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Welcome to the archives of Lisa Smirl

Dr. Lisa Smirl was an innovative scholar and development professional who worked on the spatial and material dimensions of humanitarian post-crisis reconstruction. She pioneered the use of social theory’s ‘spatial turn’ in the analysis of development assistance, opening up a whole new area of critique and research. For Lisa, the built environment and material objects—from international hotels and UN compounds to Land Rovers and pre-fab houses—shaped the character and outcome of international assistance. Her work shows that the political and moral economy of humanitarianism reproduces power relations through the built environment and material and spatial practices.

Lisa had extensive experience as a development worker in Rwanda, South East Europe and Central Asia. She also did further field research in Aceh, Jogyakarta, East Timor, Sri Lanka, and New Orleans.

This website was set up after Lisa’s death in February 2013 to make her published and unpublished work and teaching materials available to others. All are welcome to explore and make use of the resources on this site. Please be sure to include appropriate citations and references to any material quoted or cited. For published material, please reference the original source.

Lisa portrait

Lisa had this to say about her research: “My decision to work on the spatial and material aspects of humanitarianism developed out of my personal observations working for 5 years for the UN. I was consistently struck by the lack of awareness that aid workers had with regard to their own actions and built environments. This is particularly remarkable when, for aid recipients, the most prominent aspect of any development intervention are the material manifestations such as white land rovers, gated compounds, and helicopters. The internationals saw these as necessary and generally unproblematic.” Read more

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