Plenary session III – (Un)Intended Gender Politics of Humanitarianism

Organised by:
Maria Lidola (University of Konstanz)

Ilana Feldman (George Washington University, USA)
Julie Billaud (Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies Geneva, Switzerland)
Calogero Giametta (Aix-Marseille Université, France) 

Monday, 30.09., 18.00-19.30h, Audimax

Modern humanitarianism grounded its legitimacy in the nonnegotiable premise of universal humanity and an ethical imperative of relieving suffering. Humanitarian organizations and actors see their commitments as based on compassion, solidarity and equality abstracted from political aims and contexts, and distance themselves from historical accusations of taking part in racialized, religious and moral orderings implicit in helping out “distant others in need”. Yet throughout the last decades, the assumption of humanitarian principles’ universality came under attack from within and outside the humanitarian world. Critics described humanitarianism as a “politics of life” (Fassin 2009) and thereby assailed its non-negotiable “doing good”. As part of these critiques, anthropologists have shown that affects and sentiments towards suffering others do not simply direct onto a universal ontology of biological humanity, but are embedded in culturally and socially framed moral legitimacies of deservingness (Ticktin 2017). Deservingness as an important imaginary and parameter of humanitarian politics is thoroughly gendered.

Against this background, the plenary focuses on gender/ed politics in humanitarianism and how it effects closure in social negotiations. We will not just discuss how gendered notions of deservingness and victimhood become fixed, but also how they ground and even enable humanitarian reason and its principle of a supposed political disengagement. By considering feminist criticism of assumptions about female passivity and male agency, how does (un)intended gender politics produce conceptions of innocence and culpability, but also render aid workers’ positionalities possible? How does this (un)intended politics acknowledge or disregard women’s and men’s needs, knowledges and subjectivities in humanitarian emergencies and effect gender norms in aidland’s afterlife? In brief, how do gendered humanitarian politics and practices exclude people from or end negotiations about how to “do good”?

pdf: Abstracts Plenary III