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Melissa J. Scott

My research focuses on musical performance at the intersection of migration, politics, and religion. My dissertation and book project, titled “The Aurality of Displacement: Listening to Diaspora and Humanitarianism in Jordan,” examines listening and musical practices in the wake of over a century of forced migration to Jordan. In particular, I reimagine displacement as a sensed condition that manifests in music-making and listening practices, beyond a mere spatial dislocation. This approach attends to the ways in which memory, changing relationships to place, and disruptions to life trajectories all inform sensorial habituation through sound. I further show how transnational politics and institutional norms deeply inform the auditory, sensorial, and musical experiences that characterize displacement. Importantly, I am invested in bringing historical depth to understanding responses (musical and otherwise) to Syrian displacement since 2011, countering scholarship that reproduces humanitarian norms of ahistorical urgency.

My fieldwork research is supported by a Fulbright-Hays DDRA, an ACOR-CAORC Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, and the Sultan Fund from UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. During the 2017-18 academic year, I was a CASA fellow at the American University in Cairo, where I studied Arabic literature and Egyptian dialect while pursuing an internship at a local music center. I have also studied Arabic in Oman (CLS), Jordan (FLAS), and California.

My experience with performance and performance ensembles strongly informs my approach to both research and pedagogy. I am an oudist and perform with Disoriental at UC Berkeley, Awtar Amman in Jordan, and Nedjma in Nancy, France. I received my BA in Music from the University of Chicago, where I studied and performed in a variety of musical traditions.


Levantine and Gulf music, anthropology of humanitarianism, critical refugee studies, secularism and secularity, acoustemology, theories of place and soundscape, displacement, sound and violence, late Ottoman studies