Humanitarian space - the quest for a protected niche in the global arena : with particular reference to the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
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There has been much searching in scholarship as to why the contemporary pattern of humanitarian assistance seems so often to fail gaining popular support in its aim of bringing relief of suffering to peoples affected by crisis. This study searches to open new avenues for explanation by looking afresh at the agency of affected peoples and the creative power which humanity in distress can manifest. By examining some of the arguments in social constructivist theory presented by scholars’ sympathetic to this theoretical approach, my thesis explores ways to revitalise a publicly legitimated space to address this diminished gap. It considers why the paths are so distant and divergent, and seeks a least-contested place to locate its authority which is as close as possible to the populations it seeks to serve. It begins by examining the historical and ideological background to the foundation of the contemporary humanitarian landscape. It frames the current challenges by considering four case-studies which encompass the principal environments of modern complex emergencies, combining challenges of human conflict in situations of natural disaster. Changes in interpretation, action, construction, values and attitudes are considered to ascertain how perceptions of core humanitarian principles have altered, leading to growing public disillusionment with its aims. By considering stakeholder reactions against the emerging dominant patterns in humanitarianism, and identifying some of the challenges a ‘democratisation of aid’ presents, it concludes with suggestions as to how humanity can regain control of its own recovery from crisis, protected as far as possible from national and international political manipulation. This urges re-acknowledgement of the normative power of humanitarianism, and a re-consideration of what it means to be ‘humanitarian’. It summons a revival of the spirit of un-coerced - and non-coercive - voluntary service, and calls for endorsement of a fresh locus of authority to guard its values.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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