Middle East

Presentazione a IT.A.CA’ di Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo (Mimesis, 2019)

Ringrazio la Biblioteca Cabral di Bologna, Hayat-Bologna, e IT.A.CA’-Migranti e Viaggiatori per l’invito a presentare il mio libro Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo (Mimesis, 2019).

Qui di seguito la registrazione dell’evento.

Categories: Medio Oriente, Middle East, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intervista con Radio Alta Frequenza (Bologna, June 23, 2020)

Categories: Iraq, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestina, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Covid-19 among MENA Refugees: A Great Humanitarian Concern (April, 2020)

Republished from: https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/covid-19-among-mena-refugees-great-humanitarian-concern-25679

While some may have initially underestimated the potentially disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, presuming that vulnerable people such as refugees would have more serious issues to deal with than a bad flu, the new coronavirus turns out to be an uncomfortable litmus test for the current state of aid in crisis-hit areas. There is no doubt that it is, however, premature to assess how the pandemic will affect the ways in which crises have been managed over the years to rehabilitate life and livelihoods in the Middle East and North Africa’s conflict-stricken settings, now home to internally displaced people (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen) and refugees (e.g. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan).

Although (un)forced migrants are often believed to be carriers of infectious diseases, today’s pandemic has actually been caused by the arrival of professional travelers or tourists in spaces inhabited by refugees. Echoing past concerns about the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the 2012 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the imminent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in refugee camps worldwide is daunting because large numbers of refugeeswho normally do not own equitable access to healthcare and reside in host countries where health infrastructures have been literally eroded by long-standing conflicts– may be particularly prone to respiratory infections. Refugee camps have become a matter of particular concern, as they tend to be crowded spaces across the Middle East region, where (mostly war-produced) refugees have been residing over decades and, at times, since birth.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other self-started measures in camps, Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees have begun fabricating masks to protect personal and collective health before the enactment of formal responses. In the framework of UNHCR’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, some international humanitarian agencies enforced prevention and protection measures (e.g. temperature screening at camp entrances). The formal COVID-19 response has primarily been coordinated with governments, even when refugees’ lives are endangered by the former. In Jordan’s Za‘tari and Azraq, mostly hosting thousands of refugees who fled conflict in neighboring Syria and are now in lockdown as per national policies, humanitarian workers have been providing guidelines in Arabic through SMS and street posters about how to preserve personal hygiene and health. However, protective material such as latex gloves, surgical masks and disinfectants – whose prices soared dramatically over the last few weeks due to their scarcity – has been distributed in only a small number of cases.

Also non-camp refugees, who actually make up the vast majority across the Middle East region and who are indiscriminately labeled as “urban refugees”, have become the object of great humanitarian concern. Although they are likely to be more exposed to an urban health system and to have easier access to information, many of them still lack potable water, remain unlikely to access healthcare facilities, and cannot afford quarantine arrangements and social distancingrestrictions.

After INGOs implemented anti-COVID-19 measures, some refugees voiced the need to be informed more broadly rather than simply being taught basic hygiene rules: “Aid providers promised Dettol and masks, but did not mention how we can learn what happens outside of here. No family in this camp owns a TV […] What are the most affected countries, and what are they doing to face all of this?”, as a Syrian refugee living in Bireh (northern Lebanon) put it in one of our recent conversations (March 31, 2020). Humanitarian agencies should therefore scale up simple aid and advice to include deeply informative sessions held in the languages of the camps. Mere guidelines like “washing hands with soap” limits aid to an instrument of biological survival and “human dignity’”. Thus far, humanitarian programs have seemingly approached the pandemic as an exclusively health matter that they can only provide technical advice for. Refugees have instead proven to be a key soft-power tool for global and regional power-holders who, in turn, adopt catastrophe as a back-route to convenient politics. For example, some municipalities in Lebanon have enforced extra curfews on Syrian refugees to reassert territorial sovereignty, parading such measures as needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in a bid to take advantage of the political leverage that states of exception typically provide. Meanwhile, Syrian refugee families in the Greater Beirut area recently (April 2, 2020) told me that local municipalities highlighted the need for refugees to exclusively address their aid requests to UNHCR and UNRWA (respectively addressing non-Palestinian refugees and Palestinians in Lebanon) in order to deal with the current pandemic.

As today’s emergency crises are mostly of prolonged nature, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly amounts to a series of ageing crises, made up of high unemployment rates among older-date refugees, a chronic lack of available cash – mainly needed to cover the costs of home rent and medications – and, sometimes, even food scarcity. During the pandemic, refugee camps and high-density slums are faced with the challenge of rethinking coping mechanisms and rely on weak infrastructure, while global humanitarian actors historically tend to prioritise later emergencies and under-resource the earlier.

In a world of unequal political geographies, Western countries will possibly be prioritized in the future provision of a vaccine. Instead, the virus is likely to affect refugee camps and spaces for a long time. By then, host states may end up using social distancing as a way of further isolating and warehousing refugees while sugarcoating it as public health protection.

 

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Bringing Social Class into Humanitarian Debates: The Case of Northern Lebanon (December, 2019)

https://www.mei.edu/publications/bringing-social-class-humanitarian-debates-case-northern-lebanon?fbclid=IwAR1a8JB-TLE2fV2soBywHz4R-OVU67oHPKIU4Z-29VndrENfUENfWivlqZY

This essay is part of a series that explores the human costs and policy challenges associated with forced displacement crises in the Middle East and Asia. The essays explore the myths or misconceptions that have pervaded discussions about these crises, as well as the constraints or capacity deficiencies that have hampered the responses to them. See more …


In recent years, the burden that refugees are believed to place on host societies has drawn a great deal of international attention.[1] However, the social class systems that underlie crisis-affected settings and crisis management itself remain a taboo in international debates and humanitarian programming.

Nowadays there are many criticisms of humanitarianism being politically neutral, arbitrarily universal, or often lacking in context relevance. Indeed, global humanitarian action largely originated from a condition of inequality and traditionally has been articulated accordingly — juxtaposing those who suffer and who need protection, and those who act with compassion and protect those in need. As Miriam Ticktin pointed out, “humanitarianism began as a moral, racialized, and religious ordering; it was not an egalitarian project, despite the belief in shared suffering.”[2]

Due to the protracted duration of most emergencies, international humanitarian agencies mobilizing to offer shelter and assistance to the displaced populations gradually acknowledged the need to extend their programs to “host” populations, and to therefore develop a better understanding of specific contexts. This led non-governmental organization (NGO) practitioners, scholars, and researchers to assess the social, political, and economic impact of humanitarian programs in targeted areas. According to these impact assessments, humanitarian programs have, at times, appeared to exacerbate local inequalities. Scholars have similarly critiqued  humanitarianism for having overlooked preexisting (i.e., pre-crisis) inequalities.[3]

Yet, little attention has been paid to the class-based inequality that the very presence of humanitarian agencies produces in crisis-affected settings. In such settings, there exists a class economy composed of foreign aid practitioners, the receiving country’s citizens, and migrants — representing different economic backgrounds when accessing services and goods, and using local infrastructures. Refugee groups themselves are normally variegated along social class lines, though such differences are often made invisible given the tendency to homogenize refugee profiles and backgrounds. Whereas the numbers of refugees and the money allocated to respond to humanitarian crises are generally well known and publicly discussed, information on the number of humanitarian workers employed, recruitment policies, and private belongings at stake is more difficult to access. In a nutshell, we can easily find out what humanitarian practices are about, but not who performs them.

In other words, although aid workers are consumers and users of local economies to the same extent as local residents and migrants in crisis-affected settings, their social and economic presence has received little scrutiny. Commentators have discussed the gentrification of the areas targeted by humanitarians, the way in which humanitarianism tends to neglect chronic vulnerabilities, or exacerbate the center-periphery dynamics of host cities.[4] However, they have made little reference to social class. This omission is a symptom of how discussions around humanitarianism have (not too innocently) neglected the social class dimension. The importance of class struggle in humanitarian spaces has therefore been overshadowed in the mainstream humanitarian narrative, in which human life is reduced to a (class-less) biological continuation of societies.[5]

Among today’s several humanitarian debates revolving around self-reliance, sustainability, and accountability, the international attention on humanitarian interventions in urban settings stands out. Cities are commonly regarded as the primary places where class economies become layered and articulated; however, the debates on “urban humanitarianism” have likewise neglected social class as a key factor that significantly marks the relationship between aid providers and recipients in settings of aid provision. The small city of Halba, in northern Lebanon, vividly illustrates how the class economy has tacitly been shaping humanitarian programming and how the very presence of humanitarian actors on the ground reinforced the pre-existing class-based inequality.

The Economy of Lebanon’s Halba

Halba is located in Akkar, one of Lebanon’s most deprived regions. According to the local municipality’s estimates collected in March 2017, Halba’s population at the time consisted of 27,000 local inhabitants and 17,000 refugees. In this peri-urban landscape, where physical boundaries are difficult to identify as they merge with rural surroundings, Syrian refugees mostly reside in informal gatherings on pieces of land at the side of public roads or, in other cases, rent out private apartments. The small city forms a commercial and administrative hub for the surrounding hamlets.

During the 1975–1990 Lebanese civil war, Halba became an employment hub, as many dwellers of Tripoli — the largest northern Lebanese city — faced everyday violence and destruction and therefore resettled to nearby Akkar. Halba’s economic importance derived from its location between Syria’s Homs and Tripoli and from being the main market for the surrounding villages.[6] However, as local residents emphasized to me during several conversations between March 2017 and January 2019, the local market and the public square have disappeared because of the lack of urban planning.

After 1975 especially, Halba turned from a large village, mostly based on agriculture, to a “city with no order,”[7] characterized by uncontrolled growth and peri-urban poverty. During the 1980s, unauthorized houses emerged in Halba’s surrounding fields where there used to be cotton cultivations, thus reducing the size of cultivable areas.Infrastructure and services are insufficient. Electricity, when not purchased privately, is only available for a few hours per day. The rapid urbanization of Halba has therefore offered few economic opportunities, but rather competition over resources and jobs across similar social strata. This has happened because Halba has not been developed as a city.[8]

Northern Lebanon after the Syrian crisis: Beyond Benefits and Burdens

In northern Lebanon, several INGOs now develop their programs by building on the urban-humanitarian nexus. However, the international tendency to ignore the local class system and humanitarianism as a specifically classed project dies hard. Yet, if Akkar is a historically forgotten area (often self-baptized as manta’a yatime, a regional “orphan” of its own central state), the impact of sudden demographic growth and humanitarian presence vary considerably according to social class.

With the arrival of foreign humanitarian agencies responding to the Syrian refugee crisis from 2012 onward, locals who were better-off have become wealthier as they have relied on the increasingly lower costs of the available Syrian workforce. (Historically, the latter constitute the working class made up of constructors, painters, and peasants, along with the local poor). On the one hand, international and local aid workers who reside in the area have potentially created demand for a new market, while not forming themselves a homogeneous social class (i.e. local staff normally enjoy lower pay scales than the internationals). Owners of properties and rental agents have witnessed greater international investment since humanitarian agencies are used to renting cars, staff, and apartments when deployed in the field. On the other, poorer classes have felt most of the economic pressure following the arrival of Syrian refugees and the consequent influx of cheap menial labor. Major pressure was perceived in the agricultural sector. The socio-economic impacts of Syrian refugees and of the humanitarian presence in Akkar, hence, emerge as context-sensitive and layered.

With no intent to undercut Lebanon’s infrastructural predicament during the Syrian crisis, local institutions and infrastructure, to a certain extent, gained greater income with the presence of new Syrian components in the region.[9] In-hospital births are a clear example: Syrian refugees benefit from United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) financial support in order to deliver babies in public hospitals (UNHCR does not cover private services). The UN agency, however, pays up to 80% of the health service provided and only in cases of non-chronic illness. On a quantitative level, this means that Syrian nationals who deliver their babies in one of the hospitals included on the UNHCR list, still need to pay 200,000 to 250,000 Lebanese Lira (150 USD) to access assistance during birth.[10]

Similarly, the opening of job positions for aid workers allowed educated local youths to become employed. Indeed, during my visits, many local aid workers in Halba confirmed they were unemployed before taking up NGO positions, which flourished with the arrival of external funding, especially until 2016. This, however, generated temporary empowerment of local middle classes, which remain at the mercy of crisis-driven labor and, more broadly, of geopolitical interests. On the same note, the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR, by providing food vouchers and later e-cards to Syrian refugees in the region, mostly enriched large shops and wealthy shop owners. This eventually affected the smaller shops, as anguished local residents often voiced to me.

However, some of these new profitable factors, which could have made this region more resourceful, turned out to be unsteady throughout the protracted Syrian displacement. For instance, aid work positions within the local economy of labor were short-lived. The period of high demand for skilled and professional labor — unprecedented in Akkar before 2012 — recently ended as a result of the enforcement of tougher labor measures. Demand for international skilled workers has likewise plummeted due to the decreasing funding allocated to the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Overall, the daily narrative of generalized deprivation in Lebanon had the problematic effect of ironing out diverse economic vulnerabilities as well as wealth and exploitation in the local class economy.

The Hidden Role of Social Class

Against this backdrop, the humanitarian economy of consumerism and labor has not brought durable benefits to Akkar. The arrival of humanitarian agencies has not transformed Halba from an administrative hub into a consumption city. Despite an unprecedented humanitarian presence due to the Syrian crisis, the overall market demand has barely increased. As a local resident argued,[11] at the beginning of the refugee influx many residents opened new shops, but they eventually shut down as the rent was expensive and customers were few. Similarly, the resources needed for the functioning of the humanitarian system were largely outsourced. By the same token, international newcomers — mostly from 2012 to 2015 — seldom frequented Halba for entertainment and consumption purposes. Due to the strict politics of work permits and recent NGO employment policies, which follow tougher national measures also towards upper and middle classes migration labor, Lebanese nationals now apparently make up 90% of INGO and local NGO staff.[12] Moreover, most local and international NGO practitioners who work in Halba live in Tripoli, or in the nearby village of al-Qobaiyat, which is comparatively wealthier. “In Qobaiyat people can find alcohol more easily and there are more cafes and restaurants. We don’t enhance the business volume in Halba, which remains a place for peasants; we go elsewhere for shopping,” recounted a local aid worker.[13]

The character of Halba’s economy is hard to capture due to the scarcity of quantitative data. “Halba has direct contact with international humanitarian organizations and that is an asset as it gets more resources than hamlets,” noticed Halba’s governor.[14] Likewise, the Syrian refugees who reside in Halba are considered wealthier than the refugees who opt for rural life. In this regard, an aid worker affirmed, “We don’t have many projects in Halba, because the refugees in this city are generally less vulnerable. They used to live in cities inside Syria, representing advantaged classes and providing skilled work.”[15] Even though I do not have access to statistics, my interviews with refugees showed that many of them are from rural backgrounds; and their livelihoods seemed to be no more sustainable than those of people living in rural surroundings.

The burden placed on Akkar’s poor infrastructure as a result of the demographic growth spurred by the Syrian refugee influx has further impacted the local class divide. However, the presence of Syrian refugees does certainly not explain it all. The number of international aid workers populating northern Lebanon, in particular between 2012 and 2015, is never mentioned in local and regional economic assessments and official statistics. Foreign humanitarian workers were not counted as part of the labor and class economy, partly in a bid to conceal the local presence of educated people who would have been able to take up the same job positions — an issue which the Lebanese government purportedly intended to address recently in the effort to curb local unemployment.[16] Nor are foreign humanitarian workers mentioned as local consumers who also access resources and put a strain on local infrastructure. This is because of the more generous purchasing power that international aid workers generally dispose of in deprived regions and their higher socio-economic status within Lebanese society.[17] Similarly, class differences tacitly determine discussions about the (il)legal status of non-Lebanese: governments and political commentators shed light on the illegal status of refugees, while ignoring the illegal status of many international aid practitioners working in the Syria neighborhood because, unlike the refugees — who are all indiscriminately believed to be ‘poor’ — they represent the middle and upper classes within host societies.

Social Class as a Humanitarian Taboo

Along the same lines, economic inequality is omitted in the history of human displacement and relief efforts while the philanthropic spirit of the better-off sticks out. A suitable reminder here is the analogous tendency to remove the transnational slave trade and African diasporas from the history of forced migrations, as these were running parallel with global capitalism and European colonial rule. As a result, international humanitarianism acknowledges forced migrants not only when produced by conflicts loaded with special geopolitical relevance,[18] but also makes sure they keep their place among the local poor. In this sense, while several forms of Lebanese nationhood have surely emerged at different class levels over history, poverty has increasingly been ethnicized, criminalized and securitized during the so-called “Syrian refugee crisis” in Lebanon: anti-Syrian curfews and the use of motorbikes became the public markers of refugee delinquency rather than markers of unwanted enlarged poverty in some villages.[19]

Refugees who have historically formed Akkar’s cheap workforce are hardly distinguishable from the local poor, while increasingly being left to fend for themselves the further we get from when the crisis started. There is already a real risk that Syrian prolonged displacement turns to abandonment and this is predictably harmful.[20] This abandonment will further blur the living conditions of the local poor and those of the refugees. In this context, crisis as a problem and humanitarianism as a solution rather sustain the specter of social class. The hidden role that social class plays in settings and discourses of forced migration and global aid work should be acknowledged. On this basis, humanitarian assessments should ponder not only the consequences of aid programs but also the very presence of aid workers in the targeted areas and their relational history with local classes. By averting such self-reflection, humanitarian assessment reports will never be able to offer genuine lessons to either practitioners or scholars.

There have by now been numerous efforts towards accepting and even welcoming the political, and not only biological, survival of displaced populations. Social class is a core part of such politics: the rich-poor divide fed to different measures by the humanitarian presence in host societies should also be brought into debates and questioned in international summits and NGO programming. However, as the Lebanese intellectual and activist Bassem Chit argued, we are cognizant that this can hardly be done “through delusions based on the hope that some bourgeois apparatus might carry us to a better tomorrow.”[21] The current Lebanon uprisings will reveal the nature (and maybe the end) of such delusions.

 


[1] Theresia Sarkis, “Lebanon is struggling to cope with Syrian refugees, but young people are pushing the country to be positive,” The Independent, April 15, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-refugees-lebanon-youth-brussels-middle-east-a8870416.html.

[2] Miriam Ticktin, “Humanity as Concept and Method: Reconciling Critical Scholarship and Empathetic Methods,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 37, 3 (2017): 608-613.

[3] Didier Fassin, Life: A Critical User’s Manual (New York: Polity, 2018).

[4] See Joely Thomas and Birte Vogel, “Intervention Gentrification and Everyday Socio-economic Transactions in Intervention Societies,” Civil Wars 20, 2 (2018): 217-237.

[5] Claude Dubar and Salim Nasr, Les classes sociales au Liban (Paris: Les Presses de Sciences Po, 1976).

[6] Faraj T. Zakhour, Halba fy nisf qarn 1900-1950 (Halba: Dar Zakhour li’l tab‘a, an-nashr, wa at-tawzi‘, 2005) 24.

[7] Remark by local intellectual, February 2017.

[8] Estella Carpi and Camillo Boano, “Humanitarianism in an Urban Lebanese Setting: Missed Opportunities,” The Legal Agenda, February 5, 2018, https://www.legal-agenda.com/en/article.php?id=4211.

[9] Hisham Ashkar, “Benefiting from a Crisis: Lebanese Upscale Real-Estate Industry and the War in Syria,”  Confluences Méditerranée 1, 92 (2015): 89-100, https://www.cairn.info/revue-confluences-mediterranee-2015-1-page-89.htm#.

[10] Interview with Syrian refugee women in Bebnin, spring 2017.

[11] Conversation with the author. Halba, winter 2019.

[12] United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Lebanon Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 32  (May 1 – July 31, 2018), https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/OCHA-Humanitarian%20Bulletin-Issue32-31July2018_EN_0.pdf.

[13] Interview, February 2017.

[14] Interview, March 2017.

[15] Interview, March 2018.

[16] Interview with politician in Tripoli, May 2019.

[17] Peter Redfield, “The Unbearable Lightness of Ex-Pats: Double Binds of Humanitarian Mobility,” Cultural Anthropology 27, 2 (2012): 358-382.

[18] Danilo Zolo, Invoking Humanity: War, Law and Global Order (New York: Continuum, 2002).

[19] Estella Carpi, Mariam Younes, and Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi, “Crisis and Control: (In)Formal Hybrid Security in Lebanon,” Lebanon Support and ALNAP, January 1, 2016, https://www.alnap.org/help-library/crisis-control-informal-hybrid-security-in-lebanon.

[20] Dorothea Hillhorst, “Classical humanitarianism and resilience humanitarianism: making sense of two brands of humanitarian action,” Journal of International Humanitarian Action 3, 15 (2018), https://jhumanitarianaction.springeropen.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s41018-018-0043-6.

[21] Bassam Chit, “Nationalism, Resistance and Revolution,” International Socialism 2, 145 (January 2014): 99-118, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/chit/2014/01/nationalism.html.

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REFUGEE HOSTS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE 2019

https://refugeehosts.org/refugee-hosts-international-conference/

On 24 and 25 October 2019 Refugee Hosts hosted and live-streamed our Refugee Hosts International Conference, with a series of keynote lectures, panels, roundtables, and artistic interventions exploring themes that are key to our project.

This two-day conference – convened by Prof Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (UCL), Prof Alastair Ager (Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh), Dr Anna Rowlands (Durham University) and Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of Birmingham) – marked the fourth and final year of the AHRC-ESRC funded Refugee Hosts project and brought together leading academics, practitioners, creatives and experts in the fields of migration, displacement and refugee studies, to challenge, inform and debate dominant humanitarian discourse, the politics and ethics of knowledge production, and current theory and practice in relation to forced migration.

A full programme can be found here. 

A video of day 1 can be found here.

A video of day 2 can be found here.

You can give feedback on the event here

You can still join the conference conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #RHIC19 and #PoliticsAndPoetics and by tagging @refugeehosts

The Refugee Hosts interdisciplinary project has used in-depth ethnographic research, over 500 interviews and a series of creative writing workshops with members of nine refugee hosting communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, to examine the diverse roles played by local communities – including established refugee communities and diverse local faith communities – in responding to refugees displaced from Syria since 2011.

The conference included a series of presentations, panel and roundtable discussions, workshops and film screenings, and provided an opportunity to join Refugee Hosts’ ‘community of conversation’ on key themes. To find out more about the roundtables and panels explored at the conference, follow the links below:

 

Our Distinguished Keynote Speakers were:  

Homi K. Bhabha (Opening Keynote Speaker) is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English, the Director of the Humanities Center and the Senior Advisor on the Humanities to the President and Provost at Harvard University. Prof. Bhabha has authored a number of publications exploring postcolonial theory, cultural change and power, and cosmopolitanism. His work includes Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture, reprinted as a Routledge Classic in 2004.

Patricia Daley (Keynote Speaker) is Professor of the Human Geography of Africa and Vice-Principal and The Helen Morag Fellow in Geography at Jesus College, Oxford. Prof. Daley’s main research interests are the political economy of population migration and settlement (forced migration, identity politics and citizenship);  the intersection of space, gender, militarism, sexual violence and peace (feminist geo-politics); racial hierarchies and violence (geographies of racialization and coloniality using Critical Race Theory and decolonizing methodologies); the relationship between conservation, resource extraction, and rural livelihoods (political ecology). She has authored, edited and contributed to numerous publications, including her 2018 co-edited book, The Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations.

Sari Hanafi (Keynote Speaker) is Professor of Sociology at the American University of Beirut and editor of Idafat: the Arab Journal of Sociology (Arabic). He has served as a visiting professor at the University of Poitiers and Migrintern (France), University of Bologna and Ravenna (Italy) and visiting fellow in CMI (Bergen, Norway). The former Director of the Palestinian Refugee and Diaspora Centre (Shaml) from 2000-2004, Prof. Hanafi has authored a number of publications including Knowledge Production in the Arab World (Routledge). He is the co-editor of Palestinian Refugees: Identity, Space and Place in the Levant (Routledge).

Our Confirmed Chairs were:

Prof. Alison Phipps 

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh 

Sarah Clarke

Prof. Philippe Sands

Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge 

Prof. Alastair Ager 

Dr. Anna Rowlands 

Dr Saiful Huq Omi

The conference was convened by Refugee Hosts’ Principal Investigator, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (UCL), and the project’s Co-Investigators, Prof. Alastair Ager(Queen Margaret University), Dr. Anna Rowlands (Durham University) and Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of Birmingham). It marked the start of the fourth and final year of our AHRC-ESRC funded Refugee Hosts project, which began in 2016 and has been investigating local community responses to and experiences of displacement in and from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Categories: Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review of Ilana Feldman’s Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics (October, 2019)

You can now read my review of Ilana Feldman’s ‘Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics’ in the latest issue of The Middle East Journal (summer 2019)

https://www.academia.edu/40538947/Review_of_Ilana_Feldmans_Life_Lived_in_Relief_Humanitarian_Predicaments_and_Palestinian_Refugee_Politics

 

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Le Corps dans le roman des écrivaines syriennes contemporaines (by Martina Censi, Brill 2016)

Even for researchers who do not actually deal with gender-related and literary topics like myself, it is surely a real pleasure to read Martina Censi’s Le Corps dans le roman des écrivaines syriennes contemporaines, which has been published by Brill in 2016.

In this book, Censi, who is presently Assistant Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Bergamo (Italy), explores the political and social significants that the female and the male bodies convey in Syrian contemporary novel. To do so, she selects six novels written by Syrian women writers: Kursi by Dima Wannus, Hurras al-Hawa’ by Rosa Yassin Hasan, Banat al-Barari by Maha Hasan, Rai’hat al-Qirfa by Samar Yazbik, Imra’a min Hada al ‘Asr by Haifa’ Bitar, and Burhan al-‘Asal by Salwa al-Na’imi. Censi navigates the ways in which the six writers have been shaping, fantasising, and at times boosting “difference” through their body and sexual pleasure experience. In particular, she does not demand difference in their writing: she rather makes the effort to nuance how difference takes place for each novelist, at the level of the individual body and sexual pleasure, in relation to maleness and political power, and in terms of new emerging subjectivities. Indeed, she suggests how it gets configured in the contemporary Syrian scenario, made of repressive politics and social transformations. By analysing how each writer relates to ruling and hidden powers and gendered social relations in Syria, her analysis goes way beyond femaleness conceived as fighting male-led body domination. Maleness also shows its own vast array of vulnerabilities; also changes in reflection to a complex political scenario; and, as such, also can be dominated by female difference.

For all of those who have ever engaged with the key debates on womanhood versus manhood, performativity, sexualization, bodies and gender (see, for example, Judith Butler, Simon de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous), this book establishes an important dialogue between Syrian women thinkers who, through novels, convey their different understandings of what the body can mean in contemporary society, both materially and metaphorically. In the current whirlwind of macro-political and sociological commentaries on Syrian society(ies), a window onto the literary perspectives is very much needed!

The book can be accessed here:

https://brill.com/view/title/32785?lang=fr

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No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egypt, Europe, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Middle East, North Africa, Palestine, Play, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My lecture at the Lebanese American University (March, 2019)

http://sas.lau.edu.lb/institutes/isjcr/news/index.php#69387

News

Beyond Humanitarianism Paradigm: The Effect of Displacement on Religious Authorities

posted on 10/04/2019

isjcr-carpi-seminar.jpg

By Fidaa Al Fakih

LAU’s Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution (ISJCR) and the Department of Social Sciences hosted a seminar on “The Displacement of Religious Authorities from Syria and their Involvement in Aid Provision: Looking beyond Humanitarianism.”

The cross-campus seminar was based on the preliminary findings of Research Associate at University College London, Dr Estella Carpi.

Welcoming the attendees, moderator and ISJCR Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Tamirace Fakhoury said the seminar sheds light on the under-researched topic of “how the displacement from Syria has affected religious authorities and how religious authorities have had to reinvent their mission and involvement in aid provision.”

Dr. Carpi then kicked off the seminar by explaining that the field research she has been conducting in Lebanon is part of a much broader project with Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh of University College London under the framework of “south–south humanitarianism.” The research, she said, looks at southern agents of aid provision, particularly faith leaders or religious authorities who try to help their own displaced communities.

Dr. Carpi’s presentation built on her extensive research on faith-based organizations working in the Syria neighborhood, including her engagement with Syrian refugee faith leaders in Lebanon. “I relied on self-accounts of personal experiences in aid provision to the displaced communities once Syrian faith leaders became refugees themselves,” she said.

Dr. Carpi then mapped a geography of displaced religious authorities following their physical trajectories outside of Syria. She also focused on how displacement from war, violence and persecution reconfigures their spiritual role and their social status within receiving societies. By doing so, Dr. Carpi captured how the spiritual mission of such religious leaders changes in response to their own refugee status and their intent to provide aid, support and solidarity to the displaced communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr. Fakhoury and Chair of the Social Sciences Department Marwan Rowayheb thanked Dr. Carpi for uncovering concepts of humanitarianism that shed light on new actors often overlooked by researchers when studying Syrian refugee challenges in neighboring host societies.

Dr. Rowayheb encouraged Dr. Carpi to account for the structural differences in the nature of the religious establishments in Lebanon, and to examine the competition between Lebanese religious authorities and displaced Syrian faith leaders that in some instances trigger sensitivities.

Categories: Europe, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Need to Be There’: North-South Encounters and Imaginations in the Humanitarian Economy (December, 2018)

I have contributed to the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Patricia Daley (2018), which has just been published!

https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781138652002

The edited volume collects an important number of critical contributions which question contemporary political geographies of Global North and Global South. Here below you can read the abstract of my chapter which focuses on my work on humanitarianism in Lebanon.

chapter 22|13 pages

North–South encounters and imaginations in the humanitarian economy
ByEstella Carpi
Hide abstract

Based on ethnographic research conducted in Beirut’s southern suburbs (Dahiye) and northern Lebanon (Akkar) between 2011 and 2013, this chapter advances a critical reflection on humanitarian lifeworlds in Lebanon and their encounters with war-stricken local citizens and refugees. Defining Southism as a structural relationship that cements the ‘global South’ as the key symbolic capital of Northern empowerment, accountability and capability, the chapter discusses the attitudes and thinking that have characterised the Lebanese humanitarian economy during the Israel–Lebanon July 2006 war and the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon from 2011. While it defines ‘epistemic failure’ and ‘material discrimination’ as the actual encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries, this chapter proposes that ‘humanitarian tourism’, ‘politics of blame’, and the ‘betrayal of the international community’ represent the local and refugee imaginary encounters with global humanitarian lifeworlds. With the purpose of problematising ethnic and political geographies in provider–recipient power relations, it finally theorises a de-geographicised notion of Southism that can better capture the complex role of international and local humanitarian workers in crisis settings, as well as the ad hoc relevance of nationality within humanitarian economies.

 

Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, Nord Africa, United States | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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