Following Social Change in Beirut
My name is Alice Stefanelli and I am a third-year PhD student in Social Anthropology. I received my Bachelor degree in Ethno-Anthropological Sciences from the University of Bologna, Italy, which is my country of origin. In my third year I came to Britain as an exchange student and I studied for a year at Brunel University, in West London. I loved the experience and I highly recommend it! Spending a term or a full year abroad is a very valuable and enriching experience that you will not regret. Later I was accepted into Goldmiths College, University of London, to do a Master in Social Anthropology, which I did part-time while I worked in a bookshop. Three years ago, I joined the University of Manchester to research the connections between civil society and pro-public space campaigning in Beirut, Lebanon. What I ask myself is: what kind of change do people in Beirut seek? How are they trying to achieve it?
In my thesis I try to explore social change in Beirut. I have chosen to look at a group of civil society organisations that campaign against the privatisation of public parks and beaches in the city. These are associations of citizens who do not want their few green public spaces to be sold to real estate developers and turned into expensive resorts that the majority of the population will never be able to afford.
As all anthropologists do, I spent a year in Beirut conducting fieldwork and collecting first-hand data. This meant that I spent time with campaigners: I went to their meetings, I joined them at the protests and other events that they organised, trying to help them out but also listening carefully to what they had to say and trying to understand what kind of social change they desired. In anthropology, this is called “participant observation”. I also conducted a number of interviews with them in order to ask them direct questions about their work and clarify some of my doubts.
To complement my thesis, I am collecting material such as newspaper articles from the local press that discusses these campaigns as well as the history of civil society campaigning in Lebanon, so that I can have a better idea of how things have changed in time.
My thesis is that citizens in Beirut disagree with the local authorities over what the future of the city and its population should be. The local council, backed by the government, seems to give priority to the private interests of big businesses and real estate companies. Campaigners seem to rather think that the interest of the majority of the citizenry of Beirut should be rather privileged. For this reason, they are fighting against the closure of public beaches and parks.
You can watch this great video made by some campaigners on how the Beirut seafront has changed over the decades: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwu49DxVsZk
For a general introduction to anthropology, visit the Anthropology Day’s website: https://londonanthropologyday.co.uk/
And as for Social Anthropology in Manchester: http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/social-anthropology/