RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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22 Scar-Cities: Middle East urbanisms between violent environments and disrupted governance (1)
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Nathan Marom (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel)
Chair(s) Nathan Marom (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Skempton Building, Room 307
Session abstract Middle East cities – and the wider regions and territories in which they are embedded – present a distinct constellation of socio-environmental disparities and socio-political inequalities. These often feed into processes of political instability and governance ‘failures’ and are challenged by practices of insurgency and periodic occurrences of revolt or militarized conflict. In other words, Middle East urbanisms seem to manifest unique relations and tensions between material-environmental scarcities (of food, water, energy etc.) and an ‘abundance’ of conflict, which can range in scale from the micro-political to the geo-political: tensions over the distribution and daily use of water in thirsty neighborhoods, food shortages and ‘bread riots’ erupting from markets to streets, energy disruptions which activate urban unrest, militarized campaigns that ‘switch off’ essential life-supporting infrastructures, up to full blown wars over oil and other natural resources. Cities throughout the region – Aleppo, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Benghazi, Cairo, Damascus, Diyarbakir, Gaza, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Kirkuk, Mosul, Ramallah, A-Raqqa, Sana’a and Tunis – all bear scars, which speak of material shortages, disrupted governance and violent environments.
This session hopes to draw two threads – environments and governance – into a productive discussion of the urban Middle East. It aims to interrogate contemporary Middle East urbanisms through several concurrent and related phenomena: the scarcity of environmental resources and susceptibility of urban infrastructures, the deficit and disruption of civic governance, and the proliferation of political turbulence manifested in urban space. It seeks papers that interrogate the distinct constellation of Middle Eastern ‘scar cities’ through an urban political ecology perspective, informed by ethnographic, sociological or historical research and engaged with diverse geographical imaginations. More generally, the session aims to place Middle East cities – positioned geographically and historically between Europe, Africa and Asia – firmly within current debates on global urbanism, bridging global South and global North perspectives.
Linked Sessions Scar-Cities: Middle East urbanisms between violent environments and disrupted governance (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Securitizing urban electricity supply: a political ecology perspective on Jordanian and Lebanese cases
Eric Verdeil (Sciences Po, France)
Building upon the concept of urban political ecology (Swyngedouw 2006), I apply this framework to the understanding of the flows of energy in the cities of Beirut and Amman and specifically to electricity. Supplying these cities with electricity implies the creation of new circuits that are both material and socio-political. In Amman, one of the projects elaborated to cope with the growth of energy demand is to build a nuclear plant in the "desert" nearby Amman. This project, now allegedly in the final studies, has experienced many episodes and delays. In Lebanon, the citizens facing regular and long lasting blackouts have been relying for more than twenty years on generators operated by various local, mostly informal and commercial-oriented small firms, and now local capitalist companies seeking to push a privatization policy. At a first glance, both situations seem very different in scale and in the type of actors involved. But in both cases, these new circuits are heavily contested and redistribute agencies of power in ways that empower some local actors but that, at the same time, erode solidarity at the city and national level.
Dynamics of Disruption and Stewardship of Water Networks in the Syrian Civil War
Timothy Liptrot (Oberlin College, Ohio, USA)
The developing Syrian crisis has created opportunities for armed groups to disrupt water networks, but it has also seen armed groups organize to maintain and defend water networks. This paper seeks to develop an understanding of armed groups decision making which accounts for both acts of stewardship and disruption. Much contemporary research has focused on disruption, failing to account for cooperation. The paper connects Syrian Arab Republic’s past project of using dam projects to legitimate the state to current practices that suggest armed groups avoid making publicly visible disruptions. Water networks are understood as a system of flows including potable water, untreated water, chemicals for treating water, engineers, salaries and information flowing between engineers. Case studies investigating the Wadi Barada spring, the Yarmouk River Basin and Tabqa Dam through NGO reports, social media from civilian journalists and armed groups, and investigative journalism are used to identify the dynamics that motivate acts of disruption and stewardship. Particular attention is paid to how Daesh has chosen to manage the flow through Tabqa Dam. I develop the concept of “upstreamness power” to explain the ways in which teh various armed groups mobilize water networks and their geographic position to manipulate the conflict. Water networks in Syria produce power for armed groups when the factions use control over flows from their geographic position either to coerce populations by denying flow or by directing flows to their supporters.
‘Occupation Ecologies’: An Urban Political Ecology Perspective on Israel/Palestine
Nathan Marom (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel)
This paper will analyze contemporary contours of Israeli-Palestinian conflicted territories through the key concepts of urban political ecology (UPE) as developed over the last decade. While there is a prolific and innovative discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through both urban and political perspectives (‘divided cities’, ‘urban ethnocracy’, ‘creeping apartheid’, ‘gray spaces’ etc.) – the ecological-material component of these debates is less developed so far. Yet territory and the material resources it ‘contains’ or circulates, as well as the socio-ecological interfaces and interruptions between urban areas and their wider regions – are crucial to the dynamics of this conflict for more than a century.
Building on the notion of “scar-cities” and the relations it suggests between environmental deficiencies, governance disruptions and violence – this paper will present an analytical overview of two metropolitan regions in Israel/Palestine: Jerusalem and Gaza. The case of the Jerusalem metro region entails a political ecology of ongoing Israeli urban expansion into the West Bank, within and beyond the ‘separation barrier’ erected in the early-2000s, alongside an extremely unequal management of complex infrastructures of water, sewage and electricity. Here the focus will be on Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem caught ‘behind the wall’ and the deliberate environmental scarcities that they endure. The case of the Gaza ‘strip’ – or metropolis – entails a very extreme political ecology of siege, whereupon much of the material, environmental and energy needs of its Palestinian residents are strictly controlled and limited by Israel. Here the focus will be on crises of infrastructural (near-)collapse, as well as cracks within this envelope of material containment. With these two overviews, the paper will sketch an outline of the ‘occupation ecologies’ in this scarred land.