UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


The RELIEF Centre at City Debates 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon

14 March 2019

Researchers from the IGP-led research collaboration, the RELIEF Centre, contribute to this year's City Debates 2019 conference about displacement and reconstruction in urban environments, run by the American University of Beirut.


Researchers from the RELIEF Centre, a transdisciplinary research collaboration led by the Institute for Global Prosperity, are contributing to this year's City Debates 2019 annual conference 1st - 3rd April 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon. This event is free and open to the public. More information can be found here.

The theme of this year's conference, part-funded by the RELIEF Centre, is "Urban Recovery(s): Intersecting Displacement and Reconstruction". It will frame displacement as agency, the displaced as social capital, post-conflict urban environments as archives, and reconstructions as socio-spatial practices.

City Debates is organised yearly by students of the Graduate Programs in Urban Planning, Policy and Urban Design (MUPP-MUD), in the Department of Architecture and Design, Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at the American University of Beirut. Professor Howayda Al-Harithy, Co-Investigator of the RELIEF Centre, City Debates Conference Director and member of these gradaute programs, has this year devoted the AUB City Debates to the topic of urban recovery at the intersection of displacement and reconstruction.

A number of researches from across RELIEF will be taking part in the programme including:

  • An introduction to the conference from Professor Howayda Al-Harithy 
  • Members of research theme 1, Professor Camillo Boano, Ms. Joana Dabaj, and Professor Howayda Al-Harithy, The Vital City, who will be presenting their RELIEF related work;
  • Professor Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh (Head of Public Engagement at the RELIEF Centre, Reader in Human Geography, co-Director of the Migration Research Unit, PI of the AHRC-ESRC funded Refugee Hosts project, and Coordinator of UCL's Refuge in a Moving World), will be giving the talk "A Rhizoanalysis of 'more-than-camps' in the Middle East: Exploring the Constitutive Nature of Overlapping Processes of Displacement and Destruction"
  • Principal Investigator, Professor Henrietta Moore, will be a discussant on the third keynote of the conference.

Concept Note

In today's world, an unprecedented rate of one person every two seconds is forcibly displaced due to disasters and violent conflicts. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a record number of 3 million people were uprooted in 2017 making it the biggest increase ever reported in a single year. Displacement and reconstruction are more critical than even with the total number of displaced worldwide reaching 68.5 million by the end of 2017.

City Debates 2019 will focus on the intersections between displacement and reconstruction and will examine the spatial modalities that inhabit and represent these intersections. While reconstruction has long been debated, its intersections with protracted and mass displacement call for more critical conversations. And while displacement has occupied a central focus in research across historical, urban, anthropological, geographical, and cultural studies, emerging threads call for more interdisciplinary reflections.

The conference will therefore bring together different disciplinary perspectives into conversation with each other and with empirical case studies. We are keen to look beyond conflict related displacement and reconstruction into the greater processes of crises and recovery, to examine how trauma/crisis and recovery overlap, coexist, collide and hence redefine each other. Our goal is to understand how the oppositional framing of destruction versus reconstruction and place-making versus displacement can be disrupted, how displacement is spatialized, and how reconstruction is extended to the displaced people rebuilding their lives, environments and memories in new locations.

Thematic Tracks

The conference will explore narratives of displacement, modalities of reconstruction, and will focus on the thematic intersections and overlaps between them. Respective panels will be organized to facilitate for critical reflections and interdisciplinary conversations on the different and overlapping narratives and modalities. The thematic intersections will include: housing, heritage, infrastructure, social capital, memory and identity, spatial practices, gender and the politics of aid and interventions. The conference will invite local and international scholars and experts whose work has focused on displacement and/or reconstruction, as well as those who can locate these themes in a longer historical trajectory. It will engage them in an interdisciplinary conversation to debate the challenges, approaches and politics involved in the complex operations and networks of local and international actors, as well as communities involved in/with urban recovery(s).