EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P005)
International intervention professionals - aid workers on the move
Location Room 20
Date and Start Time 14 Aug, 2018 at 10:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Andrea Steinke (Freie Universität Berlin) email
  • Berit Bliesemann de Guevara (Aberystwyth University ) email

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Short abstract

People employed in the aid system often share patterns of movement with refugees, soldiers, entrepreneurs and anthropologists themselves. Our panel seeks to assemble contributions dedicated to (re-)establishing international intervention professionals as subjects of ethnographic inquiry.

Long abstract

In 2016, more than 663,000 people worked for the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and the major INGOs on an international assignment in countries of humanitarian and development intervention (Aid Worker Security Database 2017). Within the confines of "aidland" (Mosse 2011) this group of people is commonly referred to as "expatriates". These "mobile professionals" (Fechter and Walsh 2010) constitute a transnational network of privileged work migrants, a "community of practice" (Autessere 2014). They are often driven by a common set of values, a particular perspective on modernity (Stirrat 2000) and share similar backgrounds, education and trajectories (Goetze 2017).

While especially anthropologists often share time, space and historicity with those intervention professionals, the need to address their individual (Sending 2017) and collective characteristics as crucial aspects of humanitarian and development intervention has received little attention from the discipline in the past.

We would like to invite contributions that address (but need not be limited to):

• the trajectories of international aid workers through various sites of intervention;

• their conceptions of the sites of intervention, their working sites, etc.;

• the specific "socialities" (Eyben 2011) and network dynamics between international aid workers and donors, their national colleagues, HQ seniors, beneficiaries and/or anthropologists, researchers and consultants;

• the way international aid workers deal with contingencies, failure and deviations from policy protocol and the ways in which their contextual experiences inform policy change.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Aid-land and the Congolese space of aid in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo: exploring proximity, identity and complementarity

Author: Myfanwy James (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the dynamics between international humanitarian workers and their national, Congolese colleagues in North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo - how multiple 'spaces of aid' interact and understand one another in 'Aid-land'.

Long abstract

This paper explores the dynamics between international expatriate humanitarian workers and their national, Congolese colleagues in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is a need for further ethnographic research that explores the multiple "spaces of aid" that operate within "Aid-land" and international organisations themselves - a space of rotating mobile expatriates, as well as spaces occupied by nationals and "in-pats" that remain an organisation's consistent representatives in a particular social, political context. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork exploring how humanitarians negotiate access with armed actors, this paper makes several interconnected points.

Firstly, it explores a paradox within 'Aid-land': although humanitarian organisations aim to suspend the personal identity of their staff and replace it with that of a "humanitarian identity," these personal, politicised identities remain central to understanding everyday humanitarian practice. Secondly, this paper illustrates how the differing personal, politicised and racial identities and degree of local "proximity" or "embedded-ness" of expatriates and national humanitarians offer different advantages and disadvantages when navigating the local humanitarian arena, and determines the ways in which these multiple "spaces of aid" interact and work together. Thirdly, this paper explores the everyday dynamics between national and expatriate staff within aid agencies: how these "communities of practice" interact and understand one another. In particular, it explores national humanitarians' understandings of their stationary "Congolese space of aid" and how it complements the network of rapidly shifting, mobile expatriates, as well as the ways in which humanitarian organisations become sites of cultural exchange and mediation.

International Aid Workers and their National Colleagues: Brokers, Ambiguities and Shared Spheres

Author: Kathrin Knodel (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main) email
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Short abstract

The paper focuses on two main aspects of aid work: How can the working environment of aid be characterized? What are its specificities? And how can the relationship between international aid workers and their national colleagues be described? In which way do their spheres overlap or differ?

Long abstract

Much has been said about the politics, intentions and assessment of different development programs. But how can we best describe the working environment of aid itself? A more actor-centered perspective on those people actually employed in the field enables us to show some specificities of this context. Interestingly enough there are considerable similarities between aid workers and academics from the perspective of business and organizational anthropology: project-related employment, need for creativity, spontaneity, flexibility.

One relevant aspect is the relationship between international aid workers and their national colleagues. Both can be regarded as brokers (Bierschenk et al. 2002; Mosse and Lewis 2006). This role as someone between different societies and institutions makes it difficult for others to classify the actors or to judge on them. Manifold are the roles they take and that are attributed to them - ranging from representatives or allies to guides. A certain ambiguity rests. They also assemble many different structures such as governments, institutions and partners (Koster and van Leynseele 2018). And concerning their motivation and lifestyle they are often a quite mixed bag of people (Fechter 2011). Among the differences between these two groups the unequal power relations and allocation of knowledge and resources might be the most striking. Nonetheless, the bottom up approach in development over the last years has had a remarkable impact on the local level: it led to an enormous professionalization on the one hand and entrepreneurial ambitions on the other hand.

Sensitive encounters in medical aid: The Cuban mission in Brazil

Author: Maria Lidola (Universität Konstanz) email
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Short abstract

Focussing the Cuban medical mission in Brazil, the paper explores sensitive encounters and emergent socialities in South-South medical aid that go beyond postcolonial imaginaries of help-givers and help-receivers in medical work and humanitarian care.

Long abstract

For more than 50 years, Cuba has been one of the most important players in the field of international medical cooperation and humanitarian medical aid in the Global South. Between 2013 and 2016, Cuba maintained one of its largest cooperation with Brazil: nearly 11,400 Cuban physicians were sent to work within the framework of the Brazilian health program "More-Doctors for Brazil", which was implemented to improve Brazil's precarious public health sector. Yet, like in some other international medical enterprises before, established discursive figurations - like debt, solidarity and mission - did not adopt easily to on-site encounters between Cuban physicians, the local population and the local medical staff. The paper will explore these local encounters from a sensitive ethnographic perspective. I will focus on the multilayered local negotiations between Cuban and Brazilian health professionals and patients taking place around moral responsibility, humanitarian emotion and professional recognition, by discussing ethnographic findings in family clinics situated in urban poverty regions in Rio de Janeiro. I will argue that emergent socialities in these particular settings are not only shaped by wider social (and postcolonial) imaginaries of help-givers and help-receivers in medical work and humanitarian care, comprising categories such as race, nationality, class and gender, but how they become traversed and reshaped by intimate bodily and emotional interaction within these local sensitive encounters.

Expatriate experiences of working with medical aid in the Global South.

Author: Katarzyna Wolanik Boström (Umea university) email
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Short abstract

The paper, based on a qualitative case study of Swedish physicians who had worked with medical aid in the Global South, investigates their narratives on professional and personal trajectories, experiences and insights in the ascribed, involuntary privileged "expatriate" position.

Long abstract

The paper is based on a qualitative study of Swedish doctors who returned from medical aid assignments for organisations like the Red Cross, MSF, Operation Smile, Rotary international or UNICEF. In the interviews, the doctors told about their wish to learn about new cultural contexts while offering their professional help in underprivileged and troubled areas of the globe. Especially on longer assignments, the doctors experienced an intensive learning process not only about professional matters, but also local and global power relations; an initial vulnerability, but also joy, self-fulfillment and work satisfaction, in spite of some medical aid projects' flaws, failures and scarce resources. The ascribed, involuntarily privileged position as Western "expatriate" and dwelling in guarded houses with other "expatriate" staff led often to feelings of estrangement and exclusion from the local context - which they had wished to embrace and comprehend. Some expressed the shock or gloomy recognition at being enrolled in postcolonial hierarchies. Undue respect from patients and staff made them aware of their bodies as marked by ethnicity and "race"; Swedish/ European/ "white" signifying more protected and esteemed. In their efforts to counter such unjust hierarchies, they attempted a "Swedish", more egalitarian, cooperation with the local staff; even if this could be difficult when they had been put in superior administrative or medical positions by their sending aid organizations. Some doctors told about forming strong affective bonds towards people (local staff, other expats, patients) and places, finding coming back to their high-standard, secure and ordered Swedish lives troublesome.

National Employees in Foreign Aid Agencies: Those Who Stay Put to Let Others Move

Author: Molly Sundberg (Uppsala University) email
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Short abstract

In the field offices of foreign aid agencies, aid workers are primarily divided between local and sent-out staff. This distinction is about nationality, but also geographic and professional mobility. This paper discusses how the mobility of sent-out staff rests on the immobility of national staff.

Long abstract

In the field offices of foreign aid agencies, aid workers are categorised according to one principal dividing line: that between staff recruited in the partner country, and staff sent out from donor headquarters. While this distinction is one of nationality, it is also one of geographic and professional mobility. Sent-out staff are expected to regularly move between headquarters and different partner countries in order to gain international experience, share their expertise with offices around the world, and advance their own careers. Locally recruited staff, meanwhile, are usually confined to the same office and position for as long as they work for the organization, expected to serve as vessels of institutional memory and local development knowledge. Based on interviews with some forty development professionals working for eighteen bi- and multilateral state aid agencies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, this paper discusses how the mobility of sent-out staff rests on the immobility of national staff. It also sheds light on the career paths and professional aspirations of locally recruited donor employees, given the structural constraints they face on the domestic and international development labour market. It suggests that current employment practices of donor agencies counteract goals of institutional memory and local development knowledge by compelling locally recruited staff to leave donor agencies for other kinds of aid work that offer greater mobility - perhaps not geographic but at least professional.

Transnational Humanitarianism: Aid Workers (Im)mobilities and Social Networks

Author: Ignacio Fradejas-García (Autonomous University of Barcelona) email
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Short abstract

This presentation explores how aid workers (im)mobilities impact their social networks producing humanitarian transnational social fields

Long abstract

The Syrian conflict is the biggest humanitarian challenge since the Second World War. The aid apparatus, overwhelmed by the political polarization, the risks posed for aid workers, and the difficult access to millions of people in need, is forced to manage remotely most part of the operations. In this case study, aid organizations are settled in Gaziantep, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. Within the aid enclave, relief agencies and NGOs employ various international, Turks and Syrian aid workers to overcome the limitations, creating a temporal, assorted and hierarchical community of aiders. Thus, relief assistance is facilitated by different aid networks at different scales, producing a transnational humanitarian social field. Using ethnographic methods - including social network analysis - this paper shows how the aid work (im)mobilities and relationships, and the uneven distribution of power between personnel and organizations, shape aid workers' social networks in order to reproduce humanitarian daily practices.

Negotiating with a Protocol: Ebola, Risk and Technologies of Certainty

Authors: Rebecca Henderson (University of Florida) email
Kristen McLean (Yale University) email
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Short abstract

This study uses aid worker interviews to critically examine the social life and the consequences of a protocol: the case definition for Ebola used during the 2014 epidemic. It examines the construction of such protocols and their use within events in which knowledge is uncertain and risk great.

Long abstract

This study examines the social life and consequences of a particular biomedical technology: the clinical case definition for Ebola, a diagnostic protocol used for making decisions about quarantine during the 2014 epidemic, when prompt diagnostic testing was impossible. As a result of this guideline, many women who experienced common complications of pregnancy met criteria for suspected Ebola infection and were quarantined, a practice that caused dramatic delay in treatment and often resulted in the otherwise preventable deaths of these patients and their infants. Using semi-structured interviews with aid workers caring for women who were pregnant and suspected of having Ebola in Sierra Leone, as well as medical literature, this paper explores aid provider interactions with the protocol. Thinking with a clinical protocol functioned to mediate significant tensions inherent to the practice of medicine, including tensions between provider responsibilities to patient and society, certainty and uncertainty, and different ways of medically knowing. Further, although protocols acted as "technologies of certainty," they were based not only on evidence, but were culturally constructed based on a shared medical imaginary. The protocol served as both a rigid guideline and as a fluid cultural object that shifted and was manipulated by providers at different points in the epidemic. This paper explores the emergence and pliability of the medical protocol in the context of epidemics, fraught as they are with both extreme uncertainty and risk.

Precarity in Humanitarians' Beirut

Author: Faith Cowling (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

Using Tsing's notion of 'precarity,' this paper explores the Humanitarians' Beirut - a fragile and exclusive space which relies on, yet simultaneously works to compartmentalise or obscure, the existence of Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities.

Long abstract

Three months into my fieldwork in Lebanon, I was invited by an INGO to accompany their staff to 'the field', located in an unremarkable residential area of Beirut. On arriving, I realised I had walked through area on numerous occasions. As it was the first visit for the team, they didn't know the route, and it was me that directed the driver to the school where a forum was to be held. One Lebanese staff member was incredulous that I had walked through the area on my own: 'And you didn't experience any problems? You were lucky.' In my ignorance, I had transgressed the fragile boundaries of the Humanitarians' Beirut.

Precarity, Tsing says, is 'a state of acknowledgment of our vulnerability to others' (2015: 29). In this paper, I want to subvert the classic narrative that refugees are reliant on humanitarian assistance and instead focus on the ways in which humanitarians are reliant on vulnerable populations to create their environment. Beirut is understood by aid workers as the most desirable of humanitarian postings, a place where 'you can really live'. But the Humanitarians' Beirut is fragile, confined to exclusive spaces, and requires constant work. I will explore the boundaries of this Beirut through moments of incursion - where I have witnessed the borders transgressed. In particular, I will focus on how both international and national staff work to compartmentalise or obscure the communities on whom their salary relies, in their efforts to create and maintain this idealised space.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.