"Migrant Worker Lifeworlds of Beirut" by Sumayya Kassamali
A country of approximately 4 million citizens, Lebanon is home to over half a million Asian and black African migrant workers concentrated in its capital city of Beirut. An estimated one quarter of Lebanese households employ a live-in female migrant domestic worker on a full time basis. Over the last decade, many of these women have fled domestic confinement to enter Lebanon’s informal labour market, and have recently been joined by hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing war across the country’s eastern border. This dissertation examines the social worlds of these migrant workers. It demonstrates that non-Arab migrant workers in Beirut are not simply temporary workers, but constitute a specific subject category structured by socioeconomic relations that determine the possibility of their life in the city. Specifically, it argues that migrant workers in Beirut are subjects denied recognition, and who therefore lie outside the nation-state, while having forged an urban belonging inside the city. I demonstrate this by examining migrant workers’ interactions with the joint nexus of citizen-state authority, their experiences of time in both labour and rest, their modes of receiving address and inhabiting speech in the Arabic language, and their intimate and collective relations in the city. Together with growing numbers of male Syrian refugees, migrant workers in Beirut have created an urban underground that has transformed both what and who it means to live in the city today. This dissertation offers an ethnographic map of these transformations.