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A 'Nine-to-Five' Emergency: A politics of time and power in Azraq refugee camp



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Much of the scholarship on refugee camps has focused on the spatial politics of such sites, but only a small number of scholars has primarily examined the temporal dimension. While the literature has acknowledged the complex nature of time in these humanitarian spaces, time itself has not often been used as an analytical tool through which to understand the power dynamics at the center of refugee camp operation. This dissertation contributes to this area of literature by interrogating the relationship between time and power as it manifests through daily lived realities in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Based on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this dissertation seeks to complicate perceptions of Azraq as the ‘ideal’ refugee camp through an investigation of its particular politics of time, analyzing perspectives of both refugees and aid workers. I call on literature on emergency, bureaucracy, and humanitarian politics in order to examine how these power structures have established a monopoly over time within the camp’s borders. I analyze the role of street-level aid workers within Azraq’s bureaucracy as being both shapers of policy but also subject to the power system and its particular temporalities. I explore how refugees then navigate this system, both in the day-to-day and over years, by evaluating various layers of waiting as they affect refugee perceptions of time in the camp – not only the present, but the past, near future, and far future. By focusing on time in particular, this dissertation reveals a significant temporal dimension of refugee governance in Azraq, and in Jordan more generally. I argue that the camp operates as a ‘nine-to-five’ emergency through which mundane bureaucratic procedures serve to sustain a power system that manipulates refugees’ time. The camp administration limits refugees’ capacity to enhance the camp environment as it seeks to preserve the camp as new and refugees as vulnerable and thus under control. Refugees are socialized by this power politics to endure a cynical wait – both for services and for the return – without expectations for a better outcome; that is, refugees wait merely as if they believe a meaningful future is possible. I argue that, far from an ‘ideal’ camp, Azraq and its politics of time constitute a cruel reality in which a power system meant to aid refugees is experienced as one that suppresses, foreclosing futures that it is supposed to preserve. This fits within a Jordanian project of containment and isolation of Syrian refugees, a project both spatial and – equally as important – temporal in nature.





Anderson, Paul


Refugees, Refugee camp, Jordan, Humanitarianism, Power, Time, Security


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
This research was funded by the Council for the British Research in the Levant, Cambridge Trust, Trinity Hall, Centre of Islamic Studies, and the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.