Research I'm doing is exploring postwar reconstruction in divided cities, starting with Beirut, Lebanon.
The city of Beirut has been characterized as a playground for the pursuit of pleasure giving it the aura of a place influenced by hedonism. Starting from this characterization as a point of departure, my research work is the meeting ground for two types of intellectual investigation that provide the basis for a theorization of Beirut as a place of Hedonistic Urbanism: one philosophical and the other using a comparative analysis. The investigation arises out of a fascination with Beirut as a city that simultaneously acts as a playground and a battleground. Beginning with the premise that the ideologies of urban development and identity formation are mutually constitutive ventures, the research further examines the ways—policy, power and place—are represented through the rebuilt environment.
The aim of this investigation is to understand how the inherent dichotomies in the city and the role of alterity define a situation and a sense of place without a fixed or singular identity. The research looks to understand how the privately developed postwar reconstruction master plan that reconsidered Beirut as the Ancient City of the Future affected its adjacent neighbourhoods. To achieve this, I approach the research as first, a comparative case study analysis using observation and informal interviews as the primary research tool to understand (1) the reconstructed Beirut Central District, and (2) Mar Mikhael, an adjacent residential neighbourhood. As a counterpoint, I look to philosophy as critical qualitative research. This second approach is critical because it is constructed through critical reason against the empirically given. I believe that the study of issues, or problems as an analysis of a specific situation involving conflict among unequal actors (tourist and local), and negotiation of difference (or otherness) is best researched from a critical paradigm. This inquiry looks at the city not simply as a collection of buildings, but as a network of class formations and social relationships.
By exploring Beirut’s postwar reconstruction processes, the thesis reveals an inherent dichotomy between ethics and desire, leisure and work, tourist and citizen by creating a brief suspension of everyday life vis-à-vis the politics of jouissance. The research, therefore, challenges the subject centered notion of ‘joie de vivre’ in the mythical image of the tourist and Beirut as a playground for the pursuit of this kind of pleasure. In its place, this thesis proposes a re-framing of the hedonistic narrative by positioning the city as a space of alterity by situating the social before the ontological.