The Politics of Suffering

The Politics of Suffering

Syria's Palestinian Refugee Camps
Nell Gabiam
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/09/2016
Format: Hardback 19 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02128-1
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The Politics of Suffering examines the confluence of international aid, humanitarian relief, and economic development within the space of the Palestinian refugee camp. Nell Gabiam describes the interactions between UNRWA, the United Nations agency charged with providing assistance to Palestinians since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and residents of three camps in Syria. Over time, UNRWA's management of the camps reveals a shift from an emphasis on humanitarian aid to promotion of self-sufficiency and integration of refugees within their host society. Gabiam’s analysis captures two forces in tension within the camps: politics of suffering that serves to keep alive the discourse around the Palestinian right of return; and politics of citizenship expressed through development projects that seek to close the divide between the camp and the city. Gabiam offers compelling insights into the plight of Palestinians before and during the Syrian war, which has led to devastation in the camps and massive displacement of their populations.

Author Bio

Nell Gabiam is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Political Science at Iowa State University.


“Nell Gabiam's The Politics of Suffering is a deep anthropological engagement with the politics of citizenship and the practices of othering as it relates to the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. In a time of a major refugee crisis world-wide, this book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the shape of the needed global humanitarian response to these increasingly normalized conditions.”
 — Nezar AlSayyad, Professor of Architecture, Planning, and Urban History, University of California, Berkeley

“Gabiam’s The Politics of Suffering takes us deep into the world of Palestinian refugees in Syria, an understudied and for the present inaccessible area for further research. Through her innovative and original work on the architecture of camp life she unfolds the confluence between humanitarian aid and development alongside the politics of the right of return and citizenship. A highly readable and informative book for the student of the Middle East and refugee studies in general.”
 — Journal of Islamic Studies

“Nell Gabiam’s timely and original book makes an excellent contribution to the limited literature on Palestinian refugees in Syria. . . . A highly readable and informative book for the student of the Middle East and refugee studies in general.”
 — Antipode

“Gabiam’s nuanced study of Syria’s Palestinian community is an engaging and informative read.”
 — Journal of Palestine Studies

The Politics of Suffering should earn a place on syllabi of courses in applied anthropology and the anthropology of the Middle East as well as the anthropology of migration. It makes critical contributions to those fields and opens up new conversations about the relations among refugeeness, place, and politics.”
 — American Ethnologist

The Politics of Suffering is clearly written and accessible to a wide audience interested in refugee and diaspora  studies, humanitarianism and development studies, and/or Palestinian studies. It can be effectively taught in both undergraduate and graduate courses addressing these topics.”
 — City & Society

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Table of Contents

1. Informal Citizens: Palestinian Refugees in Syria
2. From Humanitarianism to Development: UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees
3. Sumd and Sustainability: Reinterpreting Development in Palestinian Refugee Camps
4. "Must We Live in Barracks to Convince People We Are Refugees?": The Politics of Camp Improvement
5. "A Camp Is a Feeling Inside": Urbanization and the Boundaries of Palestinian Refugee Identity
Conclusion: Beyond Suffering and Victimhood