Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Diane E. King


This dissertation examines how Kurdistani young people experience contests of values in a state shaped by sectarian political cultures during a time of trial and transition for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The dissertation is based on approximately 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork (September 2015 - June 2017) spent among Kurdistani youth, broadly defined as 12 to 30 years old, in secondary schools and fitness centers. The ethnography presents interlocutors as co-theorists in conceptualizing the society and state in which they live, incorporating descriptive vignettes, transcripts of discussions, and lengthy interview quotes. Kurdistani interlocutors describe the push and pull of living suspended in a “captivating state” in two senses of the phrase: One sense refers to a state of feeling trapped for a variety of reasons, including displacement or lacking resources to emigrate. The other sense of “captivating state” refers to the Iraqi and Kurdistani states and the power they hold over the imaginations and affections of their citizens. Throughout the ethnography, Kurdistani people negotiate the ethics of staying or emigrating; debate descriptions of and prescriptions for state and civic order; and express doubts and hopes for uncertain futures. By attending to interlocutors’ assessments of the “state of things” and strategies for generating hope, the ethnography provides a view of ethical life in Kurdistan that centers young people and their moral striving at the intersections of “sectarianism,” the “state,” and “values.”

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by a Scholar Award, P.E.O. International, awarded in March 2016, and a Dissertation Enhancement Award through the Graduate School at the University of Kentucky in 2015.