Constructive Exceptionality

Spontaneous urbanization and recovered agency in Zaatari refugee camp


  • Sara al Nassir Institute of Urban and Regional Planning | Technische Universität Dresden




refugee camp, production of space, duality, agency, structure


In the increasingly urbanized Zaatari refugee camp, one prominent market street, Al-Souq, stands out as contributing to the creation of a camp city, thereby challenging the view of camps as temporary settlements. While the spatial transformation of Zaatari is indisputable, there has been little investigation into how such a transformative process has taken place. This paper questions how the interplay between human agency and structure produces space in the camp, and, eventually, the city. To this end, Al-Souq, the main market street in Zaatari, has been chosen as a case study. Employing an explorative narrative approach, the main findings denote a constructive exceptionality that facilitates space creation as well as a consequential inclusion of refugees in the camp. Furthermore, the spatial construction of Al-Souq shows that refugees are in fact active agents. Therefore, the paper concludes by offering an alternative conceptualization of camps, i.e. that they are not necessarily temporary, as well as refugees, i.e. that they are not aid-dependent victims. These notions contradict traditional humanitarian perceptions.

How to Cite

al Nassir, S. (2020). Constructive Exceptionality: Spontaneous urbanization and recovered agency in Zaatari refugee camp. Research in Urbanism Series, 6, 81–98.



Author Biography

Sara al Nassir, Institute of Urban and Regional Planning | Technische Universität Dresden

Social pedagogue at the Ausländerrat Dresden e.V. and part time senior researcher at the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning, Technische Universität Dresden (Germany).


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