Accepted paper:

Delineating the public in Beirut: connections through colonialism and civil society across the Mediterranean


Samuli Lähteenaho (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the colonial institution of a legal and bureaucratic framework on public coastline and land ownership in Beirut, and how traces of it are negotiated by the civil society to promote public space. It argues that new connections across the Mediterranean are formed in the process.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, the Lebanese capital of Beirut has seen a prolonged debate and contestation over the issue of public space in the city. The discussion, taking place mostly through civil society initiatives and the municipal and state administration has focused on a number of contested spaces in the city. This paper, part of a wider work-in-progress ethnographic doctoral research on the question of public space in Beirut, is an examination of some of the conceptual and epistemological strains stretching from debated public spaces beyond Lebanon. This paper examines two connected cases, one being the legal and bureaucratic framework instituted during the colonial times and their effect on the contemporary issue of public space. This includes legislation on Maritime Public domain regulating the use of coastal land, and the institutionalization of cadastre organizing land ownership. The other case is current civil society campaigning for public spaces, and how traces of the colonial framework still form an essential reality to be navigated in order to promote public parks and beaches in the city. Based on interviews and participatory observation with civil society activists and professionals working with legislation and cadastre in Beirut, this paper suggests that these traces of historical connections are creatively engaged by civil society activists in Beirut today in their work to promote public space. It further concludes, that parallel to this negotiation, new connections are formed across the Mediterranean sea.

panel P073
Locating the Mediterranean: connections and separations across space and time