RCIR Event Round-Up: Dr Nora Stel on Hybrid Political Order and the Politics of Uncertainty

Author: Kiran Phull

On the 23rd of Feb, the RCIR had the honour of hosting Dr. Nora Stel from Radboud University, Netherlands for a rich and timely discussion of her 2020 book Hybrid Political Order and the Politics of Uncertainty: Refugee Governance in Lebanon. The event was chaired by Dr. Stephan Engelkamp and the book was discussed along with Prof. Claudia Aradau and Dr. Craig Larkin from the Department of War Studies. We were very glad to welcome a virtual audience of over 35 scholars and students interested in various dimensions of conflict and security.

Published in 2020, the book offers a radical rethinking of the political dimensions of chaos and uncertainty in conflict settings, focusing on the case of Lebanon. Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide and is central to European policies of outsourcing migration management. Building on critical refugee studies, hybrid governance, and ignorance studies, Stel proposes a conceptual framework to capture the spatial, temporal, and procedural dimensions of the uncertainty that refugees face, exploring ambiguity as a component of a governmentality that enables the control, exploitation, and expulsion of refugees. In the context of Palestinian refugee communities in Lebanon, the state’s security governance comes to be defined by informality, liminality, and exceptionalism. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and interviews with refugee communities, activists, humanitarian workers, and other experts, Stel finds that institutional ambiguity is in fact strategically deployed and reproduced in refugee governance. Stel argues compellingly that the plight of Lebanon’s refugees is not just explained by chaos or government inaction, but by a strategic form of non-governance that works to undermine solutions and change. In the rich discussion of Stel’s highly nuanced and comprehensive work, themes of institutional ignorance and non-knowledge raised important questions not only about the discretionary and harmful governance of refugee communities, but also about possibilities for survival, contestation, and resistance in the grey spaces of ambiguity.

With thanks to all event participants. A recording of the event can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAg35CspvNs

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