Fulbright scholar studies neoliberalism and labor movements in Jordan
Ever since his undergrad as a world history major, Matthew Lacouture has wanted to help combat misinformation about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly that which pervades the U.S.
“It is evident that such biases and misunderstandings are not innocuous,” Matt says, “but, rather, are at the root of many disastrous foreign policy decisions as well as prejudice both in the U.S. and abroad.”
Now a PhD candidate in political science, Matt is a Fulbright scholar. Since last August, he’s been in Jordan obtaining research proficiency in Arabic and conducting interviews and archival research on neoliberalism and labor movements in the country.
He studies the state and private sector relationship, how it’s changed over the last thirty years due to “free-market-oriented reforms and austerity,” how they cooperate on things like large-scale development, and the impact on working class Jordanians and labor activism, which has been on the rise since 2009, he says.
Thanks to the Fulbright scholarship, he’s able to witness what he’s studying firsthand.
“What has really struck me in my initial interviews, and just walking around and experiencing the city, has to do with the spatial distribution of economic development,” he says, going on to cite the “new downtown” of Abdali and “the free economic zone in the southern port city of Aqaba” as examples. “It’s striking to see how these massive, ‘Dubai-like’ pockets of development have sprung up—and how things like signage and car-only accessibility signal who these developments are for as much as who is excluded.”
But it hasn’t all been work. Part of the immersion has been figuring out how to spend his free time.
“I live in a neighborhood called Weibdeh (Jabal el-Lweibdeh), which is one of the oldest in the city. A central roundabout, Paris Square, dominates the life of the neighborhood…. On a nice day, I love to grab coffee from my favorite little café, and then get some manaqish—wood-fired flat bread with toppings like egg and cheese, or za’atar and cheese—from a small bakery nearby and sit out in the center of the square and read.”
The entire trip is possible because of Fulbright. Matt applied because he knew fieldwork was vital to his dissertation, and it’s one of the “best and most prestigious opportunities” to conduct international research. Highly selective, the application process is rigorous and takes about a year to complete.
“The most difficult part is preparing the research proposal,” he says. “Proposals are never easy, but the Fulbright proposal is limited to two pages and has to be accessible to reviewers from a variety of disciplines.”
He credits his advisor, Dr. Sharon Lean, and Dr. Kevin Deegan-Krause—both Fulbright alums—with providing “invaluable guidance throughout,” and the Study Aboard Office for hosting a review panel.
“While the language portion of my grant was challenging and has taken up most of my time up until now, the opportunity to be immersed in what I am studying, to get to live in a vibrant and exciting city like Amman, and to work alongside a diverse group of researchers and teachers, is a once in a lifetime experience.”
His advice for other students interested in conducting international fieldwork?
“Apply for everything and don’t let impostor syndrome or doubt or anything else prevent you from applying to absolutely every opportunity available.”