Refugee camp as a mediated locality: memory and place in the context of extended exile
(German Historical Institute - Warsaw)
Paper short abstract:
The paper discusses the inter-relations between memory and place in the condition of extended exile, which is characteristic of seemingly unavoidable tensions between processes of displacement and emplacement. The analysis draws on the case study of a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.
Paper long abstract:
There has been a tendency within the social sciences to treat displacement as an anomaly in the otherwise stable and sedentary society. Consequently, the refugee identity was often reduced to persistent nostalgia for the places of origin, oversimplifying the complex relation between memory and place in the context of exile. A similar conceptualization was at times extended to include long-term refugees, though in their case attachment to the pre-exilic past was portrayed to be fading away with the gradual adaptation to life in exile. This paper introduces a different interpretation of dilemmas faced by refugees living in extended exile, based on case study of a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. Since their establishment in the aftermath of 1948 war, Palestinian refugee camps served as commemorative sites dedicated to the ideal of Palestine. The efforts to preserve their provisional appearance, as prime means of camps' symbolic significance, grew to the rank of national duty. However, in the situation of extended exile, the residents began to domesticate camps' space what was followed by necessary investments. My research findings suggest that camp inhabitants, conscious of the symbolic threat these developments entailed, began to redefine camp's commemorative utterance, based on the fact of their, the refugees', continuous residence on the site and not on that site's provisional appearance. The camp has been constructed as a symbolic representation of refugees' places of origin, while their attachment to it as a mediated locality through which the pre-exilic past is being lived in exile.
Contested histories on the move: rethinking memory through mobility and agency