UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Placing Palestine : homes, families & mobilities in Birzeit Harker, Christopher Graham


This thesis examines how the village of Birzeit is made as place. The reader is taken on a tour designed to show some of the sights of Birzeit and three sets of practices that are key in forging Birzeit-as-place. The first set of practices cohere around homes: the dilapidated houses in the Old City, the modern Spanish Apartments, the frequently empty dwellings of diaspora and two destroyed homes. The second set of practices involves families: the negotiation of different distances by families stretched across continents, the extensive efforts of some families to live in close physical proximity that contrast with others who are witnessing the increasing nuclearization of family living space and attendant family practices. Thirdly, im/mobilities: the movements of disapora in the summer, students travelling to and from Birzeit University and immigrants who have migrated from the north and south of Palestine to work in and around Ramallah. In offering a passing glimpse at some of the dynamic relationships that cohere around and between these material and imaginative spatial practices, I hope to (re)present Palestine as a vibrant and dynamic place, shaded by social, political, economic and cultural differences that maybe similar to other parts of the world. In doing so my chronicle departs from accounts of Palestinian space that tend to prioritize the ongoing practices of Israeli Occupation and its effects. Nevertheless, Birzeit is coloured by such practices too, which penetrate and complicate practices of home, family and im/mobility. The tour stages a series of empirical stories and events that were drawn from the eleven months of fieldwork I conducted in Birzeit between June 2005 and October 2007, during which time I conducted participant observation, interviews and archival research. These stories are punctuated by a set of theoretical engagements. I choose to keep these moments separate to explore how theory and Birzeit as I experienced it might converse with one another. I hope that each will be an equal partner in the conversation, that each will complicate and extend the other, and that this conversation will also build a affirmative relation between this place and you.

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