomas Vladimir Brønd, “Revolutionary Lives: Ideology, Time, and Political Subjectivity in Syria,” Roskilde University: March 2017
  • Nora Stel, “Governing the Gatherings: The Interaction of Lebanese State Institutions and Palestinian Authorities in the Hybrid Political Order of South Lebanon’s Informal Palestinian Settlements,” Utrecht University: February 2017
  • Martyn Egan, “Clandestine Circulation: Social Reproduction in the Shadow of the State,” European University Institute: December 2014
  • Hadi Makarem, “Actually Existing Neoliberalism: the Reconstruction of Downtown Beirut in post-Civil War Lebanon,” London School of Economics: November 2014
  • Rene Spitz, “State-Civil Society Relations in Syria: EU Good Governance Assistance in an Authoritarian State,” Universiteit Leiden: September 2014
  • Sophia Hoffmann, “Disciplining Movement: State Sovereignty in the Context of Iraqi Migration to Syria,” School of Oriental and African Studies: 2011
  • Bashir Saadeh, “Hizbullah and the Politics of Remembering,” King’s College London: 2011
  • E. Alagha, “The Shifts in Hizbullah’s Ideology: Religious ideology, political ideology, and political program, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: 2006

Interviewed for podcast documentary by John Hopkins SAIS students on the Beirut Port blast (January 2021)

Interviewed by Simon Mabon (Lancaster University) on corruption, links with sectarianism, Syria, and authoritarianism across the Middle East, for Sectarianism, Proxies & De-sectarianisation Podcast, 3 March 2020 

Reinoud Leenders

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