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RSC Public Seminar Series, Trinity Term

Imposing Aid: Thirty Years of Emergency Assistance to Refugees

Convenor: Dr Will Jones

Barbara Harrell-Bond's seminal book Imposing Aid was the first independent appraisal of an assistance programme mounted by international agencies in response to an emergency influx of refugees - in this case the Ugandans who spilled over the Sudanese border in the early months of 1982. Since its publication in 1986, it has been widely hailed as a key text in Anthropology and Refugee Studies, with far-reaching implications for policy and theory. In this series, we reflect on the continuing relevance of the themes raised in Imposing Aid, and its enduring influence on the shape of the discipline: the way humanitarian organisations work or do not work, the critical study of how such organisations may be paternalistic or unaccountable, the conflicts of interest and disparities of power which characterise the interactions between refugees and their ostensible helpers, and the place of refugees in the complex order of international emergency relief settings. Thirty years after the publication of Imposing Aid, these issues remain as urgent as ever.

About the seminar

Taking my cue from Chapter 5 of Imposing Aid, I will consider the intricate relationship between food insecurity and displacement. Even where displacement has been tied to conflict dynamics in the Horn of Africa, it is also usually influenced by food insecurity. Barbara Harrell-Bond's chapter captures the ways in which refugees' strategies to secure access to food and health are interwoven, and thinking about access to these essential resources influences decisions about mobility and return. I will use her chapter as a departure to consider my own experience with studying food security in the context of repatriated refugees in Ethiopia in the 1990s and then will consider the relevance of these issues in the contemporary case of Somali refugees in Kenya. 

About the speaker

Dr Laura Hammond is Head of Department and Reader in Development Studies at the Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. Laura has degrees in Anthropology from the University Wisconsin-Madison and did her undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence College. She has taught at Clark University, the University of Reading, and was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex. Her research interests include forced migration, protracted refugee situations, violence, conflict, gender and development, and humanitarian protection and assistance.


The podcast of this seminar is available here >>