Ethnic Conflict and Urban Redevelopment in Downtown Beirut

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The concept of globalization has become almost ubiquitous in contemporaryaccounts of urban development and cultural transformations. In these accounts, questions of globalization, urbanization, and ethnicity increasingly intersect. But this burgeoning literature, while laudably integrating cultural concerns into political-economic understandings of globalization, tends to rely on a dualistic sense of scale which treats localities as points of reaction to and resistance against global forces. Ethnicity and identity, situated in a rigid local scale, are reduced to either primordial communal sentiments or commodified symbols in the global economy. This paper advocates a conceptualization of ethnicity and locality not in opposition to the global, but in relation to social, political, and economic relationships that operate within and beyond particular spaces. These arguments are illustrated with the case of downtown Beirut. Beirut's reconstruction epitomizes the commodification of place identities. But the marketing of place identity is significant beyond the immediate investment goals of the city's investors. Indeed, this new identity and the new Beirut have been generated in a hotly-contested terrain of sectarian allegiances and state legitimacy. The redevelopment of Beirut and the re-creation of Lebanese identity are embedded not only in the imperatives of the contemporary global economy, but also in the troublesome legacies of a violent past and in the day-to-day lives of the Lebanese populace.


© 2000 by Wiley-Blackwell

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