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Photo of Torsten Janson

Torsten Janson


Photo of Torsten Janson

Learning, Belonging, Resisting: Young Palestinians in Higher Education. Paper at Refugee Studies Center Conference 2017: Beyond Crisis: Rethinking Refugee Studies. Oxford University, UK


  • Torsten Janson

Summary, in English

This paper presents results from a project on the experiences of Palestinian refugee youth in Lebanon, taking part in NGO programs for facilitating university education. To what extent may such informal educational projects be instrumental in circumventing and counteracting social exclusion? And how do such initiatives interrelate with constructions of senses of “Palestinianess” among their young beneficiaries? Going beyond depictions of young Palestinian refugees as inherently “traumatized”, “victimized” or “vulnerable”, the current research attempts to “understand how vulnerability – as a condition – is produced and mitigated” (Hart 2006).

Since the end of the civil war, education has consistently been highlighted as a priority in strengthening Lebanese social cohesion. In reality, however, conflicting historical narratives stigmatize public Lebanese memory as a national taboo (Nehme 2006). This accentuates the need for alternative social spaces and public discourses, challenging the politicized memory discourses of particular groups (Haugbolle 2012). Currently, the vast majority of young Palestinians in Lebanon remains disconnected from quality education, and yet is constrained by Lebanese national curriculum, with the effect that school is de-centralized as a site for identity construction (Finchham 2012). This underscores the importance of alternative, informal efforts and the coordination of stakeholders involved in education and upbringing. It calls for a “recovery of public spheres and common spaces that encourages new forms of engagement and encounter” (Larking 2009).

This paper presents research among students and staff at one NGO committed to create such an alternative, informal educational space. In order to facilitate access to quality higher education among Palestinian youth, this NGO engages in training as well as community and identity building efforts, around explicit and implicit notions of “Palestinaness.” Such an approach to learning as a “community of practice” (Wenger 1998), becomes particularly important – and controversial – in a Lebanese setting.


  • Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)
  • MECW: The Middle East in the Contemporary World

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper


  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences