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Shayna Silverstein
Assistant Professor; Director of Undergraduate Studies
Performance Studies

Shayna Silverstein

Shayna Silverstein’s research examines the politics and aesthetics of sound and movement in the contemporary Middle East. She is currently completing a book manuscript about popular culture in prewar Syria that focuses on how the national performance tradition of dabke engenders belonging across class, religion, and ethnicity. By attending to both the historical trajectories and lived experiences that constitute Syrian popular culture, her book illuminates the ways in which ordinary Syrians negotiate the interrelated logics of postcolonial difference and postsocialist capital and class through body, performance, and culture.

Silverstein’s teaching interests include embodiment, ethnographic methods, ethnomusicology, performance, popular culture, social theory, sound studies, and Middle Eastern studies. Active in several Middle Eastern music ensembles, she plays violin and ‘ud, and has also trained extensively in dance and yoga. Silverstein holds a courtesy appointment in Northwestern’s Program in Middle East and North African Studies.


PhDEthnomusicology, University of Chicago
BAHistory, Yale University


Performing Dabke: Popular Culture and Identity in Contemporary Syria, (book manuscript in progress)

“Disorienting Sounds: A Sensory Ethnography of Syrian Dance Music.” In Remapping Sound Studies. Edited by James Sykes and Gavin Steingo. Duke University Press (under review).

“The Punk Arab: Demystifying Omar Souleyman’s Techno-Dabke.” In Punk Ethnography: Artists and Scholars Listen to Sublime Frequencies. Edited by Michael Veal and E. Tammy Kim. Wesleyan, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2016.

“Public Pleasures: Negotiating Gender and Morality through Syrian Popular Dance.” In Islam and Popular Culture. Edited by Karin van Nieuwkerk, Martin Stokes, and Mark LeVine. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2016.

“Cultural Liberalization or Marginalization? The Cultural Politics of Syrian Folk Dance during Social Market Reform.” In Syria from Reform to Revolt: Culture, Society and Religion. Edited by Leif Stenberg and Christa Salamandra. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2015.

“Transforming Space: The Production of Contemporary Syrian Art Music.” In The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity. Edited by Kay Dickinson, Thomas Burkhalter, and Ben Harbert. Wesleyan, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

“Syria’s Radical Dabke.” Middle East Report 263 (Summer 2012).

“New Wave Dabke: The Stars of Musiqa Shaʿbiyya in the Levant.” Out of the Absurdity of Life. Edited by Theresa Beyer and Thomas Burkhalter. Solothurn, Switzerland: Traversion Press, 2012.

Encyclopedia of 21st-Century Anthropology. “Music and Dance.” Edited by Jim Birxh. UK: Sage Press, 2012.

Book Reviews

Review of Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution by Michael Denning. Twentieth-Century Music (anticipated 2017)

Review of Modernity’s Ear: Listening to Race and Gender in World Music by Roshanak Kheshti. Sounding Out! The Sound Studies Blog (2016).

Review of My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Politics, and Nationalism in Palestine by David A. McDonald.Political and Legal Anthropology (2015).

Review of The Politics of Love: Sexuality, Gender, and Marriage in Syrian Television Drama by Rebecca Joubin. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (2015).

Review of Palestinian Music and Song: Expression and Resistance since 1900, edited by Moslih Kanaaneh, Stig-Magnus Thorsen, and David McDonald. Journal of Folklore Research Reviews (2014).

Review of Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Mounira Solimon and Walid El Hamamsy. Contemporary Islam (2014).

Review of Women, the Recited Qur’an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia, by Anne K. Rasmussen. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 8:2(Spring 2012).

Review of Maqam and Liturgy: Ritual, Music, and Aesthetics of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn, by Mark L. Kligman. Syrian Studies Association Newsletter XV:1 (2009).

Awards and Grants

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Penn Humanities Forum, University of Pennsylvania, 2013-14

Franke Dissertation Fellowship, University of Chicago, 2010

Fulbright-IIE Fellowship, Syria, 2008


PerfSt 220: Sound Cultures
PerfSt 304: Sonic Practices of the Middle East and North Africa
PerfSt 330: Translating the Arab Spring: Performing Crises in the Arab World
PerfSt 330: Sounding Bodies
PerfSt 515: Listening: Methods and Issues
PerfSt 515: Popular Culture: Methods and Issues
PerfSt 515: Sound Ethnography
PerfSt 516: Critical Performance Ethnography