My name is Dima Smaira, I completed my PhD in International Relations at Durham University in the UK. My research is centered on Peace and Conflict Studies, and investigates youth and citizenship in deeply divided societies and everyday peace and security, particularly in Lebanon. I am currently a lecturer at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and an independent researcher. I joined FIME as a resident scholar for three months between February 2022 and April 2022, after I came across the opportunity on Facebook. This prospect really excited me as there are very few – if any – opportunities for academics in Lebanon and parts of the Middle East, especially those without formal institutional affiliation, to receive support to conduct research. Being a lecturer on a part-time basis does not provide me with the necessary formal institutional affiliation. As FIME did not require this, I was thrilled to have been selected so that I could finally be supported in conducting my own research, especially given Lebanon’s dire socio-economic and political situation, which compounded on the already existing challenges faced by early career academics. In the past couple of years, Lebanon has seen the collapse of its economy, hyper-inflation and depreciation of its currency, shortages of electricity, internet, and skyrocketing prices. As such, the support provided by FIME allowed me to continue to be engaged in research and writing.
While three months is not long enough to complete a research project or a full publication, FIME supported a research project which had already started. I had been working on a co-authored paper with Professor Jeroen Gunning on Theorising Everyday Agency in Contested Urban Spaces: Dahiyeh as Vantage Point. Basing ourselves on fieldwork conducted in Beirut’s southern suburbs (known as Dahiyeh), including semi-structured interviews, focus groups and walking tours, we looked at how residents in contested urban spaces navigate through everyday conflict. We continued to explore whether the actions of residents are primarily scripted, shaped by socio-spatial relations, or whether there is room for agency, and whether this agency is employed by residents in a generative fashion – even if it was not transformative. I am looking forward to presenting our paper at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies – BRISMES’ annual conference, which will be held at the University of St. Andrews in July 2022.
I would say then that the residency provided a conducive environment for exchange and research. On the everyday logistical/practical level, the residency was valuable because it provided a quiet and comfortable space to go to that was connected to electricity and internet. These resources allowed me to read, write and reflect. The FIME staff was also extremely welcoming and supportive. Indeed, I spent the last few months regularly interacting with and talking about my research and world politics with FIME researchers and interns, based in Beirut, and with the Institute’s former director who introduced me to FIME friends. Moreover, I was invited to give a talk on my work to Finnish students on research visit to Lebanon. Those stimulating interactions with Finnish researchers and students are not common and pushed me to consider ways in which my experience and my research might resonate with different audiences.
What now? Aside from presenting the paper at BRISMES, I will be completing edits required for submission to publication in the academic journal Peacebuilding as part of a special issue on the topic of Urban Peace and Conflict — Exploring Geographies of Hope and Despair in Violently Contested Cities. As part of my residency with FIME, I am also planning a seminar on Everyday Peace Practices in The Middle East: Insights for Research and Practice for September 2022 to which I am inviting both academics from across the Middle East and academics based in Europe.
As a final note, I would say that I feel the program has played a part in knowledge production from, by and on the Middle East. I hope it continues and I hope it even gets expanded.
Featured images: Dima Smaira.