Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Human rights
Secondary Theme: Violence
Despite their differences in goal, scale and mode of engagement, humanitarian and human rights practices often coalesce around the figure of the suffering body (Moyn, 2012). The centrality of the suffering body in humanitarianism and human rights activism has given the medical profession a privileged role in both attempts to save lives and alleviate suffering in times of crisis or emergency and processes of claims-making and justice-seeking (Abramowitz & Panter-Brick 2015; Ticktin, 2014).
Recent anthropological critiques of the use of the “suffering” as an analytical category (Robbins, 2013) and of the privileging of biological existence and processes (Das & Han, 2015) have important repercussions for a critical and ethnographically informed analysis of the role of medicine in humanitarian and human rights practices. These critiques point out the risks of reproducing the duality between regimes of care and regimes of recognition, or between biological wellbeing and political rights when exploring experiences of illness, care, healing and so on (Garcia, 2010; Stevenson, 2014).
This panel will focus on humanitarian or human rights “intervention” into the suffering biological body without reproducing the duality between alleviation of pain and realization of legal and political rights. We seek papers that will speak to these broad themes from a variety of ethnographic/topical areas. Some of the questions we are seeking answers to are:
• How can we think about humanitarian or human rights “intervention” to end suffering without approaching the “object of care” either as a patient or a citizen?
• What are the limitations of human rights and humanitarian practices in terms of people’s healing experiences in the aftermath of violence, conflict, war, famine and so on?
• What kinds of affective worlds, political and ethical engagements are created in sites where the expert volunteers, victims of domestic or political violence and workers of humanitarian and human rights organizations have locally and historically shaped intimacies and hostilities?
• What kind of new concepts can we draw from ethnographic work (Da Col & Graeber, 2011) on human rights and humanitarian practice that move beyond (but including) sovereignty, biopolitics, biosecurity and so on?
Abramowitz, S. A., & Panter-Brick, C. (2015). Medical humanitarianism: ethnographies of practice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Da Col, G., & Graeber, D. (2011). Foreword: The return of ethnographic theory. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 1(1), vi–xxxv.
Das, V., & Han, C. (2015). Living and dying in the contemporary world: a compendium. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
Garcia, A. (2010). The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along the Rio Grande. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Moyn, S. (2012). Substance, Scale, and Salience: The Recent Historiography of Human Rights. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 8(1), 123–140.
Robbins, J. (2013). Beyond the suffering subject: toward an anthropology of the good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 19(3), 447–462.
Stevenson, L. (2014). Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
Ticktin, M. (2014). Transnational Humanitarianism. Annual Review of Anthropology, 43(1), 273–289.