The De-Politicization of Spaces: What this Study on Political Geography in Lebanon Teaches us about Workplace Design and Conflict | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

December 9, 2020by Anupriya Kukreja

Summary of:

Lefort, B. (2020) Cartographies of encounters: Understanding conflict transformation through a collaborative exploration of youth spaces in Beirut. Political Geography, 76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102093

Background & Theory

This paper looks at the critical ways in which spaces have been occupied in Beirut, post severe conflict. It uses a novel lens that shifts the focus from the understanding of the city as war-torn, to a deeper look at the urban dynamics that reflect conflict transformation. The author utilizes Bakhtin’s notion of chronotypes: images that connect temporal and spatial relationships to describe their ways of inhabiting the city while framing his responses.

Research Question(s)

The author attempted to answer the following questions:

    1. What are the practices and imaginations of space among young people in postwar Beirut?
    2. How do young people experience and reflect on spatial fragmentation in their everyday environment?
    3. How powerfully do wartime memories remain embedded within their urban framework?
    4. To what extent do their contemporary spatial experiences evoke the dynamics of conflict transformation?

Methods

The primary method of research in this paper is qualitative ethnography. The author employed political geography mapping along with in-depth interviews.

Interviews were elicited from collaborative maps meant to investigate the materiality and the imagination of space among Lebanese students from the American University of Beirut (AUB). The author interviewed 13 students in-depth, out of whom 9 were women. He asked the students to look at three maps – their campus, the city of Beirut, and Lebanon, and mark places that carry a special meaning in their life.

From their maps, they discussed the meaning of their selections so as to locate their spatial routines and practices (their real space), along with the imagination and memory embedded in these frameworks (their imagined space).

Results

The author found that space incorporates many aspects of people’s lives, from intimate, introspective thoughts to explicitly political designs. What he ultimately found was that these ways of practicing and imagining Beirut were not exclusively connected with wartime geographies, which is in contrast with the dominant image of tension between intergroup boundaries in postwar Lebanon. 

How This Translates for the Workplace

  • Focus on training and mentoring young talent: This paper shows that conflict is not the only identity of a polis, emphasizing that youth can give spaces a new meaning. Naturally, older generations who have encountered conflict are more likely to associate memories of the conflict with these spaces, more so than younger people would. Similarly in a workplace, where there are fresh graduates as well as seasoned executives, it’s often the young talent that sees spaces and organizational situations with a fresh slate. These entry-level workers do not associate past memories of differences and conflict with new situations as older generations may. Therefore, it is useful to invest in their growth and training, for they can bring a new perspective towards problems that is less caught up in old rivalries.
  • Workplace design and neutral spaces: This study looks at how certain spaces are more comfortable and easier to navigate than others, with their ability to neutralize conflict and rekindle bonds. In a company environment, it is important to create more neutral, and common spaces for employees that are free from their company role identities and hierarchies. A lot of modern workspaces, like co-workings, are incorporating this concept. Be it coffee lounges or brainstorming rooms, their design must be inclusive, open, creativity inducing, and warm. As long as these spaces are depoliticized from organizational hierarchy and power, and accessible to all employees, they can go a long way in building a healthy, conflict-free environment.
  • Build resilience and conflict resolution ability: This study reflects a fact of life: as time goes on, wounds heal. In the workplace too, people over time often forgive and forget. To improve resilience, letting go, and resolution capability, 21st-century organizations must invest in improving employee conflict resolution skills. At Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, we offer training for workplaces in conflict resolution as well as diversity and inclusion. Contact us to know more.

Anupriya Kukreja

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