We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Families and Cities


Families and Cities

Cities have long been narrated as spaces in which family and kinship ties weaken, to the point where weak or absent familial relations come to be seen as a measure of urbanity itself. However, family and kinship relations are key modes of engagement and collaboration in cities across the globe. This is particularly the case in Global Southern cities, where such relations are often vital in the face of acute forms of economic, social and political marginality, as Diane Singerman, Abdoumaliq Simone and others have shown. The aim of this study is to employ a grounded theory approach to understand how families make urban life possible in Ramallah through everyday practices that create and maintain specific social, economic and political resources.


Ramallah provides an excellent case because as research by Iris Jean-Klein and Lisa Taraki demonstrates, the family has been a key means of surviving and resisting the political, economic and military violence of Israeli colonialism. Pilot research indicates that Ramallah is also a city where family life is rapidly changing for some residents: recent migrants. Many recent migrants have moved from parts of the West Bank where they lived in houses surrounded by their extended family, to living in Ramallah apartments surrounded by strangers. This migration has also resulted in a growing number of apartment buildings. Data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that in 1997, there were 6.75 houses for every 1 apartment in the West Bank. By 2007, for every 1 house there were 1.24 apartment buildings (a ratio that increases to 1.46 in urban areas), due in part to an almost 10 fold increase in the total number of apartment buildings over the same time period. It is hypothesized that the spatiality of apartment living affords different kinds of family sociality, which in turn feed into economic and political activity.

Research Objectives

  1. Understand how families make urban life possible in Ramallah under conditions of occupation and amidst recent Palestinian Authority led economic change, and how family practices themselves produce and potentially reshape such broader processes;
  2. Augment the few existing studies of Palestinian cities by examining the role of apartment living in Ramallah’s development as the economic, social and political centre of Palestinian life in the West Bank;
  3. Extend recent efforts to develop better understandings of cities in a global context by examining family-based economic, social and political practices that enable people to live in global Southern cities.

Research Questions

1. How do the social lives of families change as a result of living in Ramallah?

(a) How does living in Ramallah reconstitute family relationships?

(b) How does living in Ramallah change quotidian practices of family including child rearing and care, dining, shopping, media consumption and neighbouring?

(c) To what extent do experiences of family life differ among family members?

2. How does family migration create and contribute to different spatial economies in the West Bank?

(a) How is buying or renting property in Ramallah paid for? (by work, practices of family financing (i.e. inheritance, remittances) and/or mortgages)?

(b) To what extent does income earned in Ramallah move to other parts of the West Bank, and what is it used for (i.e. buying land, property, food, paying bills)?

(c) How are the above processes connected to broader economic changes (in un/employment, consumption patterns, aid and investment)?

3. What political practices emerge from family practices?

(a) What kinds of political practice do families make possible?

(b) What political competencies and habits are emerging in, around and through apartment spaces?

(c) How do these political practices engage with, embody, resist and exceed the Israeli Occupation and Palestinian Authority?

4. How can cities be theorized to better reflect family practices that enable urban life?

(a) What insights for urban theory can be generated through a grounded theoretical perspective that begins with quotidian family practices?

(b) How can such insights generate better urban theory, particularly about family-based economic, social and political practices that enable people to live in global Southern cities?

(c) How do everyday lived experiences of family produce, resist and deal with broader processes such as capitalism and colonialism?

For updates, check out the Families and Cities Facebook page.