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Witnessing the refugee camp: feminist positions, practices, and pedagogies

Aya Musmar, University of Petra

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2020
Category Cities and Community

Since the 20th century, political unrest within postcolonial Arab states has produced refugee camps as spatial phenomena that feature within the Middle East and beyond. The most recent of refugee camps are those established to accommodate refugees fleeing the war that followed Arab uprisings in Syria in 2011. For researchers from humanities and social sciences, the refugee camp's significance is found in its blatant embodiment of forced migration as an emblem of the crisis of our time. Encountering the refugee camp invokes many questions about our humanitarian responsibility towards the injustices that refugees undergo as well as towards the world in which we live and which we should maintain. While research is assumed as a political undertaking that should bear testimony to the course of events that shape refugees’ experiences, often, it is performed through the same ‘refugee regime complex’ that produces the injustices which research, paradoxically, aims to address. This dissertation thinks of the refugee camp encounter beyond the colonised, classed, and racialised hierarchies that conventional modes of research-encounters in refugee camps imply. It ponders the refugee camp encounter as an architectural encounter and it offers a (postcolonial) feminist methodology that reclaims the position of the architect in a refugee camp research as a “witness”. This research takes place in Za’atri refugee camp which was established by the state government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2012 in response to the Syrian crisis in Jordan. While thinking of architecture as a feminist undertaking that is grounded in an assemblage of positions, practices, and pedagogies; this research mobilises the relationalities and materialities of the milieu of Za’atri refugee camp to critique the anthropocentric approach attended by the humanitarian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) paradigm. Alternatively, it suggests other modes of “address” and “response” that account for the ethical complexities of the refugee camp.

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