Dr Mohamad Hafeda

Mohamad Hafeda, 1

Mohamad Hafeda, 2

Bordering Practices: negotiating and narrating political-sectarian conflict in contemporary Beirut.

Second supervisor(s)
Professor Yeoryia Manolopoulou

Following the shift from borders to bordering practices in the field of borders studies (Parker & Vaughan-Williams, 2009; Diener & Hagen, 2012; Meier, 2013), this thesis proposes bordering practices as specific kinds of spatial practice which occur through processes of narrating and negotiating, and are situated in relation to concepts of everyday life and spatial practices (Lefebvre ([1974] 1991 and de Certeau ([1984] 1989), and critical spatial practice (Rendell, 2006). 

The thesis examines the im/materiality, spatiality, and temporality of bordering practices through the negotiation of spaces of political-sectarian conflict – since their resurfacing in Beirut in 2005, practised by a triad of residents, politicians, and militias. It is a site-specific and a practice-led research project that employs art, design and urban research tools to work with residents, located between the two adjacent areas of Tarik al-Jdide and Mazraa – both situated within the Mazraa district, and of different political affiliations divided across Sunni/Shiite lines. 

Through negotiation and narrative the thesis explores a series of modes of bordering practices: those produced by conflict mechanisms, negotiated and narrated by residents, those negotiated and narrated through my engagements with the residents during this doctoral research; and those negotiated and narrated through the art installations I produced in response as forms of critical spatial practice.

The thesis is structured into four projects, each of which develops first by identifying strategic division conditions practised by political parties through the borders of: Surveillance, Sound, Displacement and Administration; second by investigating residents’ spatial practices that exist as responses and negotiations to those strategic divisions; third, and finally, the four projects produce four new bordering practices that transform borders into multiple shifting practices and representations that divide and connect through acts of negotiating and narrating: in particular, in project 1, crossing the border of surveillance between two women at their balconies; in project 2, translating the border of sound between taxi and walking journeys; in project 3, matching the border of displacement between twin sisters and their husbands; and in project 4, hiding behind the border of administration between an elected district’s representative and his fictional TV character.


I devised a practice-led research method that would respond to the conditions of borders and the challenges of conducting research in areas of conflict, particularly within the political constraints in urban sites on residents’ and researchers’ practices. For example, photography and documentation were problematic: they were monitored in most public spaces by security operatives, militia members, military officers, and even ordinary residents. My chosen research method accessed the neighbourhood through the private interior of residents and of their spaces – their houses, balconies, shops, and cars. This approach was not merely practical, given the context of the political and social divisions in Lebanon; it also took into account the differences and subjectivities in which people build knowledge about space, since their different social, political, professional, and geographical standing shapes how they relate to conflict. To that end, I questioned the research ethics of dealing with participants and I employed censorship (borders) as a conceptual and structural language in setting up the relationship with the participants.

This censorship method with the residents was a bordering practice I developed that positioned my research and myself in between many places – whether between private and public, such as the residents’ interior spaces and the public space outdoors, or between different media, such as video, audio recording and photography, and other representations, such as sound, image, text and language. 

My art practice re-worked the visual techniques of censorship to mark borders, and censorship was used deliberately to politically charge the artwork I produced in the form of media representations and gallery installations. In all these negotiations that responded to censorship and research ethics, I situated art and spatial practice at the core of border studies. The artworks I produced using this method are the result of these ethical negotiations with the residents and point to the ways in which political, institutional and emotional borders unfold in the sites. 


Bordering Practices: An introduction


Bordering practice 1: Crossing

At Her Balcony


Bordering practice 2: Translating

This is How Stories of Conflict Circulate and Resonate 


Bordering practice 3: Matching

The Twin Sisters are ‘About to’ Swap Houses  


Bordering practice 4: Hiding

The Chosen Two

Bordering Practices: Epilogue 

The Temporality of Narrative as a Bordering Practice

Related publications





Mohamad Hafedais an artist, writer and academic based in London and Beirut. His work employs art and architecture practices as research methods to negotiate the politics of urban space, focusing on the issues of borders, refuge, displacement, representation and spatial rights. Through this, Hafeda engages with communities to produce counter representations and spatial alternatives that span urban interventions, media representations, art installations and writings.

Hafeda was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize 2021 in the Visual and Performing Arts category for his work on “socially engaged participatory art.” His interdisciplinary, practice-led research across the fields of urban studies, art and tactical practices of resistance is presented in his most recent book, Negotiating Conflict in Lebanon (Bloomsbury, 2019) and his film Sewing Borders, commissioned by Ashkal Alwan for Video Works (2017), the latter of which was selected for the International Film Festival Rotterdam IFFR (2018) in the Bright Future category, and Queer Lisboa International Film Festival (2018). Hafeda was also the co-author of Creative Refuge (Tadween, 2014) and Action of Street / Action of Room: A Directory of Public Actions (Serpentine Galleries, 2016), and the co-editor of Narrating Beirut from its Borderlines (Heinrich Boll Foundation, 2011).