Speechless emissaries or powerful leaders? : A four-dimensional power analysis of the refugee mobilizations in Jordan’s Za’atari camp

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Teologiska institutionen

Abstract: Refugee camps have long been considered places of extreme population control. Yet the Za’atari camp, created in Jordan in 2012, soon became famous for frequent refugee demonstrations, sit-ins and stone-throwing. This important capacity for mobilization has been linked to the informal leadership network of ‘street leaders’ that emerged a few months after the camps’ creation (Clarke, 2018). This network challenges the representations of refugees as voiceless victims, and questions the ability of aid organizations to foster community empowerment. It also highlights the power implications of regular organizational practices in refugee camps, and showing how NGOs affect their beneficiaries, it is relevant to the discussion of downward accountability. Thus, studying Za’atari’s power dynamics is crucial to identify conditions of refugee empowerment and improve downward accountability frameworks. In this thesis, this analysis of power dynamics is undertaken with the four-dimensional framework developed by Lukes (1974) and following scholars, which has never been used on refugee camps. The first dimension has to do with individual capacity to influence other’s choices, the second with the limits brought by institutional practices, the third with the meanings assigned to behaviors and the fourth with the socialization processes that teach self-discipline. The thesis studies how a four-dimensional analysis of Za’ataricamp can capture both the extent of camp authorities’ control on residents and the refugees’ capacity to empower themselves. Through the analysis of organizational, journalistic and academic literature, it identifies dimensions of power exercised by and on the camp’s actors at two moments: the street leaders’ rise, and the difficulties of a governance plan implemented to reestablish control. The thesis shows that street leaders were allowed to emerge due to limits in the camp governance’s first dimension and inability to use the second and third dimension, which street leaders, as part of thecommunity, could yield. Moreover, the governance’s plan to restore control encountered difficulties because it was founded on a restrictive one-dimensional view of power linked to the perception of street leaders as mafia-like bosses, refugees as helpless victims and camps as places of containment and order, limiting the authorities’ third dimension. By identifying new factors that were not present in other studies of Za’atari, the findings demonstrate the relevance of the framework to render the complexity of humanitarian settings and encourages its use on other cases. It also reminds the need for aid professionals to work with their beneficiaries’ agency to provide quality services.

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