City Debates 2019: At the Intersection of Displacement and Reconstruction

City Debates 2019 took place from April 1 to April 4, 2020 and challenged dominant discourse by framing displacement as agency, the displaced as social capital, post-conflict urban environments as archives, and reconstructions as socio-spatial practices.

In today’s world, where violent conflicts are widespread, an unprecedented rate of one person every two seconds is forcibly displaced. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), conflict uprooted a record number of 3 million people in 2017 making it the biggest increase ever recorded in a single year. Displacement and reconstruction are more critical than ever with the total number of displaced worldwide reaching 68.5 million by the end of 2017. Reconstruction and displacement have two independent scholarly trajectories that do not often intersect to enrich either discourse or challenge one another. While reconstruction is often confounded with the physical recovery of ruptured urban spaces, displacement emerges as a human-centered discourse. It encompasses the social and temporal dimensions of human migration towards safety and shelter and is not spatialized enough. While reconstruction has long been debated, its intersections with protracted and mass displacement call for more critical conversations. And while displacement has occupied a central focus in research across historical, urban, anthropological, geographical, and cultural studies, emerging threads call for more interdisciplinary reflections. The conference explored narratives of displacement and modalities of reconstruction and focused on their thematic intersections and overlaps. The theme was addressed through multiple lenses such as time, space, locality, gender, sectarianism, and memory. The scholars who presented their work at City Debates 2020 come from an array of disciplinary backgrounds and geographic study areas. They explored the social, spatial, political, economic conditions of displacement and how they impact cities, and how they contribute to the visualization of post-war recovery. Diane Davis, from Harvard University, discussed "Resilience, Security, and Spaces of Migrant Refugees" in her keynote address; Sultan Barakat, from the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, presented a regional vision towards post-war reconstruction; and Jennifer Hyndman, from the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, presented her paper on "Global Compacts or Containment? Geopolitics by Design."