Fall for 2017-2018
This course interrogates the nature of international aid operating in so-called conflict zones and provides detailed studies of how communities so dependent on aid interact with the “dynamics of development”. It will explore critical theoretical questions that arise from development and humanitarianism as lived experiences in the Middle East and North Africa and will provide practical case studies for students to engage the messy and often contradictory dynamics and relationships that are generated.
We will approach these issues thematically, beginning with a critical examination of the humanitarian system as an institutional sector and practice, and the moral imperative that drives it. If, for example, we consider the first basic principle of the humanitarian system, the imperative to help those in need. The key question that follows is who becomes worthy of assistance, and perhaps more decisive, who decides? Another main principle of humanitarianism is neutrality, or the stated effort to operate in accordance with human need rather than political affiliation. Humanitarian assistance thereby claims to operate on an apolitical or impartial basis. This dilemma of accountability highlights a key debate as to what the aims of the humanitarian system should be. Is working to alleviate human suffering sufficient, or even possible, without concurrently working to safeguard human rights? Another key working assumption of humanitarianism is that social crisis is a temporary condition; aid and development policies are thereby tailored towards “stop-gap” relief measures. Yet, in the case studies we will examine, crisis is neither temporary nor random, but systemic and protracted, across multiple generations. Far from a stop gap relief measure, aid organizations have become a key form of administration governing essential aspects of day-to-day livelihood. The course also, therefore, examines key concepts such as crisis and resilience, concepts which often treat human survival and adaptation as self-evident conditions without demonstrating the detailed social processes involved.
In engaging these issues, we will consider some of the following questions:
1. What are the promises of development and why do projects “fail”?
2. What does it mean for individuals and communities to be “resilient” and what are the possible social costs of employing such concepts?
3. What is the relationship between humanitarianism and human rights?
4. What is the role of humanitarianism itself, as ethos and practice, in perpetuating human suffering?
5. What happens when both governments and donors are not held politically accountable to local communities?
6. What is the role of foreign aid as a means of political power in conflict?
7. Are humanitarianism and emancipation compatible?
We will explore these and other debates within the ethnographic contexts of Palestine, Kurds in Turkey, and the Sahrawi of the Western Sahara as our main (but not exclusive) focus.