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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Mr Luigi Achilli

BA in Anthropology (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy), MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies (SOAS, University of London)


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Mr Luigi Achilli
Email address:
Office Hours:
11am-12pm (room v215), 4-5pm (room v217)
Thesis title:
Does the political bore? The denial and camouflage of the “political” in a Palestinian refugee camp.
Year of Study:


Middle East, Anthropology, Palestinian refugees, Islam, Politics, Violence, Diaspora Studies

PhD Research

On the occasion of the recent Israeli naval attack on the international aid flotilla bound for Gaza, hundreds of demonstrators marched on the streets of Wihdat – a Palestinian refugee camp established in 1955 in the proximity of Amman, Jordan. Amman currently hosts 51,000 registered Palestinian refugees, and Wihdat is now officially part of the city. The protestors torched US and Israeli flags, chanted pro-Hamas slogans, and carried banners reading, “Yes for resistance” and “End the Zionist occupation of Palestine”. Soon after, however, people in the Camp seemed to retain only a fading memory of the flotilla incident. This is not surprising. Except for few political demonstrations and events, neither the recent political turmoil in the Gaza and West Bank, nor the constant footage of the Palestinian crisis depicted in the Arab media have roused refugees from the boredom and idle pastimes of daily life in the Camp. When I began my 15 months fieldwork in Wihdat, I expected a Palestinian refugee camps to be. Persuaded to document the significance of ‘the political’ in the everyday life of refugees, I was disappointed to observe an ostensible absence of it. Inevitably, this draws attention to how Palestinian political subjectivity and agency is articulated in the Camp. What I hope to suggest is that, in order to understand Palestinian political subjectivity in the refugee camps of Jordan, it is necessary to shift attention away from the classic parameter of political militancy toward underrepresented spaces of refugee everyday life.

My research is an investigation into the significance of the “ordinary” in the process of political self-fashioning in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan called Al-Wihdat. The goal of this thesis is to document how refugees living in Al-Wihdat receive and respond to nationalistic messages about Palestinian identity more than 60 years after the establishment of the first refugee camp in Jordan.

When I first moved to Al-Wihdat, I expected Palestinian refugee camps to be highly politicized spaces. Except for occasional political demonstrations and events, however, neither the political turmoil in Gaza and the West Bank, nor the constant footage of the Palestinian struggle in the Arab media, roused refugees out of what they described as the ordinary course of daily life in the camp. In contrast, my engagement with camp-dwellers showed me that refugees’ remaking of their social world was carried out by striving to live what they described as an “ordinary life” (hayā ‘ādiyye): by working, praying, relaxing, watching football matches, surfing the internet, or idling in barber shops, for example.

I argue that the performative and reiterative dimensions of ordinary activities have not precluded refugees from feeling an affinity for many of the meanings, ideals, and values of Palestinian nationalism. On the contrary, infusing nationalism with daily interests and needs has allowed people to recapture the meanings, values and promises of Palestinian nationalism from the inflexible interpretations provided by a sclerotic political system in Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, such process of accommodation has also afforded them the possibility of living what they refer to as being an “ordinary life”.

PhD Publications

  • “Between Football and Islam: the Denial and the ‘Camouflage’ of the Political in a Palestinian Refugee Camp of Jordan”, CBRL Bulletin, forthcoming.
  • “Etiqueter dans un espace incertain : le cas des camps de réfugiés palestiniens en Jordanie”, Migrations Société, n° 128, mars-avril 2010
  • Pratiche e politiche dell’etnografia, Meltemi, Milan, January, 2008
  • “Lo spazio umanitario. Il caso di campi di rifugiati palestinesi in Giordania”, in Achab, vol. 8, Milan, July 2006

PhD Conferences

“A Lasting Temporariness: Population, Space and Social Practices, 1990-2010”
Workshop on Palestinian Refugee Camps in Jordan
Organized in partnership with IFPO and CBRL
7 March, Amman, Jordan


PhD Associate, Institute Français du Proche Orient (IFPO), Amman, Jordan


Social Theory