Accepted paper:

Precarity in humanitarians' Beirut

Authors:

Faith Cowling (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Using Tsing's notion of 'precarity,' this paper explores the Humanitarians' Beirut - a fragile and exclusive space which relies on, yet simultaneously works to compartmentalise or obscure, the existence of Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities.

Paper long abstract:

Three months into my fieldwork in Lebanon, I was invited by an INGO to accompany their staff to 'the field', located in an unremarkable residential area of Beirut. On arriving, I realised I had walked through area on numerous occasions. As it was the first visit for the team, they didn't know the route, and it was me that directed the driver to the school where a forum was to be held. One Lebanese staff member was incredulous that I had walked through the area on my own: 'And you didn't experience any problems? You were lucky.' In my ignorance, I had transgressed the fragile boundaries of the Humanitarians' Beirut. Precarity, Tsing says, is 'a state of acknowledgment of our vulnerability to others' (2015: 29). In this paper, I want to subvert the classic narrative that refugees are reliant on humanitarian assistance and instead focus on the ways in which humanitarians are reliant on vulnerable populations to create their environment. Beirut is understood by aid workers as the most desirable of humanitarian postings, a place where 'you can really live'. But the Humanitarians' Beirut is fragile, confined to exclusive spaces, and requires constant work. I will explore the boundaries of this Beirut through moments of incursion - where I have witnessed the borders transgressed. In particular, I will focus on how both international and national staff work to compartmentalise or obscure the communities on whom their salary relies, in their efforts to create and maintain this idealised space.

panel P005
International intervention professionals - aid workers on the move