Impartial in the Cold War? The Challenges of Détente, Dissidence, and Eastern European Membership to Amnesty International’s Policy of Impartiality

Abstract: Amnesty International was born in the highly politicized context of the East-West conflict commonly known as the Cold War with the intention of transcending its fault lines. It developed a politics of impartiality that was however deeply rooted in the Cold War paradigm and followed the example of the Red Cross and its humanitarian activism. These two features impeded organization’s navigation of the fluctuating dynamics between East and West and hampered the emergence of a local membership beyond the Iron Curtain in the 1970s. Continue reading → Continue reading →

Humanitarianism Governed: Rules, Identity, and Exclusion in Relief Work

Abstract: This essay investigates the origins and implications of humanitarian self-regulation. It analyzes two cases: the Sphere Project and the Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. Through archival research and interviews, self-regulation is shown to emerge from a crisis of legitimacy that destabilized assumptions as to the inherent goodness of aid. But what must be done—and how? The article presents the contests—ideational and material—for position that informed regulatory debates. For aid veterans, self-regulation emerged as a vehicle to shift the very bases of humanitarian Continue reading → Continue reading →

Desiring the Other and Decolonizing Global Solidarity: Time and Space in the Anti-Vedanta Campaign

Abstract: This paper considers a case study of Survival International’s campaign in support of the Dongria Kondh adivasi community of Odisha, India, and that community’s ultimately successful struggle to prevent mining company Vedanta from acquiring their sacred mountain, Niyamgiri. I argue this case presents an ethical conundrum for those of us interested in decolonizing solidarity: politically effective work rewards relationships and representations that shore up the making of radical Otherness, its valorization, and desires to know and help the radical Other. Rather than simply condemn Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Image World of Maternal Mortality: Visual Economies of Hope and Aspiration in the Global Campaigns to Reduce Maternal Mortality

Abstract: This essay explores the aesthetic and narrative conventions of the still and moving images deployed in global campaigns to reduce maternal mortality since the 1980s.  I focus on how an international community of advocates, policy makers, and practitioners choose, understand, and use images to create awareness, rouse public sympathy and interest, and call people to action on this issue. I argue that the global maternal health community has constructed an “image world” not of suffering but of hope and aspiration by which they hope Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Emergence of Human Rights in Colombia: Revolutionary Promise or Survival Strategy?

Abstract: This essay assesses two recent books that consider the rise of human rights activism in Colombia’s oil capital (the city of Barrancabermeja) during the 1970s and 1980s. Lesley Gill (Vanderbilt University) and Luis van Isschot (University of Toronto) give two interpretations of the political and social role of human rights ideals in the midst of a brutal armed conflict. The two accounts differ in the relationship that the authors find between the rise of neoliberalism and human rights. While Gill shows that human rights Continue reading → Continue reading →


Abstract: This essay reviews three books: Larissa MacFarquhar, Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help (Penguin Press 2015); Jennifer Rubenstein, Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs (Oxford University Press 2015); and Peter Singer, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically (Yale University Press 2015). The essay traces some similarities and differences between various modes of altruism and humanitarianism, arguing that the shared moral vision that animates Continue reading → Continue reading →

For “Against Self-Determination”

This post is part of a symposium on Joseph Massad’s essay “Against Self-Determination.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Self-determination has been impressively well studied by international jurists, political philosophers, and, more latterly, as a renascent source of inquiry for historians.[1] Joseph Massad’s work contributes to what is a daunting field, and also, interacts with the more austere scholarly terrain on the subversive functioning of the discourse.[2] It also, more obliquely, confirms the salience of the recent pursuit of more globally oriented Continue reading →

The Continued (if Limited) Emancipatory Potential of Self-Determination

This post is part of a symposium on Joseph Massad’s essay “Against Self-Determination.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Joseph Massad’s article “Against Self-Determination” offers a passionate, even polemical critique of what he calls the Wilsonian vision of self-determination. This is not the Wilsonian vision as laid out by Erez Manela, however, but rather a legitimizing ideology for the “right of conquest” of settler-colonial nations and peoples, as against the more emancipatory vision of Lenin and like-minded anticolonial nationalists. “Settler-colonists would only Continue reading →

Indigenous Self-Determination: A Response to Massad

This post is part of a symposium on Joseph Massad’s essay “Against Self-Determination.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. In his essay, Massad argues that the dominant form of self-determination has actually been used to reject various nations’ claims to self-determination. States only became open to the recognition of the right of self-determination, Massad claims, when such recognition would not include independence. Massad draws analogies between the Palestinian case and the cases of indigenous peoples around the world and discusses how colonisers Continue reading →

Decolonial Self-Determination and ‘No-State Solutions’

This post is part of a symposium on Joseph Massad’s essay “Against Self-Determination.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. In his trenchant essay, “Against Self-Determination,” Joseph Massad deftly argues that colonizing states crafted the dominant form of self-determination to limit the claims of anticolonial nationalism and enhance the claims of colonialism. He further zones in on the ways in which these structural limitations have served settler colonial states in ways that constrain indigenous peoples’ claims and access to their traditional territories—lands that Continue reading →