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Policy Mobilities, International Aid and Planning: Regionalism and Refugee Policies in Lebanon

In collaboration with the American University of Beirut (AUB)

August 2014 - December 2016

While there has been considerable literature looking at policy mobilities including issues of transfer of policy ideas, models and techniques, these studies have remained somewhat narrow in their scope,  stopping short of conceptualizing changing forms and scales of governmentality in cities and regions, and considering how planners and experts learn and contribute to these transformations and transfers.

In our project, we are keen to embed a critical approach to policy mobilities in a wider reflection on regionalism, refugee policies, and planning. Indeed, while ideas of regionalism and refugee policies have come to Lebanon through international donors and humanitarian agencies, there are actual local and regional practices and policies incorporating a range of actors—municipalities, municipal unions, NGOs, experts, activists and scholars—taking place on the ground. Some of these actors are operating as planners, elaborating spatial strategies at a large territorial scale, trying to identify productive sectors of development. Others are operating in a crisis-response mode providing shelter, basic services and small scale infrastructure to refugees and host communities, to help contain and manage the urgent humanitarian crisis.

The project thus seeks to understand how international aid and policy mobilities affect, on the one hand, refugee policies, the delivery of shelter and services, and on the other hand, spatial planning and scales of urban governance in Lebanon. We are also keen on understanding what are the socio-spatial and political effects (planning-relevant) of these changing planning practices in Lebanon? How does aid help us rethink the forms and entanglements of sovereignty between actors such as the EU, UN, international donors, municipalities, municipal unions, NGOs and political parties? How is this changing and negotiating the hegemonic political configurations dominating the Lebanese territory?

Research Team


Romola Sanyal is Assistant Professor in Urban Geography at LSE. Her work intersects political and urban geography and focuses on the forced migration, urbanisation and citizenship in the Middle East and South Asia. Her co-edited book Urbanizing Citizenship: Contested Spaces in Indian Cities was published in 2012 by Sage Publications. She has a PhD in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.


Mona Harb is Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Politics at AUB. She is the author of Le Hezbollah à Beyrouth (1985-2005): De la Banlieue à La Ville (Karthala-IFPO, 2010), and co-author of Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi'ite South Beirut (Princeton University Press, 2013, with Lara Deeb). Her research investigates how space and politics are dialectically constituted through institutions and processes of policy-making, and how spatial planning can provide opportunities for socio-political change.


Mona Fawaz is Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Studies at AUB. Her research stems from the imperative of making cities more inclusive, particularly from the perspective of enabling low-income dwellers to take part in their making. She has several publications in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, City and Society and Built Environment. Fawaz is currently the recipient of the Harvard Radcliffe fellowship, working on a book project provisionally titled: When the Plan Fails and Urban Regulations are Bypassed: Narrating Beirut from its Peripheries.


Yara Najem graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Health and is currently pursuing her Masters in Urban Planning and Policies at the American University of Beirut. After working for a year on a EU project promoting local development, she joined the “Policy Mobilities, International Aid and Planning: Regionalism and Refugee Policies in Lebanon” project as a research assistant. Her thesis is being elaborated around policy mobilities and urban assemblage, and will investigate the transnational flows of spatial planning policies at the local and regional levels.


Jessy Nassar earned her bachelor’s degree in political and social sciences from Sciences Po Paris. After working with the Norwegian Refugee Council’s shelter unit in the Beqaa (Lebanon), she obtained her masters in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London. Her thesis aimed at deconstructing the concept of the Lebanese state’s sovereignty through the Syrian refugee crisis. She recently authored a policy brief for the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) on solid waste management in Lebanon in light of the refugee crisis. She is now working as a research assistant on the LSE Emirates Foundation grant, led by Romola Sanyal, Mona Harb and Mona Fawaz.


Tripoli, Lebanon (© Jordi Boixareu, 2012, flickr.com)