The Urban Refugee (Book)

Space, Agency, and the New Urban Condition

This collection focuses on the spatial forms and urban consequences of forced migration. The chapters shed light on the multiple dimensions of the refugees’ urban experiences from the scale of the interiors to inner city neighborhoods and informal settlements, and from personal accounts to the formation of public discourse. 75 b&w illus.


The presence of the refugee in the contemporary metropolis is marked by precarity, a quality that has become a characteristic feature of the neoliberal urban milieu. Bringing together essays from diverse disciplines, from architectural history to cultural anthropology and urban planning, this collection sheds light on both the specificities of the contemporary urban condition that affects the refugees and the multi-dimensional impact that the refugees have on the city. The authors propose investigating this connection through three interlinked themes: identity (informality, imagination and belonging); place (transnational homemaking practices); and site (the navigation of urban space).

In recent years, there has been a significant growth in scholarship on forced migration, particularly on the relationship between displacement and the built environment. Scholars have focused on spatial practices and forms that arise under conditions of displacement, with much attention given to refugee camps and the social and political aspects of temporariness. While these issues are important, the essays in this volume aim to contribute to a less explored aspect of displacement, namely the interaction between refugees and the cities they inhabit. In this respect, the volume underlines the specificity of the urban refugee as well as their spatial agency and investigates the irreversible effect they have on the contemporary urban condition.

The authors argue that viewing urban refugees solely as dislocated individuals outside the camp-like spaces of containment fails to understand the agency of the urban refugee and the blurred boundaries of identity that result. The term "refugee crisis" objectifies and denies active agency to refugees, homogenizing dislocated individuals and groups. The neoliberalization of the past four decades has led to the precarization of labour and the displacement of refugees, who frequently blend into the urban environment as hidden populations. Refugees are subjected to constant surveillance and the state's attempts to control them. However, these attempts are not uncontested, and the involvement of activist interventions further politicizes the urban refugee. 

Bülent Batuman is an associate professor of architecture at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He studied at the Middle East Technical University and received his Ph.D. in History and Theory of Art and Architecture from Binghamton University, SUNY, USA. His recent work focuses on the relationship between Islamism and the built environment.

Kıvanç Kılınç is associate professor at Izmir Institute of Technology (IYTE), Turkey. He received his Ph.D. in the History and Theory of Art and Architecture Graduate Program at Binghamton University, SUNY, USA. His current research focuses on the transnational cultural and material exchanges, and their consequences, which shaped contemporary social housing practices in Turkey and the Middle East.

List of figures vii

Acknowledgements ix

Introduction: The Urban Refugee: Migration, Neoliberalism, and the City 1

Bülent Batuman


Part 1. On Identity: Informality, Imagination and Belonging 25

Chapter 1. Urban Refugees and Differential Inclusion through Urban Informality in Denizli, Turkey 27

Eda Sevinin

Chapter 2. Syrian Children’s Imagination and Play Areas beyond the Physical Reality of Urban Spaces in Beirut 51

Roula El Khoury and Paola Ardizzola

Chapter 3. From Longing to Belonging: Arab American Cultural Adaptation and Refugee Resettlement Practices in Houston, Texas and the Gulf Coast 73

Maria F. Curtis


Part 2. On Place: Transnational Homemaking Practices 101

Chapter 4. Opening Your Home to The Other: Living with a Stranger, Citizens Hosting Exiles in Ile de France 103

Stéphanie Dadour

Chapter 5. Housing Syrian Refugees in Saida (Lebanon) under Protracted Displacement: Unfolding Spatial and Social Exclusion 127

Howayda Al-Harithy, Abir Eltayeb and Ali Khodr

Chapter 6. Transnational Home-Making in Somali Malls: Cape Town and Minneapolis 159

Huda Tayob


Part 3. On Site: Navigating the Urban Space 181

Chapter 7. Syrian Refugees’ Location Choice in Urban Areas as a Subjective Process: A Cross-case Comparison of Önder (Ankara) and Yunusemre (Izmir) Neighborhoods 183

Feriha Nazda Güng.rdü and Zerrin Ezgi Haliloğlu Kahraman

Chapter 8. Gaza Buildings: Architectures of Precarity in Sabra, Beirut 213

Are John Knudsen

Chapter 9. Transience, Marginality, and Spaces of Refuge: Basmane Hotels District in Izmir 233

Kıvanç Kılınç and Sebnem Yücel


Contributor Biographies 255

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