“Unsettling Refugees as a Category: Labeling, Imagined Populations and Statistics in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Beirut”
Based on fieldwork conducted in Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, this chapter shows the problematic nature of some of the abstractions – “imagined populations,” as I call them – statisticians and policy-makers work with. Indeed, what do generalizing labels such as “Palestinians” and “refugee camps,” which show up so habitually in statistical studies, policy papers, and the “state-of-exception” literature, effectively mean? In the process of manufacturing such generalizations, what is being left out and silenced? While there is no doubt that Palestinians face barriers for legal inclusion in Lebanon, I argue that, together with other sectors of the population, Lebanese or otherwise, they also face barriers for social and economic inclusion. Notwithstanding the efforts of Palestinian nationalism to make Palestinians a singular case, there appears to be more in common between Shatila and other poverty-stricken districts of Beirut than initially supposed. By accepting the terms of Palestinian nationalism and emphasizing Palestinians’ “Palestinianess,” researchers may have contributed to “othering” refugees in Lebanon, tending, in the process, to downplay other kinds of belonging, such as class. Can class enable “Arab encounters” of a different kind and serve as a basis for political mobilization?