Accepted paper:

Peeling off layers to reach the human being: vernacular universalistic ideas about humanness in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Carna Brkovic (University of Goettingen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores vernacular universalistic understanding of 'humanness' in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which a 'human being' is an apolitical, layered moral project that needs to be developed through hard work that could take a lifetime.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores understandings of 'humanness' articulated in a TV show and by my interlocutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH). The TV show transposed local ideas about what constitutes a human being (ńćovjek) into a coherent media narrative and it directly intervened in the organization of humanitarian actions across BH, by connecting people who needed humanitarian aid with donors. The narrative suggests that a 'human being' is a layered moral project that needs to be developed through hard work that could take a lifetime. Gender, nationality, age, and other vectors of power are in this vernacular, universalistic concept of humanity understood as layers under which one's human core is located. Although such ideas about who and what constitutes a 'human' potentially could be stretched to include all of the people in the world, thus purporting to be universal, they contained traces of philosophical movements developed during the SFR Yugoslavia and they reflected the concerns of the post-war, post-socialist, Dayton BH. For instance, the host of the TV show and his guests resolutely claimed their humanitarian activities were not political. Instead, their narrative presented politicians as those who were presumably obsessed with people's sense of ethno-national belonging, and 'us' as those concerned with helping fellow humans to survive, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, and other layers which envelope the human essence in this understanding of humanness. The paper explores how such attempts of depoliticization 'from below' relate to the more global anti-political claims of international humanitarianism.

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