Challenging Refugee Men: Humanitarianism and Masculinities in Za‘tari Refugee Camp

Citation:

Turner, Edward Lewis. 2018. "Challenging Refugee Men: Humanitarianism and Masculinities in Za‘tari Refugee Camp." PhD diss., SOAS University of London. 

Author: Lewis Edward Turner

Abstract:

Feminist scholarship has demonstrated that ‘womenandchildren’ become the central and uncontroversial objects of humanitarian care and control in contexts of conflict, disaster, and displacement. Yet very little scholarly work has attempted to understand the place of men within humanitarian policies, practices and imaginaries. Through an exploration of the life and governance of Za‘tari Refugee Camp, Jordan, in which 80,000 Syrians live, this thesis argues that for humanitarianism, refugee men present a challenge. Humanitarian actors read Syrian men in gendered and racialised ways as agential, independent, political, and at times threatening. Refugee men thereby disrupt humanitarian understandings of refugees as passive, feminised objects of care, and are not understood to be among the ‘vulnerable,’ with whom humanitarians wish to work. Grounded in feminist and critical International Relations scholarship, and with an emphasis on the embodied, material and spatial practices of humanitarianism, this thesis draws on twelve months of fieldwork in Jordan, including participant-observation in Za‘tari Refugee Camp, and interviews with humanitarian workers and refugees. It demonstrates that humanitarian actors consistently prioritise their own goals, logics, and understandings of gender, over those of Syrians themselves, and exercise power in masculinised ways that actively disempower their ‘beneficiaries’. In the name of ‘global’ standards, humanitarian interactions with, and control over, refugee women are justified by a rhetoric of ‘empowerment.’ Refugee men, by contrast, are present but made invisible within the distribution of humanitarian aid, time, space, resources, and employment opportunities. These modes of humanitarian governance challenge Syrian men’s understandings and performances of masculinities. Yet when refugee men attempt to exercise agency in response to the disempowerment they experience in Za‘tari, humanitarian actors understand them as problematically political, and too autonomous from the control of humanitarian and state authorities, who attempt to re-assert their authority over the camp, and render Za‘tari ‘governable.’

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugee/IDP Camps, Feminisms, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Humanitarian Assistance, Race Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Jordan

Year: 2018

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