My upcoming paper for the Swiss Anthropological Association 2021

On Emotional Dissonance and Academic Excellence: The Need for Collective Learning.

Estella Carpi, Research Associate, University College London – Visiting Researcher, Koc Universitesi-Istanbul

Throughout the years, I have experienced how, as academic researchers and teachers, we can develop emotional dissonance from the contents and subjects of our own research. In this framework, academic excellence and high quality publications do not revolve around how people emotionally relate to such contents and subjects, but they rather demand structure, clarity of direction, and strategic skills to publish and boast impact.

In this paper I intend to build on my reflections about how my emotional approach to research has gradually responded to unspoken invitations to de-personalization and de-empathization during my 5-year experience in a British academic institution. I will discuss how the so-called excellence standards, the academic practice of awarding strategization and clarity of direction, and productivity expectations – all typically defined as the effective instruments of ‘neoliberal’ academia – can affect the researcher’s emotionality and intimate understandings of purposefulness.

My argument is that the ‘neoliberalization’ of academia is complexly interrelated with de-empathization in international research. Due to the ungenerous timeframes to conduct academic research and the institutional pressure for a large number of outputs, developing empathy during research becomes unlikely. In this context, the very idea of researching people, things, and processes often departs from the aprioristic need to publish. In turn, publishing successfully is possible only as a result of adopting standardized ways of writing and structuring knowledge. Such an intellectual standardization, importantly, is by no means the product of a universal and objective agreement on how we need to explore, analyze, and write – as it purports to be in the Global North’s academic institutions – but it instead remains a subtle cultural vector of anglocentrism which sweeps away alternative approaches to academic work. This process of removing alternative ‘writing selves’, who do not comply with or even resist hegemonic standardization, generates a twofold emotional dissonance in the subjects: first, the dissonance of excelling in academic publishing without actual empathy; second, undertaking a self-initiated process of removal of our own writing selves as a road to publishing, and, consequently, producing work that less reflects the way we are.

While, in the past, I have discarded the very possibility of teaching sensitization and emotionality to people – as that is based on a paternalistic ethos of moulding ways of being and on an uninformed and colonially-flavored compassionalization of legal, political and economic issues – I here raise the question of whether such a path is instead needed to reverse de-empathization. Departing from Rorty’s ‘sentimental education’, I will explore the possibilities to sensitize through formal educational processes and I will counter the eurocentric educational method by advancing the idea of ‘collective learning’. The paper therefore invites colleagues, especially scholars looking at vulnerable settings, to face their own ways of approaching and thinking academic work while often losing the tangibility of the injustice, the chronic predicament, and the very potential for transformation that international research is able to voice and tackle. The increasing co-optation of emotionality as a token of scientific and ethical legitimization in research makes emotionality taken for granted in ethnography-based disciplines and beyond, thus taking us to an inattentive, rushed, and self-defensive “of-course-I-care” approach.

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Operazione Colomba

Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII


Research Proposal
The Prospect of Humanitarian Zones in Syria

Who are we

Operazione Colomba is the Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Association Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII. Since 1992 our volunteers have been operating in: protecting civilians, promoting dialogue and reconciliation between the parts, supporting local nonviolent realities, doing advocacy activities.

Since 2013, Operazione Colomba volunteers have been living in a Syrian refugee camp in Northern Lebanon, sustaining a need for international protection expressed by refugee communities. These same communities drafted a Peace Proposal to answer to the growing hardships faced in Lebanon. Their request is simple and fair: to go back to their country in a safe area where they do not risk being arrested, killed or be forcibly drafted in the army.

To support their Peace Proposal, Operazione Colomba and a group of Syrian activists have created a team of experienced volunteers, to make sure this proposal is taken to the major political platforms dealing with solutions to the Syrian conflict, reaching policy-makers at both national government level as well as within international diplomacy channels.

The research group

In order to identify a humanitarian zone in Syria where Syrian refugees abroad could safely return, the Peace Proposal team needs to be supported by an organized research group, which could scientifically and systematically monitor the ongoing dynamics of the war in Syria, the demographic changes of the country and the safe areas where a normalization could be feasible, so as to provide concrete feasibility to the realization of the Peace Proposal in practice.

The Research Group will be made of international academic staff and researchers collaborating with Operazione Colomba Peace Proposal Team. Academic staff based at international Universities is welcome to join the research group on a voluntary basis, and is expected to critically engage with the Peace Proposal Team in the outline of specific areas of research. Academic staff will work as main point of contact between Operazione Colomba and MA students interested in conducting specific sections of the research.

HQ: Operazione Colomba – Via Mameli 5 – 47921 Rimini (RN) Tel./Fax (+39) 0541 29005 E-mail:

Operazione Colomba

Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII

Focus of the research group

The Research Group’s fundamental aim is to study the Syrian conflict, investigating where and how the safe humanitarian zone could be created in order to promote a safe and just repatriation of Syrian refugees.

The research group’s strategy will be based on the analysis of modern socio-economic and political trends in Syria’s recent history, so as to contextualize the transformations undergone through the last nine years of war. Adding to the situation in Syria, research will also focus on the evolving situation in different regions of the country and in Syrian refugees’ camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Moreover, past cases of humanitarian zones in other world regions will provide yet another key focus to this research, in understanding the processes and specific geo-historical causalities that brought to their formation and local/regional/international recognition. The successful case of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Colombia, will be used a comparative study.

Organization of the research group

To operationalize this research proposal, three distinct groups are identified for collaboration: (I) Operazione Colomba Peace Proposal Team; (II) Academic leads at major international universities, and (III) Master-level students interested in carrying out their research projects on topics relevant to this research proposal.

Tasks and duties of Operazione Colomba Peace Proposal Team:

  •   To provide overall guidance and support to academic leads about the specific areas ofresearch focus;
  •   To coordinate the different areas of research involved in this research project so as to avoidcross-overs and guarantee that all interest areas are covered;
  •   To provide information and access to specific data held by Operazione Colomba on thetopics of research interest.Tasks and duties of the academic leads:
  •   To identify pertinent sub-areas of research interest to propose as assignments to MA studentsinterested to carry out research on those specific topics;
  •   To supervise the work of MA students in line with the research requirements, ethics, andfinal purpose of Operazione Colomba’s research proposal;
  •   To liaise with the Peace Proposal Team with regards to changing research focus, access todata, fieldwork required. HQ: Operazione Colomba – Via Mameli 5 – 47921 Rimini (RN) Tel./Fax (+39) 0541 29005 E-mail:

Operazione Colomba

Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII

Tasks and duties of MA students involved:

  •   To identify a specific research area of interest within the remits of this research proposal;
  •   To liaise with the specific academic lead about the research and delivery of the research;
  •   To produce a final report on the research conducted specifically for the use of the PeaceProposal Team, summarizing main methodologies and findings.Sub-areas of research focus

This research will be based on four macro-themes:
1) A comparative study between the Peace Proposal and the Community of San José de Apartadó;

2) Examples of humanitarian zones in international law (previous cases of both “informal” and “formally recognized” humanitarian zones;

3) Examples of restorative justice (humanitarian commissions ruling on demilitarization and peace- building between warring communities);

4) Update study and monitoring of specific geographical areas of Syria (demographic engineering during the Syrian conflict, areas of return, return flows from neighbouring countries).

Contacs: HQ: Operazione Colomba – Via Mameli 5 – 47921 Rimini (RN) Tel./Fax (+39) 0541 29005 E-mail:

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Slavery, Lived Realities and Decolonising Forced Migration Histories – An interview with Asst. Prof. Portia Owusu

In the framework of the UCL Southern Responses to Displacement project, I’ve had the pleasure to speak to Dr Portia Owusu on her excellent work on the politics of history and indigenous narratives of slavery in African American and West African literature. Narratives that are often not taken into account in traditional teaching of forced migration.
You can listen to our conversation here:

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Webinar with the AAA Interest Group on NGOs and Non-Profits (March 1, 2021)

Last March 1, 2021, I and Dr Chiara Diana (Universite’ Libre de Bruxelles) have presented our chapter The Right to Play versus the Right to War? Vulnerable Childhoods in Lebanon’s NGOization for the volume edited by Kristen Cheney and Aviva Sinervo (More information about the book Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification and Objectification can be found here:

For those who would like to review the webinar or who registered and were unable to attend, here is a link to the video of the event

One of the questions that came up during the webinar was regarding the ethics of doing research with children. Here is the website (as well as an attached PDF) recommended by María Claudia Duque-Páramo in response to questions about the ethics of doing research with children: ERIC Ethical Research Involving Children:
To learn more about the AAA Interest Group on N​GOs and Non-Profits you can visit our website, like the IGNN on Facebook and follow @ngoanthro on Twitter.

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World Anthropology Day 2021

The 21 of February was World Anthropology Day. The University of Milan has produced a video collecting anthropologists’ 30 secs responses to “why is anthropology needed?”. 
Amazed by students’ insights and glad to have participated!

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La resistenza culturale nel Libano contemporaneo. Le sfide di artiste locali e profughe

My article with Stefano Fogliata is out today open access in Archivio Antropologico Mediterraneo.

Abstract in italiano

Sulla base di interviste condotte nel 2018, questo articolo analizza le somiglianze e le differenze che intercorrono tra le sfide che i “fautori della cultura” – artiste in primis – cittadine libanesi e rifugiate palestinesi e siriane devono affrontare nel contesto libanese. Dopo un’illustrazione dello scenario storico-politico libanese e di come in esso la “resistenza culturale” emerge in modo poliedrico, gli autori individuano aree d’incontro e di potenziale solidarietà tra gruppi. L’articolo discute la cosiddetta “umanitarizzazione” dei finanziamenti, attraverso la quale vengono sostenuti e potenziati soprattutto i progetti artistici che possono fungere da strumento di neutralità politica e di “medicalizzazione” dei traumi post-guerra. Tale fenomeno genera in parte una depoliticizzazione ed esteticizzazione dell’arte, “demobilitando” quindi la vervepolitica dietro al lavoro culturale e, allo stesso tempo, lega la sopravvivenza materiale di tali spazi culturali a cicliche crisi umanitarie.

Abstract in English

Based on interviews conducted during 2018, this article examines the challenges that Lebanese citizen, Palestinian and Syrian refugee “culture-makers” – primarily artists – need to face in the Lebanese context, and how such challenges differ from or overlap with one another. After providing an overview of Lebanese political history and how, within it, “cultural resistance” emerges in a multifaceted way, the authors identify areas of encounter and of potential solidarity between groups. The article discusses the so-called “humanitarianization” of funding, through which especially the artistic projects that can serve as instruments of political neutrality and of “medicalization” of post-war traumas are supported. This phenomenon generates in part a de-politicization and aestheticization of art, thus demobilizing the political verve behind cultural work and, at the same time, linking the material survival of such cultural spaces to cyclical humanitarian crises.

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Call for Papers for Swiss Anthropological Association 2021: Empathy in the Field. Can the Affective be Transformative?

In the framework of SEG Jahrestagung Colloque Annuel de la SSE Annual Meeting of the SAA, this year with the theme of Re-viewing the field: Contemporary debates and approaches to fieldwork, which will take place at Monte Verità (Ascona), 22-24 April 2021, along with Dr Eda Elif Tibet, I am convening the following panel:

Empathy in the Field: Can the Affective be Transformative?


Dr Eda Elif Tibet, Institute of Geography, University of Bern,

Dr Estella Carpi, Migration Research Unit, University College London,

In this panel we would like to explore the inter-space between academic intellectuality, ‘research excellence’, and human sensitivity. On the basis of our own emotional intimate experiences, in the academic environment, the interconnection between these factors is left undiscussed and, emblematically, is not seen as necessary. This omission in the intellectual debate even makes such an interconnection unlikely.

Western scholarship is largely a product of an educational system based on the Cartesian division between “rational thinking” versus “emotions” that are associated with “irrationality”: such binaries are being challenged in today’s reformations of fieldwork, especially for those who work on issues related to vulnerability, displacement, and poverty.

Throughout the disciplinary history of Anthropology, un-empathetic approaches to vulnerable subjects have been documented to have negative and even dangerous effects on a personal, societal and policy level. As many anthropologists have ended up instrumentalizing “the ethics” and the “impact value” of the science itself for intellectual benefit, they have often been criticized for being “insensible”, “unemphatic”, “biased”, “doctrinated”, “colonial”, “cynical”, “hostile”, “discursive”, “categorical”, “exclusive”, “racist” and “ethnocentric”.

In light of these emerging discussions, this panel intends to discuss if and how “sentimental education”, as introduced to western scholarship by Richard Rorty, can serve as an affective tool to sensitize scholars whose research issues relate to diverse forms of vulnerability (E.g. economic, political, and social).

In more detail, the questions we would like to explore are: Can “sentimental education” help to produce empathic research? If so, can empathic research lead to fairer scientific representations and a stronger transformational potential for vulnerable people and settings?

While Anthropology has long sought to challenge the need to “clean” theories and methods from emotionality, yet it has not approached emotionality as a transformative tool. In this panel, we rather aim to engage with emotionality as an intellectually honest road to scientific knowledge and transformative research. We invite papers discussing epistemological approaches and fieldwork tools that guide ethnographers in moving from the discursive to the affective, from the apathetic to the empathetic, from the colonial to the decolonial, in terms of theory and methods.

Engagements through multimodal media and auto-ethnographies are also encouraged.

We kindly request prospective participants to submit their paper proposals using our digital forms at:

Thank you very much!

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Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon*



By Estella Carpi

… Everyone was there and wanted their logo to be known… it’s a brand. And in the July 2006 war [of Israel on Lebanon] there were definitely more international brands than ever.
(Author’s interview with the Manager of the Social Development Centre, Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs, ash-Shiyyah, Beirut, October 30, 2011)

The visuality of symbols, buildings, and icons can powerfully mark spaces and make such spaces political, culturally oriented, spiritual, and even human. In times of crisis, it is particularly employed to exhibit the presence of humanitarian work. However, such a visuality can take different forms, and humanitarian logos are only one means of expression. Humanitarian logos communicate to the public that the labelled organizations are there assisting the needy, alleviating their predicament, witnessing human suffering, or rescuing lives. During the years I spent researching aid in Lebanon (2010-2020), people have often spoken of the ‘war of logos’ to emphasize the competition between different humanitarian actors intervening in crisis-stricken areas. 

In such areas, where migrants and refugees often reside, new local understandings of physical space have arisen. However, aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war. In this blog post, I show how they can become stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life, inviting dwellers to rethink these spaces of coexistence. Aid, therefore, going beyond official humanitarianism, turns out to be a politics of space, changing people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and inducing them to rethink their spatial margins.

​After the arrival of refugees from Syria (2011), the aid coming into Lebanon from the Arab Gulf increased, involving both in-kind assistance (i.e. food and school material kits) and cash-based programmes. Traditionally, Islamic charity work objects to iconic politics, adducing Prophet Mohammed’s hadith “the left hand does not see what the right hand gives” (la ta‘lamu shamaluhu bima tunfiqu yaminahu). However, some Arab Muslim philanthropists provide humanitarian aid by making their relief provision visible and, at times, even displaying their own face, their national flag, and their logos. Individual philanthropists in the Arab Gulf often opt to show the national flag and the faces of charity founders.Aid distribution by Khalaf Ahmed al-Habtour Foundation (United Arab Emirates) in an Akkar village, North Lebanon. March 2019.​During my most recent fieldwork for the Southern-led Responses to Displacement project in North Lebanon, many Syrian refugees emphasised that they do not support the politics of some foreign governments in the Syrian conflict and, at times, are reluctant to accept the donations. A Syrian refugee friend told me in Bebnin in the spring of 2019, “We’re using the plates with the Saudi logo to show you we are given this stuff… but we normally don’t like using them as we don’t think Saudi politics helped Syrians in any way…”.
Saudi Arabia NGO’s plates for Syrian refugees. Bebnin, Akkar. March 2019.Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s symbol on jumpers. Kweishra, Akkar. April 2019.School bags distribution from Saudi Arabia. Al-Bireh, Akkar. March 2019.​NGOs and UN agencies from the ‘global North’ similarly use logos to mark their humanitarian space, although the space is often shared with other humanitarian actors. I often met refugees who stressed how ephemeral and punctuated (appearing, disappearing, and reappearing over time) humanitarian assistance is: humanitarian logos always remain there, while aid workers show up to provide help only once in a while. Beneficiaries generally interpret logos negatively, as a sign of an increasingly prominent humanitarian-business nexus where assistance needs to be branded to be funded and supported. Yet some refugees I spoke to view the logos positively, as they visually convey the politics that relegate their lives to the margins and make their living conditions precarious and unjust. Such acts of ‘self-visibilization’ enable people in need to battle against the discriminatory and unequal politics of some aid providers.UNICEF’s and Solidarités International’s logos on the toilet of an informal tented settlement (one for more than a hundred people) in an Akkar hamlet. March 2019.UNHCR tarp covering construction material in front of al-Bahsa new mosque in Akkar, North Lebanon. March 2018.​Logos also inform us about the cooperation between humanitarian agencies which, generally, we would not associate with each other, such as Polish Aid and Australian Aid co-funding a dispensary for Syrian refugees and vulnerable local residents in the village of al-Bireh in North Lebanon.
Ophthalmology clinic in Bireh, Akkar. March 2019.​Spaces of aid are usually remembered by the nationality of the funders, whose logos – often displaying their national flag even for non-governmental funding – are placed on street signs, entrance gates, and indoor walls.
Turkish government-funded clinic in Kweishra, North Lebanon. March 2019.​In the sign above it is evident that the funding for what is commonly known in Kweishra (Akkar) as the “Turkish hospital” (al-mustashfa al-turki) is a donation from the Turkish state to the Lebanese state. However, the local residents and Syrian Arab refugees point out that only Turkmen Syrian refugees and a small number of Turkmen Lebanese have access to this clinic.

The Kuwaiti NGO “The Doors of Goodness Foundation” (jama‘iyyat mu’assasat abuwab al-kheir), assisting Syrian refugees, shows the national flag. Halba, North Lebanon. February 2019.

Beneficiary communities sometimes speak about humanitarian symbols with criticism and question their aid and service provision. A Syrian refugee woman from Homs who relocated to a border village in Lebanon highlighted that rent and medications were the primary needs of her family and community in Lebanon. At a time when e-food ration cards[1] had not been introduced yet, she told me with sarcasm, “I came from Syria to get packages of bread in Lebanon… I don’t give a damn about their ‘grains of hope’: it’s 2,000 Lebanese Lira… I can pay for it. Why don’t they provide medications and cash for rent instead? They provide what is easier for them” (Wadi Khaled, January 29, 2013).

Mercy Corps bread distribution in Wadi Khaled, Akkar. November 2012.

New local understandings of physical space have arisen in areas newly inhabited by migrants and refugees. For instance, in the economically disadvantaged district of Dinniye, local residents told me they used to identify the Emirs’ Castle Hotel (Funduq Qasr al-Umara’) as the luxurious holiday resort for tourists from the Arab Gulf. From 2012 onward, with the arrival of Syrian refugee families, local people conceptualised the area as a hotspot of “relief for the left-behind” (al-ighatha li’l ma‘zulin), where refugees collect aid provided by the Arab Gulf and are temporarily accommodated. 

Aid distribution for Syrian refugees at the Qasr al-Umara’ Hotel, Dinniye, Lebanon. April 2019.

Aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war: they can remain stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life. The Beit Atfal as-Sumud in the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburbs[2] represents a point of call for Palestinian dwellers, providing education, play activities, and medical support and referring beneficiaries to other NGOs and specialistic services. During my visits since 2011, I realized the employees are more trusted than the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA)’s services.[3] The Beit is the spatialization of the most effective aid in the neighbourhood, as known by other migrant and refugee groups who inhabit the area.

Entrance of Beit Atfal as-Sumud in Shatila, Beirut. September 2011.

​A large number of Syrian refugees in rural and peri-urban Lebanon reside in informal tented settlements (ITS) built on pieces of land on the side of public roads, which they need to rent from landowners, rent apartments or occupy empty depots in urban settings. Sometimes, families who were not even acquainted to each other before arriving in Lebanon end up living in the same household to be able to share expenses and make ends meet. A Lebanese resident from the city of Halba contended, “Once we know in which buildings the refugees live, we tend to avoid those areas.” We thus see new borderscapes (Lebuhn, 2013) in the making, where new margins, although not physically marked, emerge in the environment.
Building rented to Syrian refugees. South Lebanon governorate. July 2016.Some spaces are neither marked by NGO logos nor emerge as official spaces of aid provision in the public sphere. Yet, within local communities, they are understood as places where aid is likely to be given. Hairdressing and beauty salons for Ethiopian migrant workers became important points of call to weave support networks and exchange resources between Lebanon and Ethiopia or other African countries. Indeed, in Bourj Hammoud[4], African migrant workers from different national backgrounds said they frequent the same places where it is possible for them to gather information and seek support from other social groups or their countries of origin, beyond their own national belonging.

Ethiopian hairdressing salon in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. February 2019.​

Football in Lebanon is known to be an activity people are passionate about, a way of connecting them to the world outside, and also a reason for gatherings and social mingling. National flags of other countries are often used to show support to national football teams. However, during my research in Lebanon, I realized there is sometimes a more complex story about the different national symbols exhibited in public space. A Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud told me how they not only support Brazil in football world leagues, but they also cherish the generosity of their relatives who resettled in Brazil in the 1970s and sent material and moral support during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). Showing the Brazil flag outside their balcony became a way to show their gratefulness. 

Brazilian flag outside the balcony of a Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. February 2019.​

Similarly, a taxi driver, in the municipality of Minieh in North Lebanon, spoke of Argentina not only as his favourite football team in the world leagues, but also as the place which welcomed and supported him, his family and friends during the 1980s. After returning to Lebanon after the end of the civil war, he still preserves his childhood memories of Argentina and hopes his own children will get to know the country at some stage.

Sticker of Argentina on a taxi cab in Minieh, North Lebanon. April 2019.

​Humanitarian aid, ultimately, turns out to be a politics of space. It changes people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and induces them to rethink their spatial margins. Moreover, the material manifestations of aid are not exclusively to be found on logos and brands that indicate distribution spots or offices. Symbols, material objects and shops can give rise to different aid imaginaries. While those who believe in a no-profit humanitarianism commonly criticize the logo-marked bond between aid provision and business, alternative spaces of aid do not need to be marked by logos, as they are the result of entangled stories, personal relationships, and transregional trajectories of human support. Intimate memories do not need logos to have their presence acknowledged; it is generally in people’s mental spaces that they are preserved. 


 At the outset of the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon (2011-12), many of the ‘global North’s’ humanitarian actors were reluctant to provide cash assistance to refugees, preferring to prioritise the delivery of food, medical, and other items. In 2013 e-food ration cards began to be distributed to refugee households, replacing the old food vouchers. Also, over the last few years, especially after the 2015 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, NGOs and UN agencies agreed on reducing the delivery of in-kind assistance in order to enhance cash assistance. Nowadays, Arab Gulf funded NGOs in Lebanon mostly provide material aid, such as mattresses and food, and, during Ramadan, iftar baskets and dates.

[2] Established in 1984 after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres.

[3] UNWRA services are seen as decreasingly sympathetic with the Palestinian cause.

[4] An independent municipality located at the East of Beirut, historically marked by the Armenian forced migration, and today populated by different migrant groups.

* This research has been conducted in the framework of the project “Analysing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey”, funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582.

Estella Carpi is a Research Associate in the Migration Research Unit (Department of Geography) at University College London, where she works on Southern-led responses to displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. She received her PhD in Anthropology of Humanitarianism from the University of Sydney in Australia (2015). After studying Arabic in Milan and Damascus (2002-2008), she worked in several academic and research institutions in Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. She is an instructor of Humanitarian Studies and Anthropology of the Middle East at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. She is the author of Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo, published in Italian with Mimesis (2018). Estella is a 2020-25 Global Young Academy Member. She can be contacted at:  

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From Livelihoods to Leisure and Back: Refugee ‘Self-Reliance’ as Collective Practices in Lebanon, India and Greece

New article out in the Third World Quarterly by the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and Save the Children UK partnership.


Over the last two decades, leading humanitarian agencies in the Global North have increasingly promoted a policy of self-reliance, understood as making individual refugees financially independent from aid assistance through livelihood programmes. However, individual economic autonomy offers an incomplete picture of refugee well-being. Based on fieldwork conducted over 2017 in Halba (Lebanon), Delhi (India) and Thessaloniki (Greece), this multi-site study shows that non-camp refugees build on collective strategies at household, social network and community levels in efforts to develop mechanisms of survival and enfranchisement. These strategies include social and leisure activities as well as income-generating activities which are often organised compartmentally in humanitarian programming. We argue that while leisure and social mingling alone cannot ensure economic sustainability, they are fundamental dimensions of self-reliance as seen by refugees and should therefore be systematically included in livelihood programming.

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‘At the Margins of Academia’ book launch and discussion

An excellent book by Prof. Asli Vatansever and the subsequent discussion with scholars based in Finland, Germany, and Italy, on the social expectations and theorietical conceptualizations of refugeehood, exile, and nomadic life. This is an extremely important contribution to what it means being an at-risk scholar nowadays in societies where the academic sector is per se relying on precarious work.

Recording of the first talk in SAR Italy’s Fall Speaker Series is now available

On 15th October we held the first event of the SAR Italy Speaker Series with the launch of Asli Vatansever’s book: At the Margins of Academia (Brill, 2020). Asli engaged in a discussion with Magdalena Kmak from Abo Akademi University, Finland. A recording of the online event is now available.

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