Sumayya Kassamali received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 2017. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Humanities at Tufts University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University (2017-2018). Her research is concerned with how life is given meaning under contexts of violence and extreme precarity, and her dissertation work focused on the life worlds of Asian and African migrant workers in Beirut, Lebanon.


Black Beirut: Migration, intimacy, exile

This paper examines an urban underground in Beirut, Lebanon composed of African and Asian women who arrive to the country as domestic workers, and men who have sought refuge in the country fleeing the war in Syria. It demonstrates how women from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and elsewhere, through partnerships with Arab and Kurdish men, have built a dense network of consumption, service provision, and secret spaces of leisure and desire that I designate “Black Beirut.” By considering the solidarities of a world forged in flight, I argue that here, intimacy is the currency of social life. In turn, I insist on the need to conceptualize life in Black Beirut outside the categories of citizen, refugee, or migrant worker. If the state provides these categories, society offers another; one to be found in that layer of the city where the three populations come together: that of exile.

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