Constructing Urban Violence

By Deen Sharp
Submitted to Session P5156 (Ways of Knowing: Situated and Relational Geographies of the Middle East and North Africa, Part II, 2018 Annual Meeting
Arab States;
Urban Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
While scholarship on the relationship between war and cities is growing, urban studies scholarship has often ignored military urbanism and the ways in which violence can be embedded in the processes of urbanization. Concepts like urbicide, for example, have focused on the deliberate destruction of the built environment rather than on urbanization and military urbanism. In this paper, I draw attention to how construction and mobility through the city can also be part of conflict. In conflicts across the region, the (re)construction of the built environment is often tied by policy makers and scholars to mark the end of war and the start of a post-conflict periods. But this link can be misplaced. In Lebanon, for instance, the enclaved Beirut that emerged in the Civil War years was not only a result of destruction of the built environment but also its re-formulation through construction. The construction sector was one of the few sectors of the economy to expand during the Civil War. Furthermore, the sediments of the Lebanese Civil War were embedded in the reconstruction that followed the Ta’if Accord and in certain ways this “reconstruction” was the extension of conflict through urbanization. The (re)construction of the built environment can result in violence, displacement and social discord, more commonly associated with its destruction. the relationship between social power and urbanization in the context of conflict in the Arab world. To understand contemporary urban conflict, I argue, we must look not only to the deliberate destruction of the built environment but also its construction and the broader urbanization process. This is a pressing issue in the context of planned and active large-scale (re)construction projects in cities throughout out the region: Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq all have “reconstruction” plans that are currently being formulated or actively implemented. To understand urban violence we must come to terms with how it can be a constructive, as well as, destructive urban phenomenon.