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  • Beyond the 'raw' and the 'cooked': a history of fortified blended foods

    28 September 2015

    This paper offers a history of fortified blended foods, a humanitarian product that first emerged in the middle of the twentieth century. Tracing its emergence and development, the paper argues that this food was the product of four key historical trends: (i) the search for a compact and efficient diet in the wake of the Second World War; (ii) the high modernist movement that saw science and technology as a way to improve on traditional foods; (iii) the state-led industrialisation of the development decades oriented around the notion of a worldwide 'protein gap'; and (iv) the legacy of 'productivist' agriculture in the United States, generating massive surpluses in certain crops that had to be adapted creatively for a multitude of uses. The paper positions fortified blended foods in these broader historical processes, and asserts that humanitarian techniques are very much rooted in cultural, political, and social conditions.

  • Control and biopower in contemporary humanitarian aid: the case of supplementary feeding

    28 September 2015

    The concept of biopower is often used in the analysis of contemporary aid. Referring to a power that is exercised over life and that operates through self-government, it seems very appropriate for the operations of humanitarian agencies, particularly in refugee contexts. This article critiques the application of biopower in studies of humanitarianism, arguing that many aid operations are based on top-down control, rather than self-government and the internalization of norms. As an illustration, I examine a supplementary feeding programme in South Sudan, looking at how food was provided, how hunger was measured, and pointing out the hierarchical and paternalistic control involved. As well as suggesting that biopower often lacks relevance in refugee contexts, I also argue it has been applied too broadly. By being associated with a vast array of humanitarian practices, it risks losing any analytical utility, becoming a substitute for detailed descriptions of power. This article seeks to return to that detail, describing a humanitarian programme and pointing out some discrepancies with the ever-popular notion of biopower, which, I argue, has a tendency to be applied without an adequate definition.

  • How projects rise and fall: the lifecycle of a dietary modernisation scheme

    28 September 2015

    How do projects grow? How do they fail? What accounts for their changing fortunes? This paper uses the archives of a 1970s modernisation scheme to explore the life cycle of a long-running project, concerning the production of leaf protein in Nigeria. It argues that archives can be very useful for understanding success and failure, and encourages practitioners to take an interest in the story of past projects, even those that failed. Drawing on Actor-Network Theory, it argues that alliances are key to understanding project lifecycles, suggesting that practitioners focus on strengthening local relationships, rather than seeking answers in universal management templates.

  • Book Review: Life in Crisis: The ethical journey of Doctors Without Borders

    28 September 2015

    Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, remains the gold standard of medical relief. Fiercely independent, highly self-critical, resolutely professional, and able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, for many people it represents the best of the humanitarian ideal. The organization is surrounded by a number of myths and stereotypes: the oppositional spirit of ‘medical hippies’, the rebellion against the Red Cross, the heroic doctors in Biafra, the ‘unshaven, cigarette-smoking Frenchmen’ moving from crisis to crisis surrounded by fag ash and disruption. But despite a smattering of academic articles and a number of edited collections from MSF’s own think-tank, the story of MSF has not been examined in a lengthy scholarly study, at least not in the English language. With the publication of Peter Redfield’s book, which has been over ten years in the making, our knowledge of this influential organization and the literature on humanitarian aid has been significantly enhanced. A glance at the book’s subtitle would seem to suggest a work of moral philosophy or intellectual history, but this text is embedded in anthropology. Drawing on interviews, participant observation, and documentary analysis, it contains ethnographic sketches that cover key themes in MSF’s history. Chapter Three, for example, studies MSF’s famed logistical capacity, examining how it maintains global reach through …

  • Faith and responses to displacement

    10 December 2014

    The role of faith in the humanitarian sector is not easy to measure. Faiths generally advocate welcoming the stranger and there are many organisations and individuals inspired by their faith or religion to provide protection and assistance. Yet it is easier to measure the activities inspired by faith than to measure the difference that having that faith makes, and secularly inspired standards for such activities can appear to be in tension with the faith inspiration. FMR 48 includes 36 articles on ‘Faith’ plus seven ‘general’ articles.

  • From returnees to citizens? The case of minority repatriations to Bosnia and Herzegovina

    29 September 2016

    How can we explain the variation in reintegration outcomes of forced migrants at the local level after mass displacement? Examining the case of minority repatriations to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I argue that the loss of assets, such as land or housing, and some form of representation in local politics as a result of displacement are critical in answering this question. Large-scale displacement frequently entails seizing political and economic power from the displaced and concentrating it in the hands of a small elite. Based on field research in the municipality of Prijedor, I argue that reintegration thus essentially constitutes a process of redistributing political and economic power to the benefit of returnees. The key mechanisms of change facilitating reintegration that I identify in this study are intra-elite competition, international coercion, and an erosion of the dominating elite’s power base. The political-economy approach that I advance in this study has implications for both repatriation theory and policy. First, the introduction of a wider set of causal mechanisms furthers our understanding of the process of repatriation and why it takes place. Second, it cautions against assuming that eradicating the causes of flight and restoring some form of protection against their re-occurrence will suffice to facilitate reintegration after large-scale displacement.

  • The global governance of crisis migration

    13 February 2014

    There is no coherent or unified global governance framework for the different areas that have been subsumed under the umbrella of ‘crisis migration’. This is not to say that when new challenges or labels arise new institution-building is necessarily required. Addressing emerging protection gaps such as those related to crisis migration requires creativity in making existing institutions work better across implementation, institutionalisation and international agreements.

  • Civitas, polis, and urbs: reimagining the refugee camp as the city

    12 December 2013

    The refugee camp, positioned between formality and informality, mobility and immobility, permanence and impermanence, is a space of paradox. In the process of contextualizing this paradox, the academic literature often juxtaposes the “camp (as exception) and the city (as norm) in contradiction with one another” (Sanyal 2010:879). As these tent cities develop into urban environments, there is a need to evaluate the urbanity of the camp space by considering the ways in which refugee spaces come to take on a hybrid nature where “refugeeness and agency have worked simultaneously to create ‘spaces of exception’ that are able to transgress the boundaries of place and non-place” (880). Drawing on a Lefebvrian conceptualization of space, I establish an analytical approach to the refugee camp “in which the city [is] a political space for claiming rights for social groups” (Isin 2000:13). I argue that reimagining the refugee camp as an urban space allows for the possibility of thinking of it as a space in which particular rights, namely the right to the city, can be conceived and realized.

  • The duty to be generous (karam): Alternatives to rights-based asylum in the Middle East

    26 July 2017

    Abstract: The international standard of providing protection to a category of people who have crossed state borders and fit the legal definition of ‘refugee’ is a rights-based construction fashionable in public discourse at present. Middle Eastern constructions of duty-based obligations to the guest, stranger, and person-in-need are, however, less well understood. This article explores the disconnect between international rights-based protection approaches to refuge and duty-based asylum (karam) commonly accepted in Middle Eastern societies. Returning to an exploration of Marcel Mauss’ Essay on the Gift, it asks whether we are abrogating our moral responsibilities when we permit a ‘rights-based approach’ to asylum to prevail. In other words, when we mainstream ‘rights’ do we repress our human urge to provide refuge to those in need? Should we perhaps be looking for a more holistic engagement with humanitarian assistance and delivery that brings together a duty-based responsibility with a ‘rights-based’ approach?