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Social Anthropology

Samar Kanafani

Working title

We Once Lived There: The Making and Unmaking of Place in Beirut

My research investigates vacant buildings and neighbourhoods in Beirut, by studying the practices that occurred in them since their construction, the circumstances that led to their abandonment, and the public discourses about them as they disintegrate. Increasingly contested in public discourse, these sites articulate links between local and supralocal processes, lending comparative insight into regional capitals. Subject to current global trends of urban transformation, these places are frequently destined for demolition and redevelopment, or reinvented as entertainment hotspots.

They exist in a time-space contingency pregnant with cultural, discursive, affective and aesthetic signification, and intricate narratives of socio-spatial reconfiguration. My work contributes to scholarship on urban regeneration in Beirut, and provides theoretical perspective on the connections between global processes and the textures of human experience in the city. How do we experience the city through its vacancies? What types of historiographical and phenomenological methods shed light on human relationships to spaces and materials on the verge of disappearance?

What might an ethnography of derelict spaces say about their temporality in relation to the abstract, rapid, seemingly totalizing time of urban capitalist development? Studying how life has become impossible in these buildings says less about the life they once made possible and more about the kinds of living conceivable in the city today.