Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Middle Eastern Studies
Her research interests include urban and planning theory, critical social theory, Middle Eastern studies, geographies of war and conflict, ethnographic and field studies methodologies in contested spaces, as well as architecture and urban planning pedagogies.
Bou Akar's current research investigates the role that religious-political organizations have in shaping contested geographies through the design and implementation of urban planning regulations, construction of infrastructure projects, operations of land and housing markets, and legislation of property and building laws. In her research on Lebanon, she particularly examines how Beirut's peripheries have been transformed into frontiers of violence and urban growth, as they have been regulated, governed, and contested through what she calls the spatial logics of the "war yet to come." Bou Akar's research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Middle East Research Competition (MERC).
Her first book, Narrating Beirut from its Borderlines (2011), is a coedited public scholarship volume, which features her work along with the work of her colleagues and students on the contemporary geographies of the Lebanese sectarian political system. The book, published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Beirut, incorporates ethnographic and archival research with art installations, architecture, graphic design, and photography.
In this course, we will examine the politics of space and the built environment. Space, broadly conceived, is not merely a physical manifestation of social processes that are embedded within it; rather, all social relations are fundamentally spatial. Accordingly this course looks at the social, political, and economic relations that produce space, focusing on urbanization and the spatial production of cities of the Global South and the Global North. We will specifically examine cities as produced by a set of contradictions: 1) cities as sites of wealth accumulation shaped by social and spatial inequalities and forms of contestation along constructed lines of difference- whether class, gender, racial, or religious, yet also 2) cities as hopeful sites imbued with ideals of democracy and citizenship, change and possibilities. Through this engagement with cities and their spaces, the class will also highlight how cities are shaped simultaneously by local processes of society, politics, and space, as well as transnational and global circulations of capital, finance, and diaspora.
This is an experimental, co-taught, advanced seminar in which we will alternate our focus to think about the differences and commonalities of two regions: Latin America and the Middle East. Our primary analytical tool will be a fine collection of ethnographies that discuss a range of issues in contemporary life in the two regions: from gendered neighborhood politics to indigenous mobilization; from consent to protest; from urban renewal to urban crime; from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the aftermath of the proxy conflicts of the Cold War. We will begin with an introductory exploration of the ethnographic genre itself to explore its basic assumptions, methods, and politics asking: What is ethnography? How do we read ethnographic texts? How are they constructed? We will then turn to on-the-ground cases emerging from both regions to interrogate notions of statehood and modernity, race and gender inequalities, religion and secularism, social movements and violence. Ultimately, we hope that the grounded exploration of these cases, which will be done with great attention to their histories and interconnections with elsewhere, will aid us in the challenge of figuring out what kind of change is taking place in the two regions today. In other words, understanding the present to better craft futures.
This course investigates the idea of geographies of exclusion through a multi-disciplinary inquiry which locates space and spatial production at its center. The course cross-thinks issues of exclusion across cities in the Global South and the Global North. It asks the following questions: what are geographies of exclusion? Who gets excluded, why, by whom, and how? What are some of the legal, spatial, socio-economical, ethical, and political apparatuses that produce segregated spaces of poverty and lavishness, violence and fear, connectedness and confinement? What are the roles of "experts" such as architects, statisticians, planners, and policy-makers in producing such geographies? Gender, class, religion, and race are the main fault lines that we will use to study how certain populations in our cities are left "outside" (through gated communities, "mean" streets, security barriers, segregated parks, etc.), or kept "inside" (refugees in camps, locked-in domestic workers, prisoners, etc.).
This course will discuss the geographic imaginations through which the Middle East has been constructed as an entity, imagined as a space, intervened in and acted upon economically, militarily, and socially.