The 'where' of sovereign power and exception
: Palestinian life and refugee camps in Lebanon

  • Diana Martin

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis focuses on the Palestinian refugees’ experience in Lebanon since 1948, to critically engage with Agamben’s theory of exception. Agamben conceives of the ‘camp’ as the space where the normal juridical order and the inhabitants’ rights are suspended, the hidden matrix of the modern where the sovereign confronts nothing but bare life. Refugees are framed as the ultimate embodiment of bare life, a life stripped of rights and protection and at the mercy of state authorities. This research critiques this understanding in three ways.
    Firstly, by disenfranchising the concept of sovereign power from statehood, I adopt a multiscalar approach to uncover the complex network of sovereigns and decisions impacting upon the Palestinian life. From the international level (UN and humanitarian organisations) to the regional level (Arab states and Lebanon), I discuss the roles and responsibility of multiple actors in the production of Palestinian bare life showing the global scope of sovereign power. Secondly, by disengaging the concept of power from political institutions, I include the Palestinian refugees’ agency in the chessboard of power relations. Focusing on lived experiences and critically engaging with state-centric and law-centric perspectives, the thesis uncovers the micropolitics on the ground constituted by multiple forms of resistance that refugees adopt in their ongoing struggles for survival and recognition. The recognition of this agency and political significance of refugees’ lives is paramount if a just solution to the Palestinian refugee question is to be found. Finally, this study interrogates and problematises the uncritical assimilation of refugee camps to spaces of exception. By looking at the evolution of Shatila refugee camp and its relation to the city of Beirut, I discuss the formation of a new spatial model that I call ‘campscape’. As social and spatial boundaries increasingly blur, the ‘campscape’, which includes the refugee camp and informal settlements around, is the space in which the refugee meets the other outcasts of the Lebanese political and economic system.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Durham University
    SponsorsDurham University
    SupervisorLouise Amoore (Supervisor), David Campbell (Supervisor) & Cheryl McEwan (Supervisor)

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