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Vol 8 No 1: April issue

Infrastructures of Suffering: Trauma, Sumud and the Politics of Violence and Aid in Lebanon

December 17, 2019
April 23, 2021


This article traces the infrastructures of suffering under the governance of humanitarian psychiatry to explore how material conditions of war and aid have shaped the politics of trauma and sumud[steadfastness] in Lebanon. Based on 29 months of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken from 2011 to 2013, I look at the expert, economic, and techno-political assemblages of trauma and sumudduring the July War in 2006 and the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011. Mental health experts faced unexpected difficulties in diagnosing war trauma during the July War. This led political actors to claim that these difficulties reflected a general absence of suffering from war and a sign of Lebanese resilience, drawing on economies of sumudin postwar reconstruction. The Syrian refugee crisis however radically transformed the politics of suffering in Lebanon. A new political economy of trauma emerged where the Lebanese now competed with other aid communities to have their past suffering recognised as traumatic. Comparing the relations between violence, aid, and suffering in both instances serves to contextualise and historicise suffering beyond a particular discourse or event. It also serves to highlight the contingencies of suffering rather than its internal and psychic elements.