Made to Fall Apart: An Ethnography of Old Houses and Urban Renewal in Beirut

  • Samar Kanafani

Student thesis: Phd


Since post-war reconstruction, Beirut has been experiencing a building boom, which spreadrapidly outward from the city's historic and war-torn centre to the rest of the Lebanese capital.In the process, old houses and buildings have been systematically demolished to make space forlarge towers, excluding much of the urban population. State policies and market forcesconverge to make real estate a pillar of the neoliberal economy, while offering no housing,social or economic policies to redress its gentrifying effects. This thesis scopes the conditions thatproduce decayed residences since the mid-1990s. It asks: What have these circumstancesprompted urban dwellers to do with their houses in decay? How are dwellers in differentpositions of entitlement to property differently enabled to respond to decay and impendingrenewal, in the quest for continued dwelling in the city? What sentiments and strategiesemerge from this interplay? And how have social relationships and notions of dwelling, and ofdecay been reconfigured in the process? From fieldwork among downwardly mobile tenantsand landowners, urban practitioners and a cultural collective in neighbourhoods where urbanrenewal is approaching, I propose, "institutionalised neglect" as a concept to capture thecircumstances that expedite the decay of old houses. I argue that this neglect keeps landavailable for real estate profit making while making urban renewal inevitable. In chaptersthat deal with inheritance, eviction, material decay, nostalgia and the exceptional conditionsof a commoning experiment, I reveal that dwellers' sensibilities are oriented towards prolongeddwelling close to the city centre, whether by endurance of the neoliberal building regime orattempts to extract gains from its straining conditions.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichelle Obeid (Supervisor) & Stef Jansen (Supervisor)


  • urban decay, urban renewal, gentrification, dwelling, Beirut

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