Are Syria's Do-It-Yourself Refugees Outliers or Examples of a New Norm?

By Beehner, Lionel | Journal of International Affairs, Spring-Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Are Syria's Do-It-Yourself Refugees Outliers or Examples of a New Norm?


Beehner, Lionel, Journal of International Affairs


Refugee camps are often treated as incubators of social unrest, violence, terrorism, and illicit trade. This provokes their overseers in the United Nations (UN) and other relief agencies to conduct frequent social engineering to enhance the camps' legibility. Hence, me see orderly, perpendicular rows, standardized units from redistricting to the allocation of diapers, and so forth--all of the follies of high modernism that fames Scott predicted in Seeing Like a State, but writ small. Indeed, my qualitative research from the Za'atari refugee camp, located in Jordan along the Syrian border, indicates that refugees, especially middle-class ones like Syria's, rebel against uniformity--or what Scott describes as "metis"--and seek to recreate their domiciles as best they can from the meager canvas tents and campers allotted to them. Put simply, they see their surroundings more as the disorderly "sidewalk ballet" of fane Jacobs' Greenwich Village than the high modernist yet sterile functionalism of Robert Moses. This holds important policy implications for the future of how we devise refugee camps, which increasingly resemble small cities; how we settle internally displaced persons (IDPs); and how we deal with the aftermath of mass population displacements. From direct cash transfers to the districting of refugees, some bureaucratic flexibility is required but so is an acknowledgement and embrace of refugees' do-it-yourself ethos that is rooted in their resistance to authority and trauma from violence. Drawing from the literature in social anthropology and political science, this article presents new evidence from Za'atari that disputes the utility of a high modernist approach to the social engineering of large displaced populations.

**********

"We design refugee camps; refugees build cities," Kilian Kleinschmidt, UN director of Za'atari." (1) Over the past few decades, the total number of people displaced by war, natural disasters, and other calamities has eclipsed 50 million. That is the highest number since the aftermath of World War II, despite the number of conflict zones continuing to ebb in recent years. (2) Refugee camps have swelled in numbers and have essentially transformed into makeshift cities. Demand has far outstripped supply, as these camps have become overcrowded, underfunded, and under-resourced.

Reports of crime, prostitution, violence, and health epidemics are common in most camps. Like favelas or urban slums, they are often treated as incubators of social unrest, terrorism, and illicit markets. This threat has prompted UN administrators, aid agencies, and receiving states to conduct substantial top-down social engineering to enhance camps' legibility and uniformity. (3) We see orderly perpendicular rows, standardized domiciles, and top-down micromanagement, from redistricting to the allocation of diapers--all of the follies of high modernism that Yale University's James Scott predicted in Seeing Like a State, but writ small. (4) Migration scholar Jennifer Hyndman has likened the policing strategies in Kenya's refugee camps to those of former European colonial administrators. (5)

Given that such top-down standardization is harmful for human interaction and enterprise, this approach, while efficient on paper, ignores modern realities and may even exacerbate the very threat it seeks to mitigate. This article makes two main arguments. First, refugee camps have the potential to become more than just makeshift temporary shelters for displaced persons; they can become engines of social and economic dynamism. Such a philosophy can not only help refugees become self-sufficient and self-reliant, providing a socioeconomic outlet and reducing the rate of recruitment into criminal or terrorist networks by shrinking the informal economy, but can also help the host state and its local economy.

There are some 3,500 small businesses in existence within the Syrian refugee camp I visited. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Are Syria's Do-It-Yourself Refugees Outliers or Examples of a New Norm?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.