Issue 3.1


hum.5.1_front_smThis issue starts out with Elizabeth Cullen Dunn’s vivid attack on the assumptions of the contemporary ethnography of humanitarianism, but not with the goal of saving humanitarianism from criticism and doubt. Hannah Mintek’s suite of photos complements the fieldwork informing Dunn’s argument. Nicolas Guilhot offers a critical appraisal of the uses of theory in the same anthropology of humanitarianism, focusing on high-profile recent contributions by Didier Fassin and others. Moritz Feichtinger and Stephan Malinowski recall the colonial precedents for the theory and practice of contemporary counterinsurgency. A dossier on the most recent World Development Report rounds out the offerings.


The Chaos of Humanitarian Aid: Adhocracy in the Republic of Georgia

Recent literature on humanitarianism, which relies heavily on political theory, portrays it as an almost totalitarian means of governing society that reduces its beneficiaries to mere biological life. This vastly overestimates the reach and power of humanitarian governance. Using a case study from the Republic of Georgia, Dunn argues that humanitarianism functions not as well-planned totalitarianism, but as an adhocracy, a form of government based on guesswork, improvisation, and “satisficing.” This not only makes humanitarian regimes far less capable of relieving suffering than their proponents claim, but also makes them far less capable of establishing sovereignty than their critics suggest.Read More »

Photo Essay: Unsettled

In 2008, 28,000 people were ethnically cleansed from the breakaway province of South Ossetia during a brief but brutal war between Georgia and Russia. Their villages were bombed, burned, and in some cases bulldozed to ensure they could never return, and the entire province was occupied by Russia's 58th Army. Because return soon was unlikely, the Georgian government, acting in concert with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and more than ninety-five nongovernmental organizations and donor governments, chose to resettle them in thirty-six hastily built settlements in which they were to rebuild their lives. However, because the aid system was so chaotic, and because most aid agencies were acting in improvised ways, the internally displaced persons were housed in bleak and isolated settlements, unemployed and left to sit in poorly built homes that soon began to decay. Hannah Mintek's photographs offer a window into this scenario.Read More »

Transformative Invasions: Western Post-9/11 Counterinsurgency and the Lessons of Colonialism

During the 1950s, European colonial powers invented new types of warfare, combining military violence, social engineering, and forced “modernization” in the so-called battles for hearts and minds. Feichtinger and Malinowski explore the rediscovery of such techniques, and the subsequent emergence of refined and partly tamed versions of counterinsurgency warfare, in Afghanistan and Iraq during the last decade. The systematic application of anthropological knowledge, a new type of “warrior intellectual” among military leaders, and the representation of war as a necessarily armed form of developmental aid and way to enforce human rights represent a remarkably open appropriation of large parts of Europe’s violent late-colonial heritage.Read More »

Silence, Voices, and "the Camp": Perspectives on and from Southern Africa's Exile Histories

In contrast to literature which emphasizes how camps render refugees silent by removing them from political life, Williams views camps as sites which produce voices as inhabitants claim belonging in a national community. Drawing from research on camps administered by the Namibian liberation movement SWAPO in exile, he demonstrates how Namibians have voiced claims in and through camps over time. Williams maintains that these voices reflect unique qualities of Southern Africa’s liberation movement camps and of the ethnographic/historical research methods through which one may study them today. They are, therefore, especially productive sites from which to rethink “the camp” and the humanitarian discourses through which camp inhabitants are consistently portrayed.Read More »

The Anthropologist as Witness: Humanitarianism between Ethnography and Critique

Guilhot takes stock of two recent publications, Didier Fassin’s La raison humanitaire and Erica Bornstein’s and Peter Redfield’s Forces of Compassion, to question the relationship between anthropology and humanitarianism. Increasingly, as the anthropologist’s field has been reconfigured by humanitarian intervention, humanitarianism has become a subject of critical anthropological inquiry. Guilhot focuses on the way in which the various authors under review negotiate the tension between ethnography and critique, and emphasizes the limits of the current critique of humanitarianism, which sees in humanitarianism a “de-historicizing” and “de-politicizing” force.Read More »

Violence, Development, and the Making of the WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2011: An Interview with Bruce Jones

Bruce Jones of New York University was the lead author of the latest World Bank World Development Report. On July 27, 2011, Humanity coeditor Nils Gilman interviewed Jones about it. Jones spoke in his capacity as a scholar: the perspectives he voices are his own, not those of the Bank.Read More »

Economies of Violence: Reflections on the WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2011

The World Bank Development Report 2011 addresses the developmental challenges of violent conflict and fragile states. Central to this analysis is the notion of war as development in reverse and recursive violence in a number of conflict-prone states. The costs of violence can be addressed through the optic of legitimate political institutions in which citizen rights and justice are central. Watts examines the Bank’s important analysis and the conceptual approach they adopt in their account of the development-conflict nexus. He explores the forms of violence (so-called “new conflicts”) and their dynamics, and how the policy prescriptions proposed stand in relation to the historical role and character of the multilateral and bilateral development institutions.Read More »