Research seminar in Amman – April, 6th, 2017

The seminar will take place at Ifpo from 10 am to 1.00 p.m (the seminar is not opened to public).

There will be 2 presentations: “Humans and animals in a refugee camp: Baquba, Iraq, 1918-21” by Benjamin Thomas White and “Life and Precarity in the Border Zone of War – Insights from Ramtha” by Andre Bank and Yazan Doughan

Humans and animals in a refugee camp: Baquba, Iraq, 1918-21

Benjamin Thomas White


When human populations are forcibly displaced, they often take animals with them. Even if they are not accompanied by their own, animals often play an important role in their experience of displacement. But animals feature barely at all in the social science literature and developing historiography on displacement. Drawing on extensive archival research, this paper uses the Bacquba refugee camp near Baghdad as a case study to explore the impact of animals on human displacements.

 The camp, run by the British occupation authorities in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), housed nearly 50,000 people and many thousands of animals at its height: to understand the camp and the lives the refugees lived in it, we must look at the animals as well as the humans. Its siting and spatial organization were partly determined by the need to accommodate animals: the people in it were accompanied by thousands of sheep, goats and cattle with them. Medical regimes for the people began by eliminating lice; they were closely paralleled by veterinary regimes for the animals. The construction and internal operation of the camp depended on animal-drawn carts. Efforts to stimulate economic activity in the camp were built around animal products and animal labour. Animals were prominent in the affective lives of the refugees. They also mediated the refugees’ interactions with the people they lived among, whether in peace (sale and exchange of animal products), tension (friction over grazing), or indeed war (mounted refugees serving in the British military). Any plans to close the camp and repatriate or resettle the refugees likewise depended on animals, especially pack animals.

 The case demonstrates that to understand the human experience of forced displacement, we need to pay attention to animals too.

Benjamin Thomas White teaches history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where he is also a member of the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum, and Migration Network (GRAMNet). A Middle East historian by background, he now teaches the history of refugees in the world since the late nineteenth century, and is doing research on the global history of the refugee camp. Dr White’s first book, The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: the Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2011. His article ‘Refugees and the definition of Syria, 1920-1939’ will be published by Past and Present in May 2017. He blogs (occasionally) at

Life and Precarity in the Border Zone of War–Insights from Ramtha

Andre Bank and Yazan Doughan 

With the war is Syria entering its 6th year, people in northern Jordanian, particularly in the town of Ramtha, describe their city as dead and experience their lives as having come to a standstill. Given how much the lives and livelihoods of people in the Jordanian-Syrian border zone relied on cross border traffic and the infrastructure that sustained it, the closure of Jordan’s two border crossings with Syria in 2013 and 2015 meant that not only spatial mobility has become restricted, but also economic and social mobility. This paper evaluates such statements by drawing on the growing anthropological literature on precarity and precarious life while expanding its focus beyond the conditions of post-Fordist capitalism and the specific focus on labor with which much of this literature is concerned. Instead, the paper focuses on the temporal dimension of precarity by relating capitalist conceptions of good life–understood within a future oriented telos of progressive betterment and security–to the structure of feeling  that emerges out of the realization that such a good life has become impracticable. Finally, the paper considers the contradictory demands for security and the well-being of the population that war puts on the Jordanian state.

André Bank is a Senior Research Fellow at the GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies in Hamburg, Germany. He directs the research project “The Syrian War in Jordan”, funded by the German Foundation for Peace Research (2016-17). He is also the Speaker of the research cluster “International Diffusion and Cooperation of Authoritarian Regimes” (IDCAR), funded by Leibniz Competition (2014-18).”

Yazan Doughan is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago. His dissertation “Corruption, Authority and the Discursive Production of Reform and Revolution in Jordan” is an ethnography of the Jordanian protest movement during the Arab Spring. He is also a research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies in Hamburg, Germany. He is conducting research for the project “The Syrian War in Jordan”, funded by the German Foundation for Peace Research (2016-17).