“A demarcation in the hearts”: everyday urban frontiers in Beirut

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Conflict in Lebanon is very frequently interpreted by media and foreign policy experts and practitioners as solely a ‘proxy battleground’ and a ‘microcosm’ of regional rivalries, notably between Saudi Arabia and Iran (via the party-and-militia Hezbollah). The violent clashes that engulfed the country and its capital in May 2008 were also framed within this interpretation. More generally, this tendency is also common to academic studies of conflict. According to Kalyvas (2006), most research on violence focuses excessively on “macrolevel” narratives and predefined social cleavages and instead tends to dismiss microlevel evidence “as irrelevant or too messy” (2006, p. 6). Within days in May 2008, Beirut’s urban space and built environment were re-drawn: roads barricaded, areas divided, and buildings deliberately targeted. This chapter concerns the formation and resurgence of urban borders during and in the aftermath of the violence. While there has been copious amounts of studies of cities as constellations of self-contained entities such as enclaves, gated communities and ghettos, there has been less attention in urban studies on borders and boundaries (Iossifova, 2013) intended as “intricate urban phenomena shaped by complex transcalar processes” (2013, p. 4), and on the ways in which microlevel urban cleavages shape the everyday tangible and intangible spatialities of conflict.
This chapter bridges this gap, by linking previously disjointed theories from architecture and political geography: namely, frontier urbanism (Pullan, 2011) and urban geopolitics (Fregonese, 2017; Graham, 2004a; Yacobi and Pullan, 2014). Particularly, the notions of sense of territoriality and of obduracy of urban frontiers, are built upon and developed here to highlight the importance of everyday aspects surrounding the resurgence and formation of old and new urban borders in situations of conflict.
The first part of the chapter traces the context of the clashes that engulfed part of Beirut in early May 2008, and outlines some of the nodes in the urban geography of violence that became relevant in the interpretation of the conflict by the research participants. The second part conceptualises theoretically Beirut’s conflict-driven urban changes, building mutually on urban geopolitics and frontier urbanism: the former benefitting from frontier urbanism to expand its over-militaristic focus, and the latter benefitting from recent debates in urban geopolitics about the value of the everyday (Fregonese, 2012) and the ordinary (Rokem et al., 2017) in thinking about conflict in cities. The third part focuses on three processes of resurgence and renegotiation of tangible and intangible borders: the green line, targetable spaces, and latent demarcations. The chapter ends with an invitation for more research on conflict that takes seriously the everyday and experiential aspects of urban frontiers.
The following pages rely on qualitative evidence gathered from 20 semi-structured interviews (of which 2 walking interviews) in Beirut between October and December 2010. Interviews focused on residents with direct experience of the May 2008 clashes, by living in targeted areas or working in targeted buildings.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook on Middle East Cities
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019