In this post, Refugee Hosts Researcher, Leonie Harsch discusses a soundscape recorded in Hamra, Beirut and reflects on the ethical considerations associated with producing and disseminating recordings of displacement and its responses.  You can listen to the soundscape that accompanies this post below. 

If you found this piece of interest, you can visit further soundscapes and recordings here and access our recommended reading at the end of this post.

Soundscape: Spaces of Hosting and Encounter in Hamra, Beirut

By Leonie Harsch, Researcher, Refugee Hosts

The research for the Refugee Hosts project in Hamra documented narratives of spaces where longer-term and more recently arrived residents of various nationalities are hosting, encountering, or living alongside each other in this Beirut neighbourhood. The soundscape assembles recordings made in some of these spaces with a simple voice recorder between late 2017 and 2018. It begins on bus line number four on the way to Hamra. It then takes the listener via Hamra main street to a mosque, a construction site, a church, a café, a Syrian restaurant where a musician is playing the Oud, and bars – one of them particularly known for welcoming LGBTQ+ people –, before stepping back out onto the main street at night.

Conversations around the modalities of documenting and representing displacement and responses to it within the Refugee Hosts project and beyond inspired this piece. It was developed in an attempt to practice what Tom Western has called ‘listening with displacement’ as an ethnographic method and narrative experiment. It aims to explore – again in Tom Western’s words – ‘the potential of listening to open creative engagements when representing displacement, finding spaces of narrativity that have not yet been claimed and foreclosed, and disrupting the dominant tropes of “[…] refugee crisis”’ (see also a response from Rihab Azar).

As part of the fieldwork conducted by the locally based team including Bayan Itani, Hanaa Dahdal, Reem El Khatib and myself, the recordings complemented other forms of documentation such as interviews, written notes and photography. As was the case when deciding whether and from what angle to take a photo, or what to write down and what to omit, the sounds have been recorded and edited with ethical questions in mind. In doing so, I have tried to extend the principle of ‘Spaces and Places, not Faces’ which Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has suggested as an ethical approach to photography from visual to sonic considerations.

Recordings were only made in public spaces; accidentally captured, intelligible fragments of personal conversations have been edited out. Yet this was not a straightforward process. Some recordings I have included despite hesitation, for example that of a woman and a child working on Hamra street, asking passers-by for contributions. It includes specific sentences and can be perceived as feeding into stereotypical portrayals of refugees. Yet it also reflects complex public encounters which many of our research interlocutors, including women working on this street themselves, discussed.

The recordings offer necessarily vague and incomplete representations of the places whose sounds they have captured at fleeting moments in time, or of different population groups’ access to them. The soundscape is an invitation to visit or revisit some locations in Hamra by listening closely. It invites reflections on ways of being together in spaces considered by some as spaces of hosting, without suggesting particular interpretations or rendering the sounds into a particular argument or story.


Visit our Refugee Hosts Conference Archive on ‘Disrupting Humanitarian Narratives’ here. You can also visit our  Readings and Soundscapes page, our Reflections from the Field series, our Faith in Displacement Series, or the recommended readings below:

Ager, A. (2017) Sounds from Hamra, Lebanon

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Reflections from the Field: Introduction to the Series  (including soundscapes from Baddawi camp, Lebanon)

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) The Poetics of Undisclosed Care

Harsch, L. (2018) Historical Photos of Hamra, Beirut

Harsch, L. (2019) Soundscape: Faith Communities in Hamra

Greatrick, A. (2018) Sounds from Istiklal, Turkey

Itani, B. (2019) The importance of identity – reflections from fieldwork in Hamra, Beirut

Rowlands, A. (2018) Faith and Displacement: Introducing the Series

Stonebridge, L. (2018) Undoing the Meaning of the World: Creation and Decreation in Contemporary Refugee Studies

Featured image: Hamra street during the month of Ramadan, (c) L. Harsch, 2018

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s