A seminar with Nadya Hajj, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College, on her recent book Protection Amid Chaos: The Creation of Property Rights in Palestinian Refugee Camps from Columbia University Press.

Moderated by Tarek Masoud, Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, HKS.

Followed by a book signing at the Harvard COOP bookstore, 1400 Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard Square.

About the book

The right to own property is something we generally take for granted. For refugees living in camps, in some cases for as long as generations, the link between citizenship and property ownership becomes strained. How do refugees protect these assets and preserve communal ties? How do they maintain a sense of identity and belonging within chaotic settings?

Protection Amid Chaos follows people as they develop binding claims on assets and resources in challenging political and economic spaces. Focusing on Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, it shows how the first to arrive developed flexible though legitimate property rights claims based on legal knowledge retained from their homeland, subsequently adapted to the restrictions of refugee life. As camps increased in complexity, refugees merged their informal institutions with the formal rules of political outsiders, devising a broader, stronger system for protecting their assets and culture from predation and state incorporation. 

For this book, Nadya Hajj conducted interviews with two hundred refugees. She consults memoirs, legal documents, and findings in the United Nations Relief Works Agency archives. Her work reveals the strategies Palestinian refugees have used to navigate their precarious conditions while under continuous assault and situates their struggle within the larger context of communities living in transitional spaces.

About the author

Nadya Hajj is an assistant professor of political science at Wellesley College. Her research is guided by the central question: What are the origins of institutions in anarchic settings? In particular, how do communities construct institutions without the direction of a state? Her research examines the origins of institutions, namely property rights, in Palestinian refugee camps. Specifically, Hajj examines the formation of property rights with respect to private assets (housing and construction industry sectors) and shared resources (water and electricity). She conducts in-depth and survey interviews in Palestinian refugee camps located throughout Lebanon and Jordan to answer these central research questions.

Hajj's teaching interests focus on comparative politics, comparative political economy, development and underdevelopment, qualitative methods, politics of the Middle East and North Africa, gender and Islam, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

She is actively involved in Wellesley's Arab Women's Association and serves as the Political Science faculty liaison to the Political Science Major's Council.

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