Embodying the Other As a Self

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: Booth 66
Oral Presentation
Jade LEGRAND , Anthropology, École Hautes Études Sciences Sociales, Paris, France
Based on ethnography of international relief organizations, this contribution explores one aspect of the daily life of aid workers: how emergency contexts bind people together and eventually melt different selves in a temporary, shared body. First, the body is considered as the biological boundaries of human being, with its vulnerabilities. It then becomes the united entity of an emergency team.

What strikes about life in the field is the level of danger commonly accepted by members of the organization (Roth, 2011). Putting yourself at risk, physically and mentally, is a prior condition to humanitarian career. Incidentally, the fantasy of danger flows into our perception of aid workers as modern heroes living a life of adventures and sell-sacrifice (Dauvin, Siméant, 2002). In concrete terms, kidnapping, rape, beating and robbery are often their reality. While being in the field with the teams, one can observe, even experience, that not only may aid workers put themselves at risks but sometimes also others. Life in a mission creates a high dependence between the staff, relying on each other to ensure everyone’s safety. This dynamic is reinforced by the lack of intimacy and the control over individual bodies. Everyday routine is submitted to rules and constraints, particularly for international staff sharing house, office and meal. To a certain extent, these mechanisms of embodying the other operate as well with the local communities.

The Self and the Other are linked in the ethical principle of aid itself. But the way it is translated in the field is still to be described and analyzed. It opens the door to a new understanding of humanitarian bio-politics (Fassin, 2006, 2010; Agier, 2012; Redfield, 2013). Indeed, isn't the choice of risking one’s life for the others the ultimate way to contest the sovereign power of letting die (Foucault, 1976)?