Geopolitics are far from confined to elite diplomacy: they are reflected and negotiated in the day-to-day landscapes of conflict, and they are intimately linked with cities. During Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), Beirut’s hotel district was part of these landscapes. It became the target of militias that fought over wider geopolitical disputes, such as the meaning and territoriality of being Arab or being Lebanese. The hotels were not only targets that happened to be in the cross-fire: their presence in the conflict produced new meaning for the fighting to continue. Today, the skeletons of several hotels still stand out in Beirut’s renovated post-war skyline.
Hotels are more than sites for business and tourism: they are also sites of geopolitical experiences. Beirut’s former hotels, their physical presence, spatial organization and symbolic function, tell us a great deal about the fine line that separates peace from violence, hospitality from hostility, and openness from segregation.
Cosmopolitanism is not the pre-existent attribute of a city: it is a continuous negotiation within and through the city. Discrepant cosmopolitanism – as theorised by James Clifford in 1992 - is a way of going beyond elite visions of cosmopolitanism and of engaging with different types of mobilities and cultures of travel. Discrepant cosmopolitanism allows to make sense of the very little explored relationships between Beirut’s elite and/or vocational cosmopolitan practices (tourism, business, diplomacy, middle and high class leisure), and the rather different mobility cultures of migrant workers, refugees, and urban service classes who often move and travel not by choice, but by necessity (war, economic hardship…). Both groups, with their radically different mobilities and socioeconomic situations, yet shared the site of Beirut’s hotels in different moments in time.
It is the nature of that sharing that the project investigated, and potentially the causes of its failure.