“Humanitarian Government: a worm’s eye view.”
Ilana Feldman, George Washington University
This talk will explore the dynamics of humanitarian governance, considering this question from the perspective not of the international humanitarian system and its planners – a system often looked at from the centers of New York, Geneva, and Washington (the bird’s-eye view) – but rather from the vantage point of those who are its subjects (who can be thought of as at once its beneficiaries and its victims) and its field-workers (in other words, the worm’s-eye view). My case is the Palestinian refugee experiences with humanitarian assistance, a regime that began in 1948 and extends across the Middle East (principally Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, and Gaza). In thinking about the consequences of humanitarian governance for populations such as the Palestinians, I will look particularly at the issues of representation (especially political representation), protection (a keyword of humanitarian intervention which is particularly fraught in the Palestinian context), and regulation (of access to resources, of categories of belonging, and of lifestyle and living conditions). The dynamics of these sites and techniques of governance and refugee responses to them – whether to critique, to utilize, or to support them – provide a crucial window into the questions of legitimacy that are at the heart of this conference.
Ilana Feldman is Associate Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs at George Washington University. She is the author of Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917-67 (Duke University Press, 2008) and In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (Duke University, 2010; co-edited with Miriam Ticktin). She has conducted ethnographic and archival research in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. Her current project traces the Palestinian experience with humanitarianism in the years since 1948, exploring both how this aid apparatus has shaped Palestinian social and political life and how the Palestinian experience has influenced the broader post-war humanitarian regime.