Imaginary and autonomy: Urbanisation, construction, and cement production in Palestine

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Samir Harb


This thesis focuses on the political ecology of cement and urban processes in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Globally as well as in the Middle East region cement is becoming a central material by which conflicts, new states, and new geographical imaginaries are produced. It is the material that not only bonds physically aggregates, sands, tile, asphalt, but also a material that draws the politics and imaginaries of new geographies together. Based on the case study of Palestine, this thesis contributes to disclosing the political ecology of cement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and within Palestinian discourse. It does this in two ways: through its materiality, on the one hand, and the politics of space and symbolic association, on the other hand. Cement, in this research, works as a critical entry point to various questions and heterogenous socio-spatial relations within the political, economic, and social transformations in the Palestinian territories. Empirically, the thesis will trace the attempt to establish a cement factory, which began in 2014 when the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) decided to begin assembling the first Palestinian cement production line, slated to be completed by 2021. This, it will be argued, contributes to the shaping of a physical autonomy that manifests through the geography of cement. Despite not being recognised as a fully-established state, or having full control over its territories and natural resources due to the prevailing Israeli colonial regime, cement is central in the formation of the Palestinian state-building project and its future imaginary. The understanding of the vast network of associations between cement and human interaction is manifested through the construction activities in Palestinian urban areas. Therefore, I argue that cement is not merely a material that bonds aggregates (sand and gravel) in the process of construction, but also goes beyond its physical element to be a multi-scalar material that links the shattered territories of the West Bank. Building on the notions of imaginary and social formation developed by Cornelius Castoriadis in The Imaginary Institution of Society (Castoriadis, 1987), this thesis explores the question of the social institution of agency and the creation of social autonomy to further understand the imaginaries of cement in the Palestinian context. Additionally, the thesis situates cement in the theoretical debate around urban political ecology approaches to geography and space. Drawing from these approaches, cement is also grasped through concepts like circulation, metabolism, scale and capital accumulation. The study of cement networks, not only puts the work of Castoriadis in relation to urban political ecology, but also questions the very notion of the Nature-Society duality: namely, how do Palestianians (across social classes) imagine and re-imagine nature through cement? In this thesis, cement becomes a material by which an imagined sovereignty is practised that traverses the fragmented geographies of Palestine, recasting urban territory, and performing the politics of statehood.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2020