The City of Exiles: Reimagining Beirut
This talk discusses the recent growth of an urban underground in Beirut composed of escaped female domestic workers of Asian and African origin, and male Syrian refugees. It examines new forms of intimacy and politics that have arisen through the meeting of these worlds, considering experiences of kinship, desire, and collectivity made possible by life on the margins of Lebanese society. Drawing on dissertation fieldwork conducted in Beirut between 2014-2016 and focusing on the neighbourhood of Dawra, currently the center of migrant worker activity in the city, the talk suggests that contemporary Beirut cannot be understood by collapsing lived experience into the legal-administrative categories of citizen, migrant worker, and refugee. If the state provides these categories, society offers another; one to be found in that layer of the city where the three populations come together: that of exile.
Sumayya Kassamali received her PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University in 2017. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, as part of a Mellon-funded initiative on Migration and the Humanities. Her research is concerned with how life is given meaning under contexts of violence and extreme precarity, and her dissertation work focused on the lifeworlds of Asian and African migrant workers in Beirut, Lebanon.