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Dr Mohamad Hafeda
Leeds Beckett University
Philip Leverhulme Prize

Negotiating the temporalities of borders and displacements

Internationally recognised artist, writer and academic Mohamad Hafeda, questions how time is used to control space and the movement of displaced communities in Lebanon and the UK 

Women folding bags

With the world currently witnessing the movement of 26 million refugees (UNHCR), receiving State mechanisms for managing these displacements transcend the spatial domain of the subjects into the temporal.

Time has been mechanised to control the movement of displaced communities and determine their future plans and aspirations. The temporal bordering practices of displacement are evident in the ‘recurring’ of displacements and the prolonged periods of living ‘on hold’ waiting for a change that is ‘about to’ happen, yet never occurs. A striking example is the case of Palestinian refugees who have been living in supposedly temporary refugee camps for more than 70 years, and were subjected to recurrent dislocations within their homeland and in hosting countries including Lebanon and Syria. In addition, the current displacements and the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe, are often discussed in politics and media as ahistorical events. However, they need to be positioned within their temporal dimension and through a continuing (recurring) historic timeline that connects the rupture between the past and present and works across geographies that seem to be divided.   

My research working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and the Middle East indicates that the displaced, do not only experience their situation in terms of brief periods of stagnation through waiting, but also through subtle modes of tactical resistance. This is through their lived experiences of negotiating complex legal structures, language barriers, social alienation, unfamiliar job markets and political marginalisation. 

Through participatory social and spatial art, and by employing a temporal bordering practice using time-based media, I research the ways in which time is employed by host countries to affect the political, economic and legal situation of displaced people which often results in denial of refugee status, detention and temporary visas. Engaging the displaced in participatory art and research activities, documenting their experiences and skills, produces self-representations that contest dominant and negative depictions of migrants. This unsettles the current cartographies of displacement which are limited by their geographical emphasis, and contribute to our knowledge of the temporality of borders. 

The temporal bordering practice that comes out of the research, as a critical and reflective spatial practice, displaces and transforms borders in time and space, as they are able to shuffle relationships and construct associations between past, present and future times that are restricted, possibly deliberately, in the current political time.


Negotiating Conflict in Lebanon: Bordering Practices in a Divided Beirut (Bloomsbury, 2019) 

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