The Syria Desk: Hidden Precarities in Humanitarian Remoteness

Authors: Elisa Pascucci*, University of Helsinki, Nadine Hassouneh, Council for British Research in the Levant - British Institute in Amman and University of Helsinki
Topics: Middle East, Development
Keywords: humanitarian remoteness, labour, affect, Syria, disqualified knowledges, racialization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Plaza Court 4, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent research in geography and related disciplines has called for an “everyday” turn in the study of humanitarian aid and peacebuilding. Critical geographies of humanitarian economies and humanitarian labour, in particular, have argued for the political salience of the work of bodies, knowledges and affects in humanitarian spaces. In a dialogue with this literature, this paper takes a critical look at the normalization of humanitarian remote management, namely the delivery of aid from a distance through remote sensing and other technologies. We draw on interviews with Arabic-speaking, locally-recruited aid workers employed by international non-governmental organizations in the coordination and delivery of aid within Syria and its neighbouring countries. We argue that humanitarian remoteness, far from being a space of automation and techno-logistical efficiency, as it is often characterised in existing literature, is a space of intense embodied labour. Precarity refers here not only to uninsured working conditions, but also to the intertwining of life and labour as experienced by aid workers who share a social and biographical background with the displaced and the victimized. We take a closer look at three articulation of these precarities: technological intimacies and affective labour, (im)mobilities and racialization, and disqualified knowledges in an age of data-driven humanitarianism.

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