Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Reading Publicness: Meaningful and Spontaneous Encounters in Beirut During a Time of Crisis

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Abstract:  This article explores a series of narratives collected during the Covid-19 pandemic and after the port explosion in Beirut. The selected narratives cover “meaningful encounters” defined by the authors as acts of urban engagement that are able to challenge dominant or prejudiced perceptions in the city. These spontaneous and sometimes prolonged interactions seem to strengthen collective engagement and foster new opportunities to be together during strenuous and challenging times for all. The importance of this study stems from the fact that most of the designated public spaces are rather exclusive and fall short in bringing together the different factions of the community. In a context of increasing socio-spatial polarization, reading everyday practices, activities, and meaningful encounters in Beirut reveals a more comprehensive and inclusive notion of publicness and challenges the popular and sometimes biased perception of a fragmented city. This research draws from a combination of qualitative approaches that include both observation and collection of narratives. The final selection of narratives was based on their potential to illustrate what we considered to be typical cases addressing three different types of engagements with the urban context. The article seeks to better understand influences exercised by individuals over one another and the subsequent emergence of new places of encounters in the city. Finally, the article argues that the sites of encounters are rather fluid and spread beyond the footprint of traditional and designated public spaces, thus contributing to the reshaping of the public sphere in the city.

Keywords:  encounters; engagement; improvisation; negotiation; publicness; social contract



© Roula El-Khoury, Rachelle Saliba, Tamara Nasr. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.