Research Project: Lebanese Diasporic Village Communities and their Practices of Reproduction and Community Development
In May 2017, the Lebanese-Canadian House was officially inaugurated as part of the Lebanese Diaspora village in the historic centre of Batroun, a coastal city in North Lebanon. Three successful businesspersons who live in the Canadian City of Halifax (Nova Scotia) secured funding for the renovation works and curated the exhibition inside the house. The initiators are also highly engaged in Halifax’s Lebanese community in roles such as the “Lebanese Honorary Consul for the Maritimes” or the “President of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce”. The honorary consul is one of the well-known property developers with roots in the Lebanese village of Diman. While the first immigrants earned their income as peddlers, today’s so-called “Diman developers” are highly involved in the emergence of Halifax’s skyline thanks to their large investments and influence in planning decisions.
Lebanese diasporic village communities have emerged due to emigration that began to intensify during the second half of the 19th century. Many Christians left their villages in Mount Lebanon to seek better economic opportunities abroad. The villages of origin have evolved into points of shared reference and identification for descendants in different parts of the world. Those who live in nearby areas have often formed local associations with specific objectives and strategic orientations (e.g. Diman Center in Halifax). Simultaneously, Christian Lebanese individuals show a long-standing socio-economic integration in the traditional Anglophone immigration countries. Building on these observations, the research project explores the following questions: What are the motives and drivers of individuals to engage in diasporic village communities? Through which practices do members contribute to the preservation, development and local incorporation of these communities? What are the normative directives within Lebanese diasporic village communities?
Within a multi-sited research design, OIB doctoral fellow Marie Karner selected three diasporic communities that identify with Maronite villages in the Wādī Qādīšā as case studies. She qualitatively interviewed members of the “Diman Community”, the “Blouza Community” and the “Kfarsghab Community” in Lebanon, Halifax (Canada), Sydney (Australia), Easton (US) and the UAE. This comparative approach allows her to take the impact of broader socio-economic and political structures into account. She selected the first interview partners based on recommendations of community representatives (e.g. bishops, priests, mayors, presidents of village associations). Later on, she combined this snowball sampling method with the diversity sampling strategy to ensure that the study reflects a wide range of views and practices related to the guidance and support of diasporic village communities. Secondly, Marie was able to conduct participant observation at village feasts, religious ceremonies, organizational meetings and social activities for different age groups. Thirdly, she collected numerous documents produced by and for community members (e.g. family trees, articles, documentaries, photo albums). In addition, she has been tracking the social media presence of the communities.
Since 2014, Marie Karner has conducted annual seasonal field visits to nine Lebanese villages. The one-year doctoral fellowship at the OIB from January until December 2017 has been highly beneficial for the progress of her dissertation. The geographical proximity to Wādī Qādīšā and to the winter residences of community members allows her to interlink the data analyzing process with additional empirical research.