Accepted paper:

'You need to have something human inside you': soup kitchens and the ethics of immediacy in Bosnia-Herzegovina


David Henig (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the rise of soup kitchens in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and explores the workings of soup kitchens as: i) sites where ethics of immediacy addressing social justice 'here and now' can be located, and ii) sites of imagination and thinking anew about politics, economy and care.

Paper long abstract:

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, thousands of citizens rely daily on soup kitchens. Whereas in the years of the war in the 1990s and its immediate aftermath soup kitchens were one of the many sites of the international humanitarian interventions, nowadays they are largely maintained through more localised means and impulses of care and help. This signals a shift towards the grassroots redistribution and circulation of resources in running soup kitchens. Today, the soup kitchens are financed by the Cantonal governments, supported by volunteer labour, food provisions from villages, small donations from individuals, entrepreneurs, business companies, and local or religious communities, all of which are inspired by different giving impulses and moralities of care. These include Catholic and Islamic organisations along with the Red Cross, and local non-governmental organisations. In this paper I move beyond the discourses on humanitarianism and philanthropy as an analytical proxy in tracing the impulses of giving and care, and suggest we conceive of these impulses as instances of everyday ethics of care for fellow human beings instead. Specifically, I focus on the vernacular notion of 'merhamet' that Bosnians of different walks of life associate with human qualities, affective registers, and aesthetics of action to act good-heartedly in the world. Specifically I trace ethnographically how the notion of 'merhamet' is used in the context of three soup kitchens as an instance of the ethics of immediacy (Mittermaier 2014) addressing the future-oriented imaginings of social justice in the world 'here and now'.

panel Pol003
Human, all too human: locating humanity in humanitarianism, charity, human rights activism in Eastern Europe