Birds from Palestine: Performing national belonging in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon


  • Kim Boeskov Assistant Professor | Rhythmic Music Conservatory | Denmark


This paper explores the social effects of a community music program in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, with particular focus on how social music making is implicated in the constitution of cultural identities, national consciousness, and agency. Using ethnographic methods of participant observation and semi-structured interviews, I show how the music program provides the young Palestinians with templates for national belonging that become powerful means of social inclusion and experiences of self-worth, pride, and empowerment. However, I also consider whether these effects can be said to rely on the participants’ subjection to socially and institutionally valid notions of Palestinian identity and forms of belonging. I argue that musical participation is implicated in asserting an essentialist notion of Palestinian identity that potentially reduces the complexity of the lived experiences of the young Palestinians and excludes other possible modes of belonging and self-understanding. In this way, the analysis draws attention to the ambiguous role of musical learning and performance in musical-social work.