Locating stories of time, memory and place in urban activism in Beirut

  • Helene Marie Abiraad

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is an exploration of urban activists’ narratives and experiences of space, place, the
past, memory and time in contemporary Beirut (post-1990). It provides new insights
concerning the relationships of Beiruti urban activists to time and space. This thesis shows that
by considering the ways in which people narrate their memories and their interactions with
their physical and temporal environments, new insight can be gained into how everyday life
in Beirut is shaped by temporal and physical changes in the urban landscape. This research is
interdisciplinary in nature, grounded in memory and urban studies, and finding inspiration in
ethnography, human and emotional geography, narrative inquiry and thematic analysis. It is
based on fieldwork pursued in Beirut (2017-2018) that included conversations with urban
activists and observations of the city.

The conversations presented in the thesis make visible facets of urban struggles, and
relationships to the past and to urban space, which are not accessible via documentary record
alone, nor to an attention to institutional processes alone. This thesis contributes to memory
studies interested in Lebanon by challenging the tendency to view the Lebanese memory
context solely in terms of violence, division, and amnesia, thereby challenging the linear and
cyclical conceptualisations of time that accompany these dominant thematisations. This thesis
also contributes to memory and urban studies by questioning the dominant academic
conceptualisation of Lebanese civil society as 'violently divided' and trapped in a sectarian
system. Through detailed analysis of conversations with urban activists, it presents the urban
activist scene as a platform for action that allows activists to negotiate the spaces of the city,
society, time and memory: urban activists’ narratives of time and the city reveal alternative
lines of connection and division that run transversally to sectarian conceptualisations of the
Lebanese, and constitute an important intervention in ongoing negotiations over the city.

The thesis begins with a contextualisation of the complex relationships to memory and
the past in Lebanon in the last thirty years, situating contemporary urban struggles within the
Beiruti context (chapters one and two). After a description of the approach to the study of
‘timespace’ in Beirut (chapter three) and the methods employed in this research (chapter four),
the second half of the thesis analyses specific facets of the experiences of Beiruti urban
activists, through the themes of emotions (chapter five), rhythms (chapter six) and the
imagination (chapter seven).
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorGraham Dawson (Supervisor), Catherine Palmer (Supervisor) & Dora Carpenter-Latiri (Supervisor)


  • Beirut
  • Urban Activism
  • Memory
  • Nostalgia
  • Rhythmicity

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