Constructing Resilience: Real Estate Investment, Sovereign Debt and Lebanon’s Transnational Political Economy
In urban studies scholarship, Lebanon is often theorized on the frontiers of sectarian conflict as well as on the frontlines of neoliberalism. Entangling real estate investment, sovereign debt and transnational financial circulations from Arab Gulf investors and the Lebanese diaspora, managed by the Banque du Liban and scrutinized by the United States Treasury, the Lebanese political economy was – and still is – swayed by the fortunes of war. According to literature on the political economy of violence, profits are often made in times of war, a context appropriate to the civil war and postwar eras, during which spoils of war enriched the pockets of warlords-turned-politicians. Yet as the effects of the Syrian conflict spill across the border, encumbering Lebanon’s long paralyzed politics, straining its already deteriorated infrastructure and intensifying uncertainty with punctuated bombings, certain sectors prosper not because of violence but in spite of it. The skyline of Beirut is covered in construction cranes erecting affluent, if empty, apartments; the banks are infused with deposits invested in the debt of a sovereign bankrupt in ways not simply financial. Both real estate and banking are said to be resilient, a discourse so often repeated that resilience has become the dominant mode by which Lebanon is broadly understood, and not only by the developers and bankers with a financial interest in this depiction. Resilience has taken on the status of a self-evident truth. Tracing transnational investment into these two sectors, the pillars of the economy, this dissertation excavates the history around which resilience arose as a concept and thereafter endured. Rather than a description or explanation, resilience is instead – this dissertation argues – a dispositif organizing an entire political economy around the attraction of foreign financial inflows and ongoing emigration, ensuring the resilience for which Lebanon is renowned also perpetuates much of its underlying instability.