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  • Giulia El Dardiry (a1)

This article explores the ways in which refugee and host experiences of displacement in Jordan between 2010 and 2013 were articulated in a socioeconomic register that coincided with, but was also independent of, both state biopower and historical cross-border regionalisms. I argue that this register became salient due to a shared understanding of everyday life as characterized by what I term hunger, a state of depredation where “people eat people” to attain their own well-being. In pursuing this argument, the article has two goals: to show how Iraqis and Jordanians negotiated the complexities of living together in hunger by censuring individuals—locals and foreigners, rich and poor—who contributed to producing hunger rather than to alleviating it, and by consciously resisting the corrosive effects of hunger on social relations; and, more generally, to challenge universalizing understandings of refugee experiences according to which local tensions between refugees and hosts are derivative of a globalized antiforeigner discourse.

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Author's note: My fieldwork in Jordan in 2012–13 was generously funded by the International Development Research Centre and supported by the Institut français du Proche-Orient. A Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship in the McGill Department of Anthropology supported my research and writing. I am grateful to Imad Mansour for rich intellectual exchanges and constant encouragement throughout preparation of this article. I also thank the three anonymous reviewers and IJMES editors Akram Khater and Jeffrey Culang for their insightful and challenging feedback.

1 All names that appear in this article are pseudonyms.

2 Mohammad Al-Fdeilat, “Jordan Universities Become ‘Battlefields,’” Al-Monitor, 4 June 2013, accessed 10 April 2016,; Khetam Malkawi, “Tribal Loyalties behind Majority of Campus Violence Incidents,” The Jordan Times, 7 December, 2013, accessed 10 April 2016,

3 I use Emma Haddad's definition of the refugee as a person “who has been forced, in significant degree, outside the domestic political community indefinitely.” Haddad, , The Refugee in International Society: Between Sovereigns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 48 .

4 This timing may explain some of the discrepancies between my findings and those of other researchers who worked in Jordan during the 2006–8 period, when issues of violence in Iraq and fears of deportation from Jordan were foremost in people's minds. See Ali Ali, “Displacement in Iraq after 2003: Coerced Decisions in a Time of Crisis” (PhD diss., University of East London, 2012); and Mason, Victoria, “The Im/mobilities of Iraqi Refugees in Jordan: Pan-Arabism, ‘Hospitality’ and the Figure of the ‘Refugee,’” Mobilities 6 (2011): 353–73.

5 For detailed information on the East/West divide in Amman, see Ababsa, Myriam, ed., Atlas of Jordan: History, Territories and Society (Amman: Presses de l'Ifpo, Institut français du Proche-Orient, 2013).

6 Most interviews and materials were collected in Arabic. However, some NGO staff members and Iraqi and Jordanian interlocutors chose to speak English either throughout or for certain portions of our interviews.

7 See Bascom, Jonathan B., Losing Place: Refugees and Rural Transformations in East Africa (New York: Berghahn Books, 1998); Ingleby, David, ed., Forced Migration and Mental Health: Rethinking the Care of Refugees and Displaced Persons (New York: Springer, 2005); Marx, Emanuel, “The Social World of the Refugee: A Conceptual Framework,” Journal of Refugee Studies 3 (1990): 189203 ; and Utas, Mats, “Victimcy, Girlfriending, Soldiering: Tactic Agency in a Young Woman's Social Navigation of the Liberian War Zone,” Anthropological Quarterly 78 (2005): 403–30.

8 Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. D Heller-Roazen (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995); Diken, Bulent and Lausten, Carsten B., The Culture of Exception: Sociology Facing the Camp (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005).

9 Agamben, Giorgio, “Beyond Human Rights,” Social Engineering 15 (2008): 9095 ; Haddad, The Refugee in International Society; Soguk, Nevzat, States and Strangers: Refugees and Displacements of Statecraft (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

10 Agier, Michel, Gérer les indésirables: Des camps de réfugiés au gouvernement humanitaire (Paris: Flammarion, 2008); Eastmond, Marita, “Beyond Exile: Refugee Strategies in Transnational Contexts,” in Forced Migration and Global Processes: A View from Forced Migration Studies, ed. Crépeau, François et al. (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Press, 2006), 217–36; Fassin, Didier, “The Biopolitics of Otherness: Undocumented Foreigners and Racial Discrimination in French Public Debate,” Anthropology Today 17 (2001): 37 ; MacDougall, Susan, “Refugees from Inside the System: Iraqi Divorcees in Jordan,” Refuge 28 (2011): 3748 ; Ticktin, Miriam, Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2011).

11 Jordan has also become adept at manipulating this international position to capture massive amounts of international aid to the benefit of its economy, though the government has consistently downplayed the positive consequences of refugees on its territory.

12 Harper, Andrew, “Iraq's Refugees: Ignored and Unwanted,” International Review of the Red Cross 90 (2008): 169–90; Ahmad Shiyab et al., “al-Waqaʿ al-Qanuni wa-l-Iqtisadi wa-l-Ijtimaʿi li-l-ʿIraqiyin al-Muqimin fi al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashimiyya” (report for the Center for Refugees, Migrants and Forced Displacement, Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan, 2009).

13 Chatty, Dawn and Mansour, Nadine, “Unlocking Protracted Displacement: An Iraqi Case Study,” Refugee Survey Quarterly 30 (2011): 134 .

14 Luigi Achilli, “Syrian Refugees in Jordan: A Reality Check” (report for the Migration Policy Centre, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Florence, Italy, 2015); Layla Al-Zubaidi and Heiko Wimmen, “No Place like Home: Iraqi Refugees between Precarious Safety and Precipitous Return” (report for Henrich Böll Stifting, Beirut, Lebanon, 2008).

15 Mason, “The Im/mobilities of Iraqi Refugees in Jordan.”

16 Bocco, Riccardo and Djalili, Mohammad-Reza, eds., Moyen-Orient: Migration, démocratisation, meditations (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994); Chatelard, Géraldine, “The Politics of Population Movements in Contemporary Iraq: A Research Agenda,” in Writing the History of Iraq: Historiographic and Political Challenges, ed. Tejel, Jordi et al. (Hackensack, N.J.: World Scientific Publishing Company, 2012), 359–78; Chatty, Dawn, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Marianne Madoré, “The Peaceful Settlement of Syrian Refugees in the Eastern Suburbs of Beirut: Understanding the Causes of Social Stability” (working paper for the Civil Society Knowledge Center, Lebanon Support, Beirut, Lebanon, 2016); Shami, Seteney, “Transnationalism and Refugee Studies: Rethinking Forced Migration and Identity in the Middle East,” Journal of Refugee Studies 9 (1996): 333 .

17 Shami, “Transnationalism and Refugee Studies,” 3. This concern for regionalism in studies of displacement in the Middle East has intersected with a growing tendency in refugee studies to see displacement as a process, and “refugeeness” as a subjectivity that people can come to inhabit in various ways. See, for instance, Gass, Anya, “Becoming the ‘Refugee’: Creation of a Gendered Subjectivity among Male Asylum Seekers in Switzerland,” Tijdschrift Voor Genderstudies 17 (2014): 115–29; Ahmed Karadawi, “Definition of a Refugee: Changing Concepts” (paper presented at the “Khartoum Refugee Seminar,” Khartoum, Sudan, 1982); and Malkki, Liisa, Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

18 Chatelard, Géraldine, “What Visibility Conceals: Re-Embedding Refugee Migration from Iraq,” in Dispossession and Displacement: Forced Migration in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Chatty, Dawn and Finlayson, Bill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1744 .

19 Except for Egypt, no Middle Eastern state has adopted the 1951 UNHCR Convention on Refugees or implemented domestic asylum laws. Generally, Middle Eastern countries have ad hoc regulations governing the presence of Arabs on their territory. See UNHCR, “The Middle East: Recent Developments,” 2006, accessed 20 January 2017, Jordan does not have a domestic asylum regime, and, since it signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR in 1998, it has subcontracted the identification of refugees for the purposes of resettlement and distribution of international aid. At the time of this research, Jordan considered Iraqis and Syrians to be regular migrants who could obtain long-term residence by depositing JD 25,000 (approx. $35,000) in a Jordanian bank, investing in business, buying property, or securing formal employment. Those unable to do so were considered “guests,” an informal designation that allowed them to stay in Jordan and freely access basic government health and educational services, but did not confer citizenship or work rights. The more varied and complex status of Palestinians is beyond the scope of this article. On regulations pertaining to Iraqis and Syrians in Jordan between 2010 and 2013, see “Itijahat al-Raʾi al-ʿAmm nahu al-Azma al-Suriyya” (report by the Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan, Amman, Jordan, 2012); Rochelle Davis and Abbie Taylor, “Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon: A Snapshot from Summer 2013” (report for the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 2013); and Dorai, Mohamed Kamal, “Le Moyen-Orient, principal espace d'accueil des réfugiés irakiens,” in Migreurop, Altas des migrants en Europe. Géographie critique des politiques migratoires (Paris: Armand Colin, 2009), 109–11. On regulations pertaining to Palestinians in Jordan, see El-Abed, Oroub, “Immobile Palestinians: The Impact of Policies and Practices on Palestinians from Gaza in Jordan,” in Mondes En mouvements. Migrants Au Moyen-Orient au tournant du XXIe siècle, ed. Jaber, Hana and Métral, France (Beirut, Lebanon: Institut français du Proche-Orient, 2005), 8192 ; and Gabbay, Shaul M., “The Status of Palestinians in Jordan and the Anomaly of Holding a Jordanian Passport,” Journal of Political Science and Public Affairs 2 (2014): 113–19.

20 Chatelard, “What Visibility Conceals.”

21 Ibid., 32–33.

22 Chatelard, Géraldine, “Cross-Border Mobility of Iraqi Refugees,” in “Adapting to Urban Displacement,” ed. Marion Couldrey and Maurice Herson, special issue, Forced Migration Review 34 (2010): 6061 .

23 Ibid.; Ashraf Al-Khalidi, Sophia Hoffmann, and Victor Tanner, “Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-Based Snapshot” (report for the Brookings Institution–University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement, Washington, D.C., 2007).

24 Chatty, Dawn, “Iraqi Refugees in the Arab World: Ottoman Legacies and Orientalist Presumptions,” in Managing Muslim Mobilities: Between Spiritual Geographies and Global Security Regimes, ed. Fábos, Anita and Isotalo, Riina (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 2138 .

25 For a history of population movements into Jordan since the early 20th century, see Marwan Daoud Hanania, “From Colony to Capital: A Socio-Economic and Political History of Amman, 1878–1958” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 2011).

26 Allan, Diana, Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2013).

27 Achilli, Luigi, Palestinian Refugees and Identity: Nationalism, Politics and the Everyday (London: I.B.Tauris, 2015).

28 Chatelard, “What Visibility Conceals.” Hala Fattah similarly argues that Iraqis who came to Jordan in 1958 following the toppling of the Iraqi monarchy were also integrated into their respective social classes in Jordan. See Fattah, “Les autres Irakiens: Émigrés et exilés d'avant 2003 en Jordanie et leurs récits d'appartenance,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 117–18 (2007): 127–36.

29 Jackson, Michael, Life within Limits: Well-Being in a World of Want (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 59, 70.

30 Lambek, Michael, introduction to Ordinary Ethics: Anthropology, Language, and Action, ed. Lambek, Michael (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 136 .

31 Batatu, Hanna, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), 9 .

32 This amounts to approximately $280 and $500, respectively.

33 Baylouny, Anne Marie, “Militarizing Welfare: Neo-Liberalism and Jordanian Policy,” Middle East Journal 62 (2008): 277303 ; Greenwood, Scott, “Jordan's ‘New Bargain’: The Political Economy of Regime Security,” Middle East Journal 57 (2003): 248–68.

34 The World Bank estimated that poverty in Jordan had been eliminated in the mid-1980s only to rise to 20 percent in 1991 and 30 percent in 2000 (with the poverty line defined as the minimum adult caloric intake combined with the cost of basic necessities, such as housing). See Yasmeen Tabbaa, “The Poor and Poorer: Poverty and the Middle Class in Jordan,” Muftah, 13 January 2011, accessed 1 November 2016,

35 Baylouny, “Militarizing Welfare”; Saleem Haddad, “Jordan's Protests: Political Economy, Protest and Empire,” Muftah, 22 November 2012, accessed 1 November 2016,

36 Baylouny, “Militarizing Welfare.”

37 Baylouny estimates that “from 2000 to 2010, the real estate market increased from about 93 million $ to 381 million $—mainly attributed to Iraqis who were primary foreign investors.” Ibid., 104.

38 Abu-Hamdi, Eliana, “Neoliberalism as a Site-Specific Process: The Aesthetics and Politics of Architecture in Amman, Jordan,” Cities 60 (2017): 102–12; Schwedler, Jillian, “The Political Geography of Protest in Neoliberal Jordan,” Middle East Critique 21 (2012): 259–70.

39 Schwedler, Jillian, “Amman Cosmopolitan: Spaces and Practices of Aspiration and Consumption,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 30 (2010): 547–62; Tobin, Sarah A., “Jordan's Arab Spring: The Middle Class and Anti-Revolution,” Middle East Policy 19 (2012), accessed 15 October 2016,

40 Tobin, “Jordan's Arab Spring.”

41 Ibid.

42 Sara Ababneh, “The Responses to Identity Politics in the Jordanian Popular Movements (Hirak)” (presentation at the workshop “Jordan in the New Sectarian Middle East,” Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan, Amman, Jordan, 11 August 2016); Schwedler, “The Political Geography of Protest in Neoliberal Jordan.”

43 Greenwood, “Jordan's ‘New Bargain’”; Haddad, “Jordan's Protests”; Schwedler, “The Political Geography of Protest in Neoliberal Jordan.”

44 Greenwood, “Jordan's ‘New Bargain.’”

45 Ahmed Amin Mohamed and Hania Hamdy, “The Stigma of Wasta: The Effect of Wasta on Perceived Competence and Morality” (working paper, vol. 5, Faculty of Management, German University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt, 2008), 1.

46 Rabo, Annika, A Shop of One's Own: Independence and Reputation among Traders in Aleppo (London: I.B.Tauris, 2005), 147 .

47 The Le Royal hotel was financed by Iraqi businessmen and inaugurated in 2002 by King ʿAbd Allah. See “Jordan and Iraq: A Big Mac Future,” The Economist, 19 September 2002, accessed 15 October 2016,

48 See UNHCR, “Syria Emergency—Background,” 2016, accessed 10 April 2016,

49 Similarly, in writing about Palestinian refugees in Syria, Nell Gabiam discusses the perceived opposition between refugee status and material well-being. Gabiam, , The Politics of Suffering: Syria's Palestinian Refugee Camps (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2016).

50 Françoise De Bel-Air, “State Policies on Migration and Refugees in Jordan” (discussion paper for the “Meeting on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Middle East and North Africa,” Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program, American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt, 2007), accessed 15 October 2016,

51 Ong, Aihwa, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006), 76 .

52 This equates to approximately $2,800. I was never able to verify that such rumors were true. When I mentioned them to IOM staff, they said that they were aware of them, and that they worked hard in their interactions with refugees to clarify that IOM services were free and that all instances of bribery should be brought to their attention.

53 Ho, Karen, “Situating Global Capitalisms: A View from Wall Street Investment Banking,” Cultural Anthropology 20 (2005): 83 . Ho describes this as a “flexible capability” that is central to neoliberalism.

54 This equates to approximately one hundred dollars.

55 World Health Organization, “Health System Profile—Jordan,” 2006, accessed 20 January 2017,; Seeley, Nicolas, “The Politics of Aid to Displaced Iraqis in Jordan,” Middle East Research and Information Project 40 (2010): 3742 . Since 2014, free access to government health services for Syrians has been curtailed. See Amnesty International, “Living on the Margins: Syrian Refugees in Jordan Struggle to Access Health Care,” 2016, accessed 20 January 2017,

56 See Mason, “The Im/mobilities of Iraqi Refugees in Jordan.”

57 In 2014, for instance, fully one-third of Jordan's population lived below the poverty line at some point in the year. See Omar Obeidat, “Third of Jordan's Population Below Poverty Line at Some Point of One Year Study,” Jordan Times, 2 July 2014, accessed 1 November 2016,

58 I borrow the phrase “life within limits” from Michael Jackson's work on well-being. See Jackson, Life within Limits.

59 Ibid., 69.

60 This equates to approximately $280 to $350.

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