Urban war, space, representation. The case of the Lebanese Civil War, 1975-1976

Project Leader(s): Sara Fregonese
Staff: Supervisor: Dr Alex Jeffrey ( )

In my PhD, I analyse the ways in which political violence and urban built environment impact on each other. The early Lebanese civil war (1975-1976) constitutes the empirical focus.

The research develops around three theoretical traditions. Firstly, following Critical Geopolitics, I read side by side some of the official discourses in foreign policy about the civil war, with the unofficial visions of the urban militias engaged in guerrilla fighting in Beirut.  Secondly, I build on Urban Geopolitics to address the relationship between urban materiality and late modern war.  Thirdly, I use Postcolonial Theory to analyse the implications of geopolitical discourses about the Lebanese multicultural society with Lebanon's colonial past.

The study results from four-month residential fieldwork in Beirut between 2005 and 2006, during which I conducted interviews with former militia combatants, media representatives, architects and designers, who all acted as witnesses of the wartime events.

What I wish to show is how official geopolitics of the civil war focused on nation-state territoriality, was imbued of colonial tropes, and overlooked the specificities of the militia practices and discourses. I argue instead that state and non-state narratives are mutually shaped and coexisted in the daily discourses and practices of urban warfare.  

More specifically, Beirut's built fabric at once materialised this mutual shaping, and the daily militia practices and discourses (through checkpoints, partition, destruction, etc.), but also acted as a material support in order to further elaborate, spread, and legitimize these practices (symbolic representation of buildings, etc.).