Spaces of Frustration”

Spatial Aspects of Social and Economic Disappointments of Disadvantaged Urban Youth (e.g. Amman Metropolitan Area)




The formation of a culture of disappointment and a “resignational” lifestyle among the disadvantaged urban youth is the first issue to be discussed. The socioeconomic and political background of individual and collective social practices will be examined. Special attention will be given to the roll of satellite television and internet as well as to radical Islam and urban segregation in the formation of resignational attitudes.

Another important issue is the spatial aspect of disappointment and resignation among the youth. It includes an analysis of spaces, where the disappointment develops (passive roll) and spaces, where the resignation materializes (active roll). Spaces can be physical (house, street, mosque, club) or virtual (cyberspace, imagined geographies). The mechanism of spaces’ transformations and spatial interactions will be outlined.

By exemplifying 8 case studies of young disadvantaged females and males in Amman Metropolitan Area, the study goes beyond the theory and the quantitative inquiry to expose a qualitative differentiation of “resignational” lifestyles and a typology of spaces of frustration. The Habermasian notion on public sphere and the heterotopies of Foucault compose the theoretical framework of the study.



The Arab societies have been facing new challenges since the end of the Cold War. On the one hand, political and economical liberation programs, national security strategies and plans to solve regional conflicts are on the agenda. On the other hand, demographic explosion, unemployment, impoverishment, ideological radicalization, new media and information technologies are flourishing. With the start of the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories in the late 80s, the political situation in the region has been changing rapidly and dramatically; on the Arab-Israeli track, the rise and fall of Oslo Process and the vanishing hopes of “peace dividends”; in the Gulf, the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and the still existing volatile unstable political situation; In North Africa, the civil war in Algeria etc.

            The disadvantaged groups of the population are the first to suffer under the negative developments in economy and policy. The social and individual adjustment process of the disadvantaged groups gains (sub)cultural shape, especially when the negative developments have a long-term character. In particular, youth develops new forms of lifestyle and social behavior which outline the depth and the variety of the on-going changes. The term “youth” should be understood as an age-segment of the population between 15 and 25 years of age1. Youth in general is the most socially active segment of the population. The urban youth, more precisely the disadvantaged urban youth specifically, plays a very important role in shaping the public spheres. The shaping process depends on the level of social participation and tolerance as well as on the existence of political democracy in the society. The shaping could have an evolutionary or revolutionary character.

Public spheres provide analytical space that integrates different social phenomena. The social practices of individuals and communities reflects themselves in shaping, designing and structuring new spaces of interaction. Spaces of frustration are spaces of interaction, where a culture of disappointment is formed, reflected and “lived”.

            A cluster of internal and external factors influenced political, economical and social changes in Jordan. The process of political liberalization, the Wadi-Araba peace treaty, the “Gulf-returnees”, the strengthening of the anti-peace coalition in Israel, the second Palestinian uprising, the Iraq embargo, the rise of militant “Islamic” movements and the international anti-terror campaign are just some of the best known factors. Amman Metropolitan Area (AMA) includes the cities of Amman, Zarka, Salt, Madaba and Ruseifa. It is an urban agglomeration with more than three million inhabitants. It is the political, commercial, industrial and cultural center of Jordan.

            This paper is based on a questionnaire prepared by the author in years 2001-2002. The number of those interviewed is 100 young persons between 18 and 24 years old, 50 females and 50 males who, live in AMA. All the interviewees have a monthly income of less than 70 JD per month (100 US$). Qualitative interviews were carried out in the only eight below-mentioned case studies.

The Formation of Culture of Disappointment

            The roots of the formation of a culture of disappointment are to be found in the local and regional socioeconomic development as well as in the far-reaching changes in technologies of communications and information systems. The limited success of social modernization processes in Jordan was accompanied in the last 15 years by economic difficulties and on-going regional and local political crises. The process of political and economical liberalization and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process lost their intensity and power within a few years. On the one hand, the dividends of peace did not  materialize and the demographic growth decreased the positive effects of the economic development. On the other hand, the liberal economic strategy increased the process of social stratification and could not positively influence the growing impoverishment of significant parts of the urban middle class.

            The revolution of information technologies confronted society with new images and arguments, communication possibilities and a re-examination of its own identity. A huge number of free/cheap satellite television channels resulted in diminishing the influence of the state-owned television channels, up till then the most important national news mediator and public opinion maker. The internet is flourishing, although, due to unabated high costs, it is mainly popular among the advantaged groups. Nevertheless, the large number of internet-cafes and the easy access to the web in clubs and universities as well as the possibility of quick circulation by print of the information are increasing the importance of the internet.


Poverty and Social Degradation

            Poverty means more than low income. Riley, Fiori and Ramiraz point out that poverty is “a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, lived differently by different people, and signifying much more than low income. “The poor” as a category should not be seen as homogeneous, and furthermore some groups need to be singled out for special attention, most notably women and children, who are frequently more vulnerable to poverty than others2. Not only the gender and/or the age groups need special attention, but indeed the genesis of poverty groups must be singled out. The so-called “near-poor” groups play a central role in impoverishment and poverty alleviation processes. It is important to point out that in the case of Jordan, it is not only the amount of income that affects a person’s life chances but rather “the regularity and security of that income and the person’s control over how it is allocated”.3

            The World Bank and the Norwegian Fafo-Institute came to the same results in 1998 that about 15% of the Jordanian households are “poor” (less than 1450 JD per year), while the figures from ESCWA in 1996 indicated that as much as 23% of the population was poor4. Recent studies by Bakir and the German Development Institute estimate that 23% of the households and 31% of the population were poor5. The unemployment rates reached  as much as 27% and among the youth in the age group of 20-24 up to 43% according to a unique survey done by the Center of Strategic Studies / University of Jordan in 1996.6

            Poverty and unemployment are major factors in re-organizing and re-structuring urban spaces. The processes of formation of slums, slum-like quarters and the “downgrading” of residential areas depend strongly on long-term unemployment and on the ability to profit from poverty alleviation programs and upgrading projects.7 The so-called “urban pockets of poverty” represent more than places where poor people live: they are symbols of social degradation, especially for the members of the middle class who are not able to leave the “downgraded” residential area or have to move into such quarters. The urban aspect of poverty and impoverishment plays a major role in the formation of a culture of disappointment.

            94% of the interviewed youth described themselves as poor. Only 22% believe that there are poorer people than they are and 72% expect the situation to deteriorate in the future. Sixty-two percent said that the reputations of the quarters in which they live have been getting worse in the last 10 years and 74% wish to move into better quarters.


Lairs Everywhere. New Media and Information Flow

            The sudden information revolution forced a “crises of trust” on the former common information providers. Print media, radio and television were and are generally state-controlled and strongly censored. Although, this does not automatically mean that the new media is not “controlled” and/or “censored”, the image of a free new media dominates.8 The process of political liberation in Jordan includes new publication and press laws. A huge number of yellow press publications dominated the market in the early 90s. Besides that, the positive effects of lifting the censorship on books and publication were easily visible. Nevertheless, with the rise of fundamental political Islam and especially after the signing of the Wadi-Araba peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, new regulations on the press were implemented. Of course, some scandalous issues and financial problems in the branch of print-media made such regulation easier and more acceptable. But in long-term strategy, the distrust in the local media landscape has been rapidly increasing.

Al-Jazeera satellite television channel is today the most important information provider of the mass media. The conflicts between Al-Jazeera and official Jordan and/or other Arab governments increase the creditability of the channel in the eyes of the viewers. The concept of the channel is based on a mix of high professionalism, actuality, polemic, sensation and emotionally-loaded pictures. Although in Jordan “only” 60% of the population support Al-Jazeera (24% have “reservations” as to its programs, 16% oppose it)9, its informational importance and impact on political discussions and public opinion building is out of question.

Other satellite channels have no all-Jordanian influence. Each channel has its “fans”. The viewers are rather more program-oriented than channel-oriented. The Lebanese Al-Manar and the Saudi Iqra’ channels are popular among the religious-conservative public. The Lebanese LBC, Al-Mustaqbal and MBC are popular for their entertainment programs and shows. Dubai, Abu-Dhabi, Bahrain, ART, Nile TV, Syrian and Egyptian satellite channels are seen by families mainly for the movies. CNN is seen less today than in the mid 90s, the era before Al-Jazeera.

Internet provides a huge possibility for information and communication. Even between the disadvantaged youth, the internet is an issue: How to find money for a one or two hours session in an internet café? What to see or to read and where to find it? Which café is cheaper? A lot of talk about the web, but less us of it. The regular users have regular web sites which they visit and read. Some of them have email accounts through free providers. A small number of them use the internet not only as a source of information but for communication as well. “Identity switching” and anonymity are often used as well, especially on sites for personal contacts and political discussions. For the youth, who have a better accessibility to internet (educational institutions, youth centers, clubs etc.), cyber space is replacing reality in terms of expression, education, dreaming and self-realization.

Different media, the enormous flow of information and the general lack of experience in dealing with huge amounts of arguments, facts and fictions create an almost absurd atmosphere of self-confidence in their fatuous argumentation in which the others are lairs or “not-informed”. The acceptance of one source of information, one possible explanation and argumentation is serving the formation of new youth cohorts and peer-groups. Youth groups are loosing their internal dynamic of discussions and contra-argumentation: members who have better access to information technologies are dominating the groups by “exposing” amounts of “facts” and “argumentation”.

The data of the questionnaire shows that 88% of the interviewers watch television up to two hours daily; 42% up to four hours. Al-Jazeera channel is the most important news channel for 79% of the them, although only 48% watch it daily. 68% of the youth have already used an internet, but only 31% on regular base (at least once weekly). 22% said that they have an email address, but only 14% used the email on a regular basis. It looks as though the interviewees underestimate the amount of time they spend watching television and overestimate and elaborate their internet activities in public.


“Resignational” Lifestyle

            Modern lifestyle and social behavior theories differentiate between long-term and short-term changes as well as between individual and collective behavior10. A resignational lifestyle is a result of social pessimism and the domination of a culture of disappointment. It reflects itself in different forms: aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression, political extremism etc. The form of reflection by individuals depends on personal qualities, social and familiar backgrounds. Nevertheless, general tendencies are to be noticed by the urban disadvantaged youth; political radicalization, identity crises, social and spatial isolation.


Political Radicalization. Protests and Alternatives

            The possibilities of participation in the process of political liberalization in the 90s were indeed short and limited. The euphoria of the first free national elections, the “National Charter”, the lifting of the “Emergency Laws” and the unshackling of the press did not last long. The Jordan-Israeli peace treaty forced corrections and new restrictions on the political liberalization process. The election victories of the anti-peace political powers and the shift to the right in Israel as well as the deteriorating economic situation in the country have given a huge push for political populism and political radicalism.

            The feeling of being “left behind” and ignored by the political system resulted in pessimism and resignation towards political issues. “Helplessness” is the most repeated description of the individual influence on the national political and economic life. Eighty-six percent of the interviewed youth said that they have definitely no influence on the country’s policies and 70% said that elections and Parliament can not change any thing. The second important description is “protest”. Seventy-five percent of those interviewed evaluated highly the protest actions, although they were aware that protests would not contribute to changes. “Protest for protest” radicalizes the protesters and pushes them into nihilistic and populist ideologies. The importance of practical alternatives is ignored by the radical and fundamental political movements. The disadvantaged youth make the largest group of the supporters of protest political movements.

            Alternative political concepts and programs are a priori ignored by the majority of the disadvantaged youth. They are described as “intellectual exercises” and “political maneuvering”. Sixty-five percent of the interviewed youth said that they are ready to join the protest  campaigns organized by the opposition parties (Islamic Action Front, Leftist and Arab-National parties); meanwhile, they are sure that these parties would not act differently if they were in power.


Looking for Icons. Self-Identification Process

            The crises of trust concerning all the official players of the political system force the youth to look for idols and icons elsewhere. Protest movements and personalities are the icons of the disadvantaged youth. The political and ideological spectrum of the icons is indeed very rich and contrasted; Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden belong to them as well as Jamal Abdel-Nasser, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandella, Leith Shbeilat, Tujan Faisal and Princess Haya; the Palestinian Uprising, the Lebanese Hisb Allah, Kusovo fighters and the Taliban. Beyond politics, Egyptian and American stars as well as Lebanese entertainers are part of the icons’ spectrum; Ahmad Zaki, Madonna, Schwartzeneger and Najwa Karam. The fascination of power, wealth, beauty and popularity dominates the icon world of the disadvantaged youth. An interesting point is the mix of totally different icons: Princess Haya and Che Guevara, Tujan Faisal and Schwartzeneger or even Bin Laden and Nelson Mandella.

The identification chaos points out the depth of the identity crises and the mess in the life-orientation process of the disadvantaged youth. Beyond  the “macro” identities (Arab, Muslim, Gender), no further identification elements seem to be present. Identification  through citizenship, locality, clan and family, political orientation, sexual orientation, profession, age etc. are all  up for discussion, or out of  the question (taboos). One hundred percent of the interviewees identified themselves as Arabs and 97% as Muslims (3% as Christians), 50% as females and 50% as males. The difficulties appeared first as concerns the identification with Jordanian citizenship; 55% said they were Palestinians, 18% East-Jordanian and 21% citizens of Jordan (6% did not reply). The identification with localities (place of  residence), cities and quarters, confused the interviewees; 82% replied that they did not identify with the cities in which they lived. Nevertheless, 38% identity with the quarter in which they reside. Practically all (92%) the young Palestinian refugees living inside the refugee camps showed a very high degree of identification with their place of residence. While only 43% of the youth identify with their clans, 88% identify with their families. Forty-two percent refused to talk openly about their political preferences and more than 60% said that sexuality and sexual experiences are a taboo topic (68% females and 53% males). Only 21% of the youth identify with their professions, skills and education.


My House. My Castle. My Prison

            For the female disadvantaged youth, the family house is the safe place in the traditional sense. It is the place where a female finds protection. Seventy-two percent of the female youth described the family house as the safe castle. Sixteen percent said it is a prison, while 12% said it is a mixture of both. Nevertheless, 83% said it is a transit location while waiting to get married.

            In contrast, the attitudes of the male youth: 55% described the family house as prison and 32% as a mixture of safe castle and prison. Seventy-three percent said that they can not express themselves freely at home and can not live their own lives. Forty-eight percent are afraid that they would not be able to leave the family house “in time” because of financial difficulties.

            Both females and males were united that the family house is not the place where a person can relax and rest. Sixty-eight percent said that they would prefer to live with friends, but the society and the family would not condone it. Seventy-seven percent said that a private room within the family house would be a step in the right direction, although 97% do not see any possibility of getting a private room.

It is clear that the disadvantaged youth are not satisfied with their living conditions. But it was a some kind of surprise that they are not satisfied with their families either. It is not only the lack of private space or the so called generational conflict that cause the youth to drift away from their families, it is rather the psychological pressure inside the family and the self-frustration that they are not in command of their own current and future status.


Spaces of Frustration

         Spaces, according to David Harvey, are results and reflections of social practice11. One “locality” may be a base for more than one Space. Different aspects of social practice could configure different spaces. The center of the social practice is the individual and his personal and collective social networks, which depend on the socioeconomic, political and environmental situation of the society and of the personality.

Spaces of frustration are spaces in which the culture of disappointment and the resignational lifestyle are formed and practiced. There are two types of spaces of frustration: passive, where individuals are receivers and acceptors (where the culture of disappointment and the resignational lifestyle are formed); and active, where individuals are makers and donors (where the culture of disappointment is expressed and the resignational lifestyle is “lived”).

The theoretical discussions on space in modern geography have their roots in the applied criticism of the Foucault’ian heterotopies by Giddins and Lefebvre. Lefebvre implemented “social bodies” and the spatio-temporal“. Harvey and Soja presented new concepts of space in the context of modernity and globalization. The new culture geography, especially the so-called critical geography and the feminist geography explore spaces in the post-modernity. Gagen, Aitken, Butler, Brown, Grang, Thrift, etc. re-think the meaning of spaces in time, in bodies’, in power and in behavioral discourses.12

Spaces of frustration are post-modern open heterotopies, in which individuals, and their bodies, thoughts and reactions function temporarily. The functioning of the individual in a “timespatial” heteroptopy has no geographic borders and no time limits; it is virtual and real; it is current and timeless.13


Passive Spaces of Frustration

            Where and how the frustration forms and accumulates? The frustration is formed and accumulated in spaces where the individual gets information, where he is not able to express himself, where he is “exposed” to social pressure, where he feels “left behind” and “betrayed”, where he is economically “trapped” and where he is not able to satisfy his needs. These are spaces which, due to their nature, organization, function and structure, allow exclusively “up-down” tracks of communication, where the individual is reduced to a receiver.

Such spaces could be real and/or virtual. Real spaces of passive frustration could be undemocratic families, conservative educational systems, bureaucratic public service, streets and public places with special behavior codes, hierarchic youth organizations, books and print media, even clubs and places of prayer used for propaganda aims. Virtual spaces of passive frustrations could be fictional movies, television and internet. Of course, all these spaces are not per se spaces of frustration, but they could be transformed to such places by the way of acceptance and perception of the individual.

The disadvantaged youth singled out five major spaces of passive frustration; the family, the television, the bureaucratic public service, the internet and in the case of the males, public places (streets, squares). Seventy-six percent of the youth said that they cannot express their thoughts and feelings at home, while 62% said that they are not asked  for their opinions. Sixty-eight percent of the females and 62% of the males said that they prefer to accept the dictates of the head of the family without tedious and useless discussion and to express their disagreement outside the family or to simply keep their opinions to themselves. Eighty percent said they get angry about the “lies” and the “unreal life” shown in television programs and series. Eighty-six percent found that the pictures of Palestine make them feel helpless because they do not know how to organize and force more political action. Eighty-four percent pointed out that they feel themselves neglected by public services. Twenty-two percent said that internet provides them with the right information about the situation in the country and the Arab World. They regret the fact that many web-sites are censored, especially the socially critical sites. Sixty-six percent said that there is no place for them to meet friends; even the streets are crowded and strongly controlled.


Active Spaces of Frustration

Active spaces of frustration have a lot of similarity with the passive ones, but they have another function. These are the places where the frustration is exposed and reflected. Family, streets and public places and internet are the main active spaces of frustration. Violence presents the most common way to express the frustration: violence in the family, violence against the younger persons and violence against the “other”. The streets are the place where the so called politically motivated violence is exposed and practiced. They are the places for gangs’ and individual violence. Violence in the family is generally hidden and not publicly exposed.

Nevertheless, violence is a male attribute. Only 16% of the females described themselves as violent, while 72% of the males said that they often react “uncontrolled”. 56% of the males have been involved, at least once in the last three months in a public physical fight. Forty-four percent admitted the they are sometimes “highly aggressive” in the family. The females have had more signs of depression than the males; hysterical cry jags and hyperactivity. Seventy-four percent of the females said that they cry “from the depth of their hearts” at least once weekly.

Demonstrations and protest marches offer to the disadvantaged youth places to express their frustration. Eighty-eight percent of the males and 34% of the females are ready to participate in any demonstration. In reality, only 36% and 8% respectively have been participated, but the potential is there. Internet plays an increasing role in the participation in the public life. Although less than 20% of the disadvantaged youth use the internet, it presents an active alternative to the old media. Fourteen percent of the youth (16% males and 12% females) said that they use the electronic mail system to express their views and opinions. Eight percent have had signed a petition at least once in the last three months. Ten percent said they prefer to remain anonymous in internet chat rooms.

I Do It My Way

            The choice of the following eight examples is intend to expose the different spaces of frustration that the disadvantaged young people in AMA create and form through their social practices14.

Amina versus Nahida

(Amina: Female, 20 years old, 4 brothers and 3 sisters, completed 10 years of schooling, lives in Zarka with her family, single, assistant  seamstress, earns about 60 JD per month)

(Nahida: Female, 21 years old, 3 brothers and 3 sisters, completed 12 years of schooling, lives in Russaifah with her family, single, saleswoman in bookshop, earns about 60 JD per month)


            The daily life of Amina is in her own words “simple and boring”. Each morning she leaves the 3-room house where she lives with her 9-memberfamily (5 younger brothers and sisters, parents and her grandfather - an older sister got married  several months ago) and walks to work at a seamstress shop. She works about 7 hours a day, six days a week. She does not benefit from any kind of social or medical insurance. After work goes straight home where she helps with the housework. She watches television daily; different soap operas and Al-Jazeera’s news. She cannot watch what she wants. The family members have “very often unpleasant discussions”  about which show  will be tuned in. For 6 months, she has been attending an internet café at least twice a month with a friend.  She pays for it from her tips (3-5 JD monthly), because she gives her entire salary to her father. Only her mother knows that she goes there. She is looking for a husband in the web. At least twice a week she suffers from prolonged spells of weeping. She says that “nobody in her family understands her” and that there is “no place” for her in the house. She sleeps with her younger sister in one narrow bed. She is not interested in politics but she knows that “all the politicians are corrupt and lairs”.

            Nahida, on the contrary, is politically very interested and socially active. She regularly visits the meetings of the local Muslim Brothers organization. She reads a lot as well. Her work in the bookshop gives her the possibility of reading many books and newspapers. Her two older brothers encourage her to be socially active. They even accompany her sometimes to protest marches and demonstrations. Political discussions are daily topics in the family of eight. Her older brother works with her father in the family-owned falafel-food-outlet. Another brother goes to technical two-years college. The other brothers and sisters still go to school, but they all help in the food outlet. The boys have small jobs from time to time to earn some pocket money. She wanted to become a nurse, but there was no money and her father did not approve her choice. She is “totally frustrated”, because “nobody is doing a thing to help the Palestinians” and because “they are getting poorer and poorer day by day”. Her family sometimes gets material assistance from local welfare organizations. Satellite television is the only “luxury” they can afford. “Seeing the high standards of living in the Arab soap operas and the amoral entertainment shows of LBC makes me sick. And the reports from Palestine force me to lose control. But what can I do?”.

            Two personalities with different sociopolitical attitudes, but with the same economic backgrounds. Family, work and new media dominate the lives of both of them. Nahida finds in her social and political environment a space where she can partially express herself. Nevertheless, the space of active frustration functions as a space of passive frustration as well. Nahida increases her frustration by exposing it, while Amina increases her frustration by hiding it. Both women find no space to decrease their frustration. Both of them are afraid that the “glass will become over-filled”.

Radi versus Tha’er

(Radi: Male, 24 years old, 2 brothers and 4 sisters, completed 10 years of schooling, lives in Amman with his family, single, former taxi driver, jobless, no income)

(Tha’er: Male, 22 years old, 2 brothers and 3 sisters, completed 2 years of college, lives in Amman with his family, single, jobless,  occasional odd jobs, earns about 50 JD per month)


            Alcohol and joints are the only way to survive. You have to learn to forget”, with this statement Radi concluded our second interview. When I asked about the financing of his alcohol and joint consumption, he said that he has “good and understanding friends”. Radi lives, for all practical purposes, on the streets and at friends’. He hates his  family’s home: “It is merely  a place to live in”. He describes his father as a chronic alcoholic who hits his wife and children. Radi says that he started to drink after he lost his last job. He is not interested in politics  or social issues: “They do not care about us, why  should I care about them?) He is  no longer looking for a job, “useless” he says. “Hanging around” and finding the “right” place to drink and to smoke are his daily agenda. He laughed and did not answer when I asked him if he deals  in drugs, but he told me that he could “help me out” if I needed “stuff”.

            Radi insists that his relationship with his brothers and sisters is “very strong”; they talk often to each other and they help each other. His sisters frequently seek his advice, but his mother wants him to stop drinking. He watches no television and reads no newspapers; “They till only lies. They do not show the real life”.

            Tha’er lives on the streets as well. He is looking for jobs all the time, but he ignores the unofficial labor markets where the immigrants gather. He feels himself ignored by the government and by the opposition. “All of them talk about world politics and Palestine, but nobody ever cares about unemployment or poverty”. Nevertheless, he has participated in demonstrations and protest marches; “We have to show that we are here, that we exist, that we need changes”. Radi leaves the house daily after a quick breakfast and returns in the evening; “Its is a very small and crowded house, no place even to breathe”. He is proud of his emails and his friends abroad; “Thank good, that at least in the internet you can say what ever you want. You can read the truth there as well”. Radi is an internet addicted; “I use any chance to serf in the web. I spend all my money in internet cafes. I am even smoking less now”.

Living partially in public spaces (streets) is “normal” for many disadvantaged urban young men. Streets and squares , for example, gain a totally different character as spaces of more freedom than family homes, even for private needs and personal expression. Cyber space is a new form of spaces, in which elements of public and private spaces are to found; public in terms of openness and accessibility for every body and private in terms of “identity switching”, intimacy and personal privacy.

Nadeem versus Sahira

(Nadeem: Male, 19 years old, 2 brothers and one sister, completed eight years of schooling, lives in Zarka with his family, single,   various oddl jobs, earns about 70 JD per month)

(Sahira: Female, 22 years old, 1 brother and 2 sisters, completed nine years of schooling, lives in Amman with her family, divorced, jobless, no income)


            Nadeem is overwhelmed by the state of the world; “I am willing to do any kind of work, to take any job. I need to know how much money I’ll have in my pocket at the end of the month. But nothing, there is no work”. Of course, Nadeem educational background does not qualify him for skilled work. He argues that the government “imports” low paid and well-qualified workers and as a result, no unskilled jobs are available to the locals. Nadeem is very aggressive  towards his family and in the streets. He  despises himself  for regularly beating his younger brothers and his sister. He is the oldest son. His father has had a second wife (and family) for 5 years. He says that his father does not support them financially. His mother and sister earn their money as housemaids. The brothers go to school in the morning and afternoons  do “some kind ofa work”. When Nadeem has no job, he stays at home and watches television. Once or twice weekly he plays football with friends. Nothing special happens in his life. Nadeem is a very religious person. He believes that political Islam is the single possible way to solve the country’s problems. Nevertheless, he stays away from political parties and activities. He likes to stay home when everybody is out. He then has enough room for himself.


            Sahira, on the contrary, must stay in the two-rooms house practically all the time. She is divorced and has no job. She would like to work, but her father and her brother do not permit it. She does nothing the whole day. Her marriage did not last long, only 20 months, and she has been divorced for one year. The reason is her infertility. She was in love with her husband, but his family did not want her. She says that it was a nice and interesting marriage, but after it became clear that she could not have children, everything changed. Even her own parents hates her. She wants to escape, and is even willing to leave the country entirely. Sahira knows that there is another way of life somewhere else. Her husband was not rich, but he had enough money for a good life. Her husband did not want her to wear a veil. Now her family insists on her wearing the veil. She said that she has always hated the way of life of her family. “Human beings should not live the way we do. This is not a human life”, she keeps repeating. I met her through a female cousin of hers. She was horrified that somebody might find out about our meetings and talks, especially fearing her brother finding out because then he would hit her again. She did not want to talk about the violence she has suffered, but later she admitted that her brother hits her “from time to time”. With the “divorce money”, her family bought a receiver for satellite television channels. She thinks that all channels are the same, “boring”. Only Al-Jazeera is courageous and truthful.

            Private spaces (homes) are sometimes unfortunately spaces of aggression and violence as well. Victims and perpetrators live together in the same house. Active and passive frustrations exist side by side in households and families. Homes are spaces of freedom and privacy for many people, but for others, homes are prison-like spaces. Nevertheless, home presents often the only possible space of warmth, intimacy and privacy, which is the real meaning of home.

Aisha versus Seif

(Aisha: Female, 20 years old, 2 brothers and 3 sisters,school completed 8 years of schooling, lives in Amman with her family, single, helps in the family-owned food outlet, earns 30 JD per month)

(Seif: Male, 20 years old, 1 brother and 4 sisters, completed nine years of schooling, lives in Amman with his family, single, works in food outlet owned by his uncle, earns 60 JD per month)


            Aisha is a hard worker. Her mother suffers from arthritis. She had to leave school to help with the household. She prepares half-raw foodstuffs for the family-owned food outlet. She helps in the outlet as well when her father or her brother needs a break. Aisha is proud that her family has managed to open an outlet. It is located in the room of the house which face the street and practically all the house has become an outlet, thus no more privacy at home. She looks for some privacy in internet. She has saved some money for a three days computer and internet training course. She spends all her money on internet sessions at the local and cheap Social Center of Islamic Women. She meets a lot of women there as well with whom she talks and discusses many “vital issues”. She uses the possibilities of the Center’s small library. Aisha likes to read, but there is not enough room or time for it. She even visits her aunt to watch Al-Jazeera from time to time. She is proud of being veiled and religious. Nevertheless, she cries very often: “At the end of a hard day, I feel myself cheated and neglected. I do not ask myself why? I have to be satisfied with my life, but I hate it and I hate myself because I cannot stop working”.

            Seif, too, leads a very active life. He works in the evening at his uncle’s food outlet, normally daily until 11 p.m. Three times weekly he has a job at an internet café. He is paid in kind by having free internet sessions. He is active politically and socially as well. Seif is a member in the local Youth Center, where he is active on the football team and very active at political meetings. He has one big problem: he suffers from sleeplessness. He has never  seen  a physician and does not believe that  sleeplessness is a kind of illness. He tries to work harder and to  do more sport, but no positive results  have been achieved. I discovered that it is the first time he has spoken  frankly about his problem. He says that he is losing weight and becoming more aggressive. Confronting him with the word “frustration” resulted in him losing his orientation and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He insists that he will not consult a physician.

            Hyperactivity is  recognized as an indication of depression and frustration15. The spaces of active and passive frustration in cases of hyperactivity have indeed flexible boundaries and are endless in number. Nevertheless, households and families, work locations, places of physical, social and political activities could all be transformed and re- thought of as spaces of frustration.



            “Disadvantage” is a category that very much depends on self-definition and self evaluation. The disadvantaged urban youth interviewed for this case study were chosen primarily on the basis of their personal and their families’ economic situations. Not all of them agreed with their characterization as disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the further discussions confirmed the economic characterization as the most important element of the definition.

            Frustration as a psychological situation and/or as an emotional feeling was not the topic of this study, but indeed their spatial reflections. Economic and political disappointments are backgrounds of individual and collective frustration. As the case studies show, family problems often have economic reasons. Lack of privacy and intimacy, lack of space, limited possibilities of education and medical treatment etc. are economically-solvable topics.

            Spaces of frustration are real and virtual spaces, which through individual and/or collective interpretation, are endowed with new attributes and characters. Houses, families, streets, cyber space, work locations etc. are re-thought and re-produced “normal” spaces which are transformed into spaces of frustration by the disappointed disadvantaged urban youth. The transformation takes place through individual activities and lifestyle habits.


1 Schaefers, B. (1998), Soziologie des Jugendalters, Leske+Budrich, Opladen, Germany (in German)


2 Riley, E., Fiori, J. and Ramirez, R. (2001), “Favella Bairro and the New Generation of Housing Programs for the Urban Poor”, Geoforum, 32, (521-531)


3 Doan, I., (1992), quoted in Al-Hamarneh, A., (2002), “Spaces of Poverty-Upgrading/Downgrading the Refugee Camps in Jordan”, paper presented at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES), Mainz, 2002


4 Hanssen-Bauer, J., Pederson, J., Tiltnes, A. (eds.) (1998), Jordanian Society-Living Conditions in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Fafo, Oslo, Norway


5 Improving the Social Protection of the Urban Poor and Near Poor in Jordan, German Development Institute, Bonn, Germany, (2001)


6 Unemployment in Jordan-1996: Preliminary Results and Basic Data, CSS, University of Jordan, Amman (1997)


7 Al-Hamarneh, A., (2002), “Spaces of Poverty-Upgrading/Downgrading the Refugee Camps in Jordan”, paper presented at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES), Mainz, Germany, 2002


8 El-Nawawy, M., Iskandar, A, (2002), Al-Jazeera, Westview Press, Cambridge MA, USA


9 See note 8


10 Schulze, G., (1993), Die Erlebnisgeselschaft. Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart, Frankfurt/NY (in German)


11 Harvey, D., (2000), Spaces of Hope, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK


12 For more information see: Geographies of Young People, by Stuart Aitkin, Closet Space by Michael Brown, Thinking Space by Mike Grang and Nigel Thrift, all in the Series of Critical Geographies, Routledge, London & NY


13 May, J., and Thrift, N., (2001), Timespace, Routledge, London & NY


14 All names are fictive


15 Foulcault, M, (1973), Wahnsinn und Gesellschaft, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (in German)