Accepted paper:

When uncertainty becomes ordinary: how practices of daily life become vehicles of normalization and tools of struggle in a Palestinian refugee camp


Dorota Woroniecka-Krzyzanowska (German Historical Institute - Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores aspects of living the ordinary in a situation of both protracted conflict and prolonged exile. It discusses daily strategies aiming at normalization of uncertainty and the potential of quotidian practices to transform and negotiate the meanings of crisis.

Paper long abstract:

Even during the most turbulent times, people try to lead an 'ordinary life'; however, the problem of living an 'ordinary life' in a violent context remains under-researched by anthropologists dealing with armed conflicts. This paper examines the processes of construction, re-construction and reproduction of the ordinary in a situation of an armed conflict. It begins with a discussion of everyday-life strategies adopted by people in order to contain the permanent feeling of insecurity and uncertainty. Secondly, this paper treats the ordinary as a site of struggle, where actors use various, both oppositional (de Certeau 1984) and hegemonizing (Jean-Klein 2001) practices through which they enact, transform and negotiate the meanings of conflict. Finally, simultaneously to the effort to normalize the experience of conflict, the ordinary is often being set against the violent status quo, as a form of its contestation, as well as an expression of a desired state-of-affairs. This analysis will draw on a seven-months ethnographic fieldwork conducted in one of the Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank. Unique characteristics of camp inhabitants' situation pose several theoretical puzzles that when explored may contribute to the understanding of the ordinary in times of crisis: due to the political situation on the ground, camp residents live in constant fear and uncertainty; their exile has been extraordinarily long and there are no encouraging signs of timely resolution of their plight; and throughout the residence in the camp their lives have been marked with an ongoing tension between permanence and temporariness.

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Producing the ordinary in the face of crisis