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."