Building the Humanitarian Imaginary

“Building the Humanitarian Imaginary,” unpublished paper (2009)

“All of the great challenges that confront the 21st-century city — from class, race and environmental issues to the continuing duel between history and modernity — are crystallized in New Orleans.”  (Ouroussoff 2008)

“Best practice” in contemporary humanitarian reconstruction is very clear on the need to integrate the end user, or “beneficiary”, into the process of rebuilding their community (Humanitarian Accountability Partnership 2007).  What is envisaged is a coordinated, well regulated, planning process wherein survivors meaningfully contribute to not only building back their community, but “building it back better.”  What is enacted, is often quite different: reflecting the way in which external humanitarian actors think about disaster and recovery rather than the particular circumstances or needs of the affected populations (Wall 2006).[1]  The following article examines why experimental, top-down and utopian design projects continue to be plague post-crisis contexts.  By looking at three recent examples of post-crisis design solutions, this article argues that reconstructive responses following a crisis have a tendency to be biased toward the “spatial imaginaries” of external humanitarian actors due to the characteristics and context of the post-crisis setting.  This privileging of the spatial epistemology of external actors over local victims occurs in two main ways.  First, the necessary focus, following most large-scale disaster needs to be on the rebuilding of the material foundations of the society that were destroyed.  However, this means that architects, engineers, and urban planners occupy a significant, yet generally un-explored position within post-crisis reconstruction. Their approach tends toward positivistic, solution driven, and physically locatable outputs which will influence the way in which the reconstruction unfolds. This bias is further compounded by the tendency of post-crisis sites to attract a certain type of “green-field” or “utopian” thinker from within these disciplines.  These thinkers tend to be looking not for solutions to aftermath of the disaster at hand, but rather, for an opportunity to experiment with universal design solutions, to push forward a particular social vision or to experience the affect and sensation of a post-disaster setting.  This article will explore the existence and implications of these tendencies and look at the ethnical implications.  It will first trace the recent history of how post-disaster reconstruction developed in tandem with experimental design approaches and explore how architects, engineers and artists continue to be drawn towards post-crisis sites.  The article then explores three recent case studies – two following Hurricane Katrina and one following the 2006 earthquake in Jogyakarta.  By looking at the relationship between the post-disaster context and the experimental design objectives of the three projects, ethnical considerations are raised which may prove instructive for the way in which humanitarian approaches to reconstruction understand local participation.

 

The Appeal of Post-Crisis Reconstruction to Architects and Engineers

The post-crisis landscape has long held allure for architects and designers.  Over the years, a wide range of super-star architects have put forward their proposals for post-disaster housing. For example, Corbusier’s iconic Maison Dom-ino (1914-15) was originally intended as a “solution for the rapid reconstruction of regions such as Flanders, which had been heavily damaged during WW1” (Stohr 2006: 36). Between 1939 and 1945, Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto designed a movable temporary emergency shelter, designed to house war refugees that “could be trucked to the site and house four families with a shared central heating unit’ (Stohr 2006: 37). “Prouvé also developed a number of prefabricated shelters, including a metal-frame tent, demountable barracks and schools for war refugees that he called ecoles volantes” (Bergdoll et al. 2008; Stohr 2006: 39). And while, not strictly designed for post-disaster response, during the 1940s Buckminster Fuller designed the Dymaxion Deployment Unit – a form of “emergency accommodation for troops in various locations during WW2” (Crain 2008; Hays 2008; Stohr 2006: 38).    More recently, Studio Libeskind was involved in the design of a Master Plan for Unawatuna – a beach side community in Sri Lanka, devastated by the Tsunami.[2] According to Rybczynski (2005), in response  to post-crisis needs architects “have proposed a variety of ingenious shelters, including prefabs, inflatables, geodesic dome kits, sprayed polyurethane igloos, and temporary housing made of cardboard tubes and plastic beer crates…not only are these often untested “universal” solutions generally prohibitively expensive, their exotic forms are usually ill-suited to local conditions.”[3] Throughout the 2000s, groups such as Engineers without Borders, Architecture for Humanity and Architects without Borders have all developed response projects to various humanitarian disasters, and have grown in membership, and geographic and functional reach throughout the 2000s.[4]  According to the head of the U.S. chapter of ASF, post-crisis work attract a certain type of person, a person who relishes operating within constantly changing circumstances, in a “climate of chaos”.[5]  The volunteer model of these organizations also means that the members who come to help a post-crisis situation will generally not stay for more than a few weeks or months, and tend to be students, or young professionals with limited experience.  While they will be familiar with the failures of grand planning or utopian design schemes, and will be aware of the need to consult with end users, they will also be aware of the status within architecture and urban design of the iconic building, or the Master Plan.  And as constraints to planning within in a “typical” project brief will preclude grand or utopian design experiments, the freedom of the post-disaster canvas is very attractive indeed.[6]

From a planning perspective the after-math of a disaster is often seen to present a tabula rasa, an opportunity to build from the ground up rather than supplement existing developments (Schaper 2005), however the reconstructive or “greenfield” potential of a post-disaster site may be drastically over-estimated.  While in some cases, like the Asian Tsunami, a disaster may offer completely new cartographies to be mapped, they will also throw up entirely new sets of development challenges such as environmental contamination, the need for large scale repairs to basic infrastructure and emotional and psychological damage of the populations. Perhaps more important than the physical “greenfield potential” of a post-disaster site is the regulatory vacuum that often occurs. Even where authorities are highly competent, organized and present, the multitude of humanitarian actors (broadly defined) who arrive in a disaster site, the often overlapping and unclear channels of responsibility, and the overwhelming need of local populations provides a window where reconstruction standards and norms may be lowered, unfamiliar or unenforceable. Communities will be panicked and ready to listen if someone with resources and skills presents them with a “solution”.  All these conditions make a post-disaster context fertile territory for amateurs, students, or ad hoc organizations who are mobile, have low overheads, and have a revolutionary or extreme vision that may not be easily implemented within the context of “normal” life.  Similarly, issues of accountability are also an issue.

These problems are widely recognized and institutional endeavours are moving towards putting aid industry wide standards in place, for example, the SPHERE Project, or the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (Dufour 2004; Wilson 2004).  However, without enforcement mechanisms, participation in these standards remains voluntary, and unlike to reach those actors most in need of it:  the very small, the occasional, the ad hoc who won’t be aware as well as the largest and most well established who have no incentive to participate.  Even where regulatory frameworks and consultative approaches are prioritized, the planning phase may  overlook the spatial reality of the post-disaster context, a context that makes such an idealized, and sanitized process difficult to realize. In the first instance, not all disasters are the same and accordingly vary with regards to type, severity, scale and location making it extremely difficult to provide guidance for all eventualities.  Even when groups are aware of the guidelines, and are trying to adhere to them, it may not be easy to correctly identify the affected community as populations may have moved or died. Property ownership may be difficult to ascertain as  records may be absent or destroyed, or property may have been destroyed or pre-disaster community boundaries shifted.  Further, the “local” community may have a diminished capacity to participate in the reconstruction of their communities. Emotionally, post-disaster trauma and stress may mean that are less likely to be able to meaningfully contribute to decisions and deliberations, or be able to understand the long term implications of their decisions.  Another common complaint is consultation fatigue, where the most “important people” such as planning officials, local government representatives, are rendered ineffective due to the constant demands upon their time from a never ending parade of well meaning groups wanted to solicit their opinions, or obtain their blessing.   Another interesting trend in post-disaster reconstruction is the use of process of a design “charrettes” to bring together stakeholders in an intense, planning process which maps out the key elements of the post-crisis plan.  As with any meeting, those who define the agenda, tend to wield an unequal amount of power, and this tends to be the case with charrettes.  Since the people most familiar with the process tend to be urban planners, architects and engineers, they may disproportionately influence the outcome.   All these factors contribute to the dominance of a particular spatial epistemology that gravitates towards abstract, model-based solutions.

In his history of conflict between African American workers and the plantation owners of the Mississippi delta, Woods (1998) uses the dialectical existence and development of two world views as an explanation of the conflict between the two groups.  The Planter epistemology that he describes, is an all encompassing weltanschauung through which the plantation owners perceived not only their own interests, but those of their African-American slaves. By contrast, the slaves operated according to what Wood calls a “Blues Epistemology” which interpreted their reality and defined potential solutions according to a narrative of suffering, enduring and (eventual) salvation.  The two logics were not only incompatible, but served to ensure a disconnect in the way in which the two groups understood, define and approached the issue of slavery.  In the context of post crisis situations, a similar disconnect of epistemologies occurs between those “external” humanitarian groups who come to assist, and those people who have experienced the disaster and its aftermath.  Any solutions to a given problem, or again, even how the problem is framed and identified, will be shaped by each groups’ spatial epistemology. For example, architects, engineers, or urban planners are taught to understand, use and believe in an established set of norms, rules and axioms unique to a given society or grouping.  They will likewise be taught, respective, a certain way of conceptualizing, approaching and identifying a problem.   Their design challenges will be formulated in relation to the perceived ills of a particular era (Ravetz and Turkington 1995).  For example, Howard and Unwin’s 19th century Garden Cities presented a rural, idyllic, quiet and organized alternative to the industrial, dirty and disorganized built environment of industrial capitalism (Kostof 1999).  Le Corbusier’s Radiant City put faith in modernist technologies and planning principles to transcend the misery, confusion, dirt and revolutionary potential of Parisian slums (Le Corbusier 1967; Scott 1998).  Costa and Nieyermeyer’s plans for Brasilia were in response to the perceived “corruption, backwardness and ignorance of the old Brazil” (Mehaffy 2008; Scott 1998: 119).  So, when designing for a group that falls outside the group epistemology, assumptions will be made regarding the needs and nature of the second group.   Historically, these ideas of what is required in a given circumstance are drawn from within the planners own society, and parallels will be drawn between the social ills of the planners immediate or known context, and the problems that he/she encounters in the new environment.

Similarly, if we consider the way in which the way the Anglo-American “humanitarian imaginary” has developed it is necessarily based on idealized assumptions regarding social organization and community. And while nominally “global” in its claims, the practice and lived experience of international humanitarianism firmly locates itself in institutions, donors, and regimes of the Global North/West (Duffield 2001; Rubenstein 2007).  Accordingly, its concerns and claims vary with the pre-occupations of the institutions and academies of the North/West (Pupuvac 2005).  The post-Cold War world has seen a pre-occupation with themes such as  “human security”, “good governance”, “poverty eradication” but pre-existing conditions of established, lived, society, means that experiments in socialized medicine, small scale farmers cooperatives, or the education of ex-combatants will be curtained by actually existing conditions, even when they are designed as though they were operating, largely, from a blank slate.

The idea of a “humanitarian imaginary” draws on Taylor’s on “social imaginaries” which he describes as “the ways in which people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectation” (2002: 106) .  It is both factual and normative, “carried in images, stories and legends” and shared by large groups of people, not just the elite (Taylor 2002: 106).  It is also carried in the lived experience, and built environments of societies (Bourdieu and Nice 1977) and practices of the “everyday” (Certeau 1988).   While “metatopical” in its locale, it is highly reliant on examples and practices, which may be referred to and called upon to legitimate its larger claims (Taylor 2002).  In their work on the nation, Jones and Fowler look at the importance of local spaces in the reproduction of the nation. They argue that this (re)production is done in several ways including that “localised places” are used as “‘metonyms’ of the nation” and come to represent, “in a generic and abstract sense…national messages, symbols, and ideologies.” (2007:  336)  Citing Jackson and Penrose  (1994) they “stress the potential for localized places to be key sites for generating ideas and sentiments that can ultimately reproduce the nation.” (Jones 2007: 336).   If we take these arguments to the level of the supra or international, we begin to see the potential of place(s) in the (re)production of international scale and in specific aspects of the “international” as a collective concept.  Read in this way, the reconstruction of a place, following a natural disaster, is not only of value for those that are the immediate recipients, but also for those that can claim it as an exemplar of a humanitarian, or social ideal.  This is similar to the majority of urban planning which has been inspired by utopianism  (Harvey 2000; MacLeod and Ward 2002)  and, likewise, constrained by existing physical and regulatory frameworks, or democratic and consultative norms.  So, like Levittown in the 50s or Letchworth before that, the contemporary post-crisis setting provides an environment where various ideas of the ideal society, family and even individual are proposed, contested, and championed. It has become the key site where idealized aspects of the “international” are be introduced and tested.  And because of the nature of the post-crisis site, as discussed earlier, these aspects tend to embody a particular spatial epistemology, which undermines the larger humanitarian project of deconstructing power asymmetries.

The next section looks at three specific aspects of the humanitarian imaginary which can be located in the reconstruction site a) the idea of community in the use of New Urbanism & participatory design processes in post Katrina Mississippi; b) the idea of global ecology in the green building projects in New Orleans; and c) the idea of resilience in the use of Eco Domes in post-earthquake Jogyakarta, Indonesia.  Each of these aspects is a constitutive part of  the “humanitarian imaginary” – either constructing what the “international community” should be like, or constructing what the “other”, “the victim” is supposed to want.

 

THREE CASES:  BUILDING THE HUMANITARIAN IMAGINARY

Imagined Communities:  New Urbanism and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast

In his now famous book, Robert Putnam (2000) describes the decline of social bonds within late 21st century America.  Similar concerns over social exclusion have also been on the policy and academic agendas in the U.K. (Bauman 2008) and the E.U. (Council of the European Union 2004).   Within international humanitarian discourse, the importance of civil society promotion (and creation) and associated concepts such as social inclusion and democratization have, since the late 1980s, become almost paradigmatic concepts in the fields of development policy and practice (Howell 2001).  In the area of post-conflict reconstruction, the 1990s rapprochement of the field of development and relief meant that work on post-crisis reconstruction had, as one of its central tenets, the importance of the “community” and community involvement in the planning process.

In the immediate aftermath of a large scale disaster, this community orientation may be inadvertently emphasized by virtue of the difficulty in coordinating around a central plan. For example, in post-tsunami Sri Lanka and Aceh, small aid agencies made bi-lateral agreements to construct a defined, geographic area.  This would often include a community centre, place of worship, school and a number of houses. The unit of a community becomes demarcated by externally defined, largely spatial parameters:  available land, available resources, and preferences of the contractor, architects, and builders.[7] It became a place based concept which reinforced the one-to-one correspondence between identify, territory and rights (Cresswell 2004). In the case of post-Katrina reconstruction, the theme of community has become central to the reconstruction. This section will investigate one particular approach to community which has been dominant in several communities in Mississippi:  New Urbanism, and in particular the use of the form of the “Katrina Cottage” in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast.

The architectural movement called “New Urbanism” (NU) originated in the US, in the1980s in response to the problems identified with suburban sprawl. NU is best known for its “model towns”:  planned neighbourhoods based on strict urban planning principles such as densely backed, walkable neighborhoods with mixed use and mixed age buildings.[8] NU promotes the notion of “natural variety”, tradition and that architectural and planning decisions take into account, and respect, the essential qualities of a place.  Two of the best known New Urbanist developments are the towns of Seaside, California, and Celebration, Florida.  Both Seaside – used as the backdrop for the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, and Celebration – commissioned by the Walt Disney Corporation – perpetuate through their urban layout and architectural choices, a neo-traditional aesthetic of small town America, where, “women call in their kids to do homework and old men sit outside the general store.”[9] Through a call for a return to so called traditional social relations by way of urban and architectural design New Urbanists, have been accused of perpetuating an imaginary idea of the US and their critics have seized upon what they perceive to be an exploitation, of  “a yearning for an imaginary small-town America” (Hales 2005; Risen 2005).

Within mainstream architectural and urban design practice, NU has historically been regarded with a large degree of distrust.  Although the principles of walkability, sustainability, “beauty” and “tradition” are, on the surface, positive principles, when embedded within the larger economic and social realities of late-capitalist societies, “less-positive” dynamics emerge.  As identified by (MacLeod and Ward 2002), without proper transport links, they can become enclave communities which reinforce class and race divisions rather than alleviate them.  There is also the danger that rather than reversing sprawl, New Urbanism is merely replacing the grid like suburbia of the 1940s and 50s America with the 21st century version of the picturesque enclave  (Hayden 2003).  There are also considerations of whose tradition is being promoted, and whose version of “beauty” or “nature” triumphs.  Given these strong reservations, it is worthy of note, that New Urbanism has found new life along the post-Katrina Gulf Coast.

In 2005, Republican Governor Haley Barbour invited the Congress for New Urbanism to facilitate a six day “mega charrette” of approximately 200 architects, designers, and urban planners.  Dubbed the Mississippi Renewal Forum, it was a planning meeting where many of Mississippi’s coastal communities damaged by Katrina, were introduced to the tenets of New Urbanist planning approaches and designs  (Snyder 2007).  In six days, the participants came up with recommendations for the entire Gulf Coast by applying New Urbanist zoning principles, and in particular the idea of Smart Code (or Smart Growth) which provides detailed codes covering all aspects of the built environment.

Three years later, the Master Plans have largely been shelved.  The “attempts to insinuate the Smart Growth ideology in South Mississippi after Katrina”[10] have been restricted to a few isolated neighbourhoods in select cities.  While the ongoing saga of the role of New Urbanism in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast is a fascinating and lively thread which I explore elsewhere, within the context of this article, the focus will be restricted to unpacking the factors which allowed New Urbanism to dominate the reconstruction discourse in the months following Katrina and what have been the implications – both for the towns and cities of South Mississippi and for the NU movement. To do so, the article will concentrate on one particular form which has become a metaphor for the debate – the form of the Katrina Cottage.

The Katrina Cottage is a small cottage-like permanent structure that is intended to provide affordable, “dignified’ shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina, specifically to replace the ubiquitous FEMA trailer that have been the government standard in emergency shelter.[11] Originally designed by New York architect, Marianne Cusato, the term referred to a 308 sq ft. (see Fig. 1), one floor, downsized “Mississippi-style coastal cottage, complete with an inviting porch.”[12] To ensure elements of local vernacular Coastal style, inputs were solicited from the affected communities and “fine tuned” by local architects.  It has since been upgraded to the status of a “movement” with different spin-off cottages being built, promoted and championed.

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Insert Figure 1 about here

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The original “KC 308”(Fig. 1)  is 308 sq. ft. (420 sq ft., including porch) house composed of two main rooms arranged in a row:  the living room (13’11” by 8’8”) and, behind it, across the rear of the house, the bedroom (7”0x13”3’).  A small kitchen, lavatory and storage space occupy one side of the house and can be accessed off the living room. According to its website, it can be built with wood or steel framing and “are finished with fiber cement siding and a metal roof.”[13] It is engineered to withstand hurricane force winds.  Key principles of the design include that it is based on local vernacular, that it is easily and quickly erected (estimates of building time range between 7 days and 6 weeks), affordable, and can be easily modified.[14]While certain elements such as the pre-fabrication, and purported ease of construction, make it potentially good choice for post-disaster housing – other purported benefits such as its affordability and adaptability are relative virtues – dependent upon other variables of the potential occupant such as secure land tenure and  access to credit (costed at between USD 30 000 – 100 000 plus building costs, it is not cheap). Following the unveiling of Katrina Cottage II – a roomier version of the first referred as ‘The Cabin’ – in the Chalmette Louisiana, Walmart parking lot, other models have been developed including the Tiny House, the Thin House and the Double House.[15]  They vary in terms of floor space, number of floors, different layouts and cost.  They are intended to fit a range of budgets and locations.[16]

An important part of the promotional material for the cottage is its growth potential.

The initial cottage is considered to be a “Kernal House” – which can either be expanded upon, through architectural additions, or converted into a garden shed, or guest cottage at the back of the lot once the real house is built.  Images on the Lowe’s website have included time lapse animation of the cottage being transformed from an isolated structure on the corner of an expansive, leafy, yard dominated by a new, expansive structure, many times larger than the original cottage.  In the same way, the advice for “Using the Cottage:  Building for the Future”, previously found on the CusatoCottages.com website, implied limitless room for expansion, in the new borderland of the post-disaster setting.  What is omitted from these sketches, is one of the most pressing problems associated with reconstructive work – that of property rights and ownership.  In many cases, those people who lost their homes cannot return easily to their original place:  either it has been destroyed, or is being rezoned within the larger scheme of redevelopment.   While in the minds of architects and planners, the transition between temporary and permanent is seamless, in reality this has not been the case.  In the wake of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer scandals (Keteylan 2008), the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) managed to get find a way to use federal grant money for the production of Mississippi Cottages, under their Alternative Housing Pilot Program.[17]  However, the time lag in disbursements and production meant that by the time to cottages were ready to go out, MEMA had almost come to the end of the three year window provided for the use of federal disaster funds. Even for those people who had already been lucky enough to receive a cottage, there was the very real risk that the cottage would have to be returned to MEMA because it did not meet the civic zoning requirements, which had classified the cottages as mobile homes.  In Waveland and Gulfport, residents launched civic lawsuits and won the right to keep their cottages as “permanent shelters”.  However this doesn’t mitigate the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome which has been dominant in the cottage debate, with nearby residents fearing that the presence of the cottages will drag down their own property value (Swope 2009).

It is common for intra-community conflict to arise in the wake of new urban development schemes.  That it should arise from an urban planning movement that is defined by it’s contribution to community creation, points to constraints and possible contradictions in the way in which community can be imagined following a disaster.  Take, for instance, “Cottage Square” – the model town square which is being built in The City of Ocean Springs as a “living museum to the Katrina Cottage movement” (Swope 2009).  It is meant to lead by example by demonstrating by what a walkable, “scaleable”, in-fill site would look like as an alternative to the sprawl that has dominated building trends along the Gulf Coast since WW2.  But while the development, is meant as a model for a reconfiguration of the entire urban fabric along the Gulf Coast, by using it first in the context of post-hurricane reconstruction raises certain ethical issues, the most obvious is the potential creation of ghettos of post-disaster homes.  So far, Cottage Square is only occupied by a few commercial properties associated with the Katrina Cottage movement, but as envisaged, it would be an “old-fashioned” community.  However, take away the pitched roofs and the picket fences and its not clear how this development is truly any different than a trailer park.  If  residents are opposed to isolated cottages of survivors being inserted into the their neighbourhood, how would an entire cluster fare?  If the people who were disproportionately in need of new, donated residences are the same people who were too poor to buy the insurance that would have replaced their homes, then the development of Cottage Squares filled with the poorest hurricane survivors will be tantamount to creating council estates without formal state support.  Similarly, although the ideas behind NU are laudable, when judged against environmental criteria, the formalism of walkable neighbourhoods, ignores the realities that require many people to commute, in cars, to and from their jobs.

It is easy, but perhaps slightly unfair to critique the isolated development of a single Cottage Square as it is meant quite literally, as a “model village” for the redevelopment of the Gulf Coast at large.  The 11 Master Plans that were developed within the context of the MRF, redrew the entire coastline.  Drawing strongly on their experiences with Seaport, Florida, and their success in rebuilding after Hurricane Andrew, the NUs envisaged the full blown application of Smart Code and Transept planning along the coast.  They also identified the regions key economic drivers, and put forward plans that would bring the previously off-shore, floating casinos, inland, and convert much of the beach-front property into tourist friendly promenades, condominiums and golf courses (McKee 2005).  These changes “roiled” residents who felt their entire way of life was being altered through changes to their built environment.  As quoted in the New York Times, one Biloxi resident said “are you trying to turn this into a Sin City, or what?” (McKee 2005)

NUs strongly denounce such claims, pointing to the strict planning and building codes which may go so far as to specify the pitch of a roof or the shape of a window (Lewis 2006).  And while these codes can be seen as necessary to ensure a particular aesthetically and socially desirable environment, they were also perceived by some as a cynical attempt to increase profit margins by allowing a new, higher density of building to take place.  According to one interviewee, “The idea of Smart Codes was readily accepted by folks whose lives and property had been destroyed as well as by some rather unscrupulous developers who saw a way around the zoning laws that limited density therefore limiting profit.”[18]  Why the Smart Code and NU was so popular to the people of Mississippi brings us back to the form, and ultimately, the idea of the Katrina Cottage.  Over and over, in the promotional material for the KCs, the image of small town Americana is presented as the “future” of any city which adopts their approach.   The return to a time, as rephrased by one interviewee, when “we had storefronts in primarily residential neighbors [sic], when business owners lived above their shops.  We walked and rode bikes everywhere.  We were never more than a few blocks from a little store where we could get an RC cola and a moon pie.”[19]  He goes on to say that “I would love to see us move back in that direction, but it is not going to come easily.”[20]

This “return” to a Golden Age Americana, is something that the NUs are repeatedly criticized for.  The critique generally has three tracks.  First, there is the argument that the period  in question, of “small town” Americana, never really existed, not as such.  Instead, what is “remembered” is both a nostalgic amalgam of small town sensibility and post-WW2 economic prosperity.  Such a pastiche picks the pieces that are comforting and familiar (e.g. moon pies) and whitewashes those aspects of small town Americana which are less palatable to a 21st century social sensibility such as racism, and restrictive gender roles. The second argument, is that NU fails to address the underlying economic issues that led to sprawl in the first place such as the demand for affordable housing and the incentives for construction and manufacturing companies to mass produce prefab homes. This argument has been deployed with regards to the original Seaside development which has seen the original, popular cottage development replicated along the Florida Coast.  It is also worth noting that although they cite Jane Jacobs and her idea of promoting an organic and vibrant street culture, as a key inspiration, the presence of local street life is directly related to the availability of time, which is at least partially economically dependent.  In the current system of socio-economic organization, for the vast majority of the population, the car remains a key instrument for living: required to get to and from work, the commute allowing for little time to wander down to the corner shop to buy and ice-cream.  It is the economic organization of everyday life that structures our space, not the other way around.  NUs will counter that spatial organization can influence behaviour and encourage physical engagement with local environments.  However, the vast majority of their developments have been in mid to high income areas.  And some, like Seaside and the re-visioned Biloxi waterfront, are primarily for seasonal residence, tourists or temporary visitors. The ironic outcome is that the people who will occupy Biloxi, Seaside, Celebration, or Niagra-on-the-Lake or other NU developments are merely passing through an old town setting. Using their vacation to immerse themselves in the childhood they never had. What is for sale is a façade of community, which appeals to the aesthetic and affective needs of its users to feel “at home” which meshing with the underlying capitalist processes which seek higher profit through higher density and urban in-fill and the chance to rezone residential areas for mix-use purposes.

Since the initial flush of excitement and support for a NU approach along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the process has been quietly downgraded from large scale, civic Master Plans to a few small developments currently under negotiation. However, this hasn’t stopped the recipients of the Mississippi Cottages from fighting, as mentioned earlier to keep their cottages by buying them from the government having them classified as permanent dwellings.    Nor has it stopped the Lowe’s company to continue to promote the “Katrina Cottage”  on its website and Marianne Cusato to change her marketing tack away from Hurricane survivors and towards survivors of the economic crisis.  Marketed as “the new economy home:  adaptable, sustainable, beautiful…within your means”[21] it markets the same dream that was being sold to Hurricane Katrina survivors.  That despite catastrophe, the pastoral, American dream is within your grasp.  From a profit perspective, the opportunity of Hurricane Katrina, provided a testing ground to set up the production of the Cottage on a much larger scale.  And although it was surely not Cusato’s intention to use the post-Katrina space to experiment with housing solutions for the nation, this has proved to be the outcome.  But doing so, has not only lent more credibility to the paradigm of the single family home and social ideal, but has provided NU  with the opportunity to gain knowledge, and experience within an initially uncontested space.  Nor is there any formal follow up mechanism or process by which the original designers of the cottages or the plans can nurture or support the Smart Codes or Master Plans they initiated.

 

A Shot-Gun Reconstruction

That, at least at present, the most lasting aspect of the NU post-Katrina push has been, effectively, the production of a re-vamped FEMA trailer is not surprising.  The focus on form, in the reconstruction of place is a common feature of post-crisis reconstruction, as envisaged by external humanitarian forces.  Place, as famously defined by Agnew can have at least three basic meanings (1987):  as a location, as a locale, and as a sense of place. By location, Agnew means the physical, geographic co-ordinates of a place.  By locale, he is referring to the “material setting for social relations” (Cresswell 2004: 7).  Within the context of reconstruction, as it applies to already established human settlements, the first two are incredibly contentious and generally beyond the either the ability or time frame of external humanitarian actors to engage with.[22]  This leaves the third – “a sense of place” – as the primary focus for reconstructive efforts.  As we have seen with the NU rebuilding, a recurrent theme in the recreation of a “sense of place” has been the creation of styles and forms which evoke a particular aesthetic experience.  More narrowly, the focus within the context of Post-Katrina reconstruction, both within the NU’s work in Miss. and within the reconstruction of Louisiana (broadly), and New Orleans (in particular) has been on one form in particular:  that of the “shot-gun house.”

As described by Fred B. Kniffen, in his paper, “Louisiana Housing Types” , the shotgun house is composed of “one room in width and from one to three or more rooms deep, with frontward-facing gable.” (as quote in Upton and Vlach 1986: 59)   The number of rooms varies, but is usually two or three, with the entrance on the gable end, leading to a front porch.  The roof is pitched, and the construction tends to be of timber frame with a façade of horizontal siding.  While the doors tend to form a straight line, this is not always the case, and examples of the type with one of the door ways offset have been documented  (Upton and Vlach 1986).  While currently occupied by all classes of society along the Gulf Coast, the shotgun house has historically been associated with poor, black communities.[23]  The traditional shot-gun house resulted from the size of the lots resulting from the Louisiana Purchase – long narrow lots.  In order to save on building costs, and to maximize space, no hall way was build. Instead, the rooms followed on, one from another so that if you shot a gun from the front of the house, you could shoot a dog out the back. Vlach traces this history to the presence of free Haitian slaves in New Orleans, at the turn of the 19th century and their use of maison basse building techniques.  He shows the similarity between the floor plans of tradition Haitian homes (Fig 2)  and the shotgun house of New Orleans (Fig 3).

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Insert Figures 2 & 3  about here

Figure 2 – Traditional Haitian Maison-Basse Plans {Upton, 1986 #260@65}

Figure 3 – Traditional New Orleans Shotgun Types {Upton, 1986 #260@66}

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But Vlach’s inquiry doesn’t end in Port-au-Prince.  He is interested in demonstrating that the Haitian maison basse has an even older architectural genealogy, based simultaneously in West Africa, and with Caribbean Amerindian populations and their bohio house type – a type strongly resembling a shotgun house (see fig. 8 in Upton and Vlach, 1986: 73).  According to Vlach, the shotgun house represents an “architectural response to slavery” where African slaves from the Awarak sugar plantations, “maintained their own African house form by making one morphological change (shifting a doorway [from the long end to the garret end of the house]), adapting one secondary feature (a front porch), and learning a new technology.” He goes on to say that “Africans in Haiti did not drift aimlessly in a sea of alien experiences.  Their response was to make sense of their new environment by transforming it so that it resembled a familiar pattern” {Upton, 1986 #260@76}.

Likewise, within the NU project, the search for patterns is a re-current theme (Alexander et al. 1977).  And in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, the use of “pattern books” which detailed place appropriate, vernacular styles and approaches has been an important element of the process.   For example, the Gulf Cost Emergency House Plans (Mouzon 2006), lays out 17 different Katrina Cottage plans including guidance on the use of interior and exterior space, and explanation of what constitutes vernacular versus classical architectural style. Similarly, the Louisiana Speaks:  Pattern Book, put together under the direction of the CNU affiliated, architecture firm, Urban Design Associates, fastidiously documents the stylistic and ornamental requirements for “the” five “Louisiana Architectural Styles”:  the Louisiana Vernacular, the Louisiana Victorian, the Louisiana Classical, Louisiana Arts and Crafts and Modern (Urban Design Associates Not Specified). It is worth considering that within the Louisiana Speaks pattern book, the “shot-gun” house is not even given it’s own description; considered simply to be a subset of “creole-influenced” Louisiana Vernacular.  So why is it, that the idea of the “shot-gun” house has become almost interchangeable with the idea of post-Katrina reconstruction?  In addition to the Katrina Cottage movement,  other prominent philanthropists have independently adopted the shot-gun houses as inspiration.  For example, work done by MIT Professor, Lawrence Sass, used the shot-gun as  a model for digitally prefabricated houses or, as they became known “Instant Houses” {Bergdoll,  #872}.  The objective of the project, commissioned as an art installation by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was to create a low-tech, low-cost, easily reproducible and buildable shelter, that could also be adapted to its local vernacular surroundings.  Drawing his inspiration from Venuturi and Scott Brown’s distinction between buildings as “structures which articulate their programmatic content in sculptural form” (or “ducks”) and “mundane structures dressed up in decoration that articulates their programmatic content” (or “sheds”), Sass and his team chose to build “sheds” {Bergdoll, 2008 #872@198; Venturi,  #884}.  This means that the basic form of the house is a pre-fab “196-square-foot one-room shotgun house” that can be put together in a matter of days using  minimal tools and at a relatively low cost {Bergdoll, 2008 #872@196}.  Only, given that the main form of the house is a standardized monocoque shell (effectively a one room box with a pitched roof)  the “shot-gun” effect comes exclusively from the addition of a pre-fab facade that replicates one of four “vernacular” architectural styles identified by Sass and his students in four areas of the cities.  One house was chosen near the Garden District, another in the French Quarter, and two others in the Marigny.  Similarly, as will be discussed further, below, Brad Pitt’s Make it Right project has taken the form of the shotgun as its central theme and inspiration.

There are several potential, inter-connected answers to the predominance of the post-Katrina focus on shot-gun housing.  The first, is admittedly, that the shot-gun house is, next to Mardi Gras beads or a jazz band, one of the most iconic, emblematic visual images associated with New Orleans.  And, in the post-Katrina reconstruction, New Orleans dominated media and humanitarian agendas, largely due to the high profile atrocities that occurred when the levees broke.  However, the elevation of the shot-gun house as the icon of the reconstruction, ignores major aspects associated with its form. In addition to the history of poverty and racial inequality associated with it, within the context of New Orleans, the best preserved and maintained, are also those that can be found within those areas which are targeted towards tourists.  When previous visitors to New Orleans, recall their experience, they may think of the Creole cottages of the Faubourg and the French Quarter.  They remember the B&B that they stayed in, or the walking tour that they took. The places that are occupied by the same class of people who have come to help rebuild:  touristic and temporary.  The focus on the “form” of the shot-gun house, and in the case of Sass, of the mere façade, emphasizes the inability of these “external” humanitarian actors to tackle the underlying structural causes of the disaster.  Rather than seeing the disaster as part of the ongoing existential condition of a particular place, they see it as a one-off and potentially all transformative event.  They see it as an event, as a moment, when for the people who live there, it is a lifetime. Indeed, even prior to Katrina, “blighted” houses were a major problem in New Orleans.  The vacant houses both a symptom of and contributing factor to urban decay, and just beyond Bourbon Street, one of the highest urban crime rates in America.  And while the “String of Pearls” – the cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast – had more peaceful pre-Katrina profiles, their socio-economic situation was also difficult, with unemployment at over 7%, significant immigrant populations, and disproportionate economic dependence on the gaming and casino industries, with their associated social ills.  As described by one of the key players in the MRF, the Katrina Cottages were “camels’ noses under the tent of neighborhood, district, and regional (re)design according to New Urbanist principles”[24], a redesign that would tackle the pre-Katrina Mississippi sprawl in a way that would be affordable to communities but also attractive to investors and gaming tourists.

A second, and related, explanation for the overwhelming focus on the form of house as a key plank in the reconstruction was demand.  When people have nowhere to live, it becomes the overwhelming priority.  However, the appeal and popularity of the specific forms of the Katrina Cottage and other “new-shotgun” designs needs a further explanation.  As discussed, in Mississippi, the presentation of the cottages as a “dignified” and safe alternative to the FEMA trailers, caught the publics imagination and residents of a number of Coastal cities have been suing the cities to keep them.  This raises the question of what is “more dignified” about the Cottages than the trailers.  One possible response, is that even though the “options” that are presented within the context of discussions about the Katrina/MEMA cottages was that the residents felt that they were consulted on what was important the them:  their heritage, their sense of home.  And yet, as we have seen, the  Cottages are not necessarily architecturally coherent, within the context of Mississippi Coastal architecture – past or present.  Their new residents won’t have lived in this before.  Yet, the form of the house, and it’s presentation on the Lowe’s online ‘model cottage gallery’ accompanied by white picket fencing, rocking chairs and bushes appeal to iconic dreams of “home”.[25] But the focus on ornament and façade both conveys both the possibility of a new life(style) for its inhabitants, and obscures, or downplays the class and racial divides that tend to affect the groups which are most in need of the cottages.[26]  The heritage that is being preserved is not their own, but the simulacrum developed within the NU charrettes. There was room for consultation, because, in the end it is focused at a level that won’t address the underlying issues of who is most affected in the event of a disaster.

It is well established that “natural” disasters are anything but:  disproportionately affecting the uninsured, the renters, those on social benefits (Davis 1978; Oliver-Smith 1996).  This is supported by work documenting the uneven swathe of damage caused by Katrina: those who lost the most were exactly those people who could least afford to do so (Giroux 2006; McFarlane 2004; Smith 2006).  With persistent ambiguity over insurance claims, property rights and ownership, the dream of re-establishing oneself on a clean lot remains, for many, exactly that. The post-Katrina introduction of even more stringent zoning requirements by FEMA, has meant that the cost of building has increased still more {Moule, 2005}.  The NUs, opposed FEMA’s regulations both on cost, but also design/aesthetic grounds, which aligned the NUs, in places like Biloxi, with residents who couldn’t afford to make more changes to their houses.  This alignment is crucial in that it brought together the “external” NUs with local residents by unifying them against the federal state body that so many residents felt abandoned in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.  But it is important to recognize that although “external” to the area, the NUs were in Mississippi at the behest of Governor Haley Barbour, a politician who is, according to Woods (1998: 275) strongly aligned with the Plantation Bloc ideology which Woods considers to be “based upon the relentless expansion of social inequality” {Woods, 1998: 1 #808@1}.  By focusing on the form of the single family home and on the idea of “’timeless spaces” where citizens lived in complete harmony with one another” the underlying structural socio-economic which contribute to the systematic oppressions of certain social groupings are obscured (Lipsitz 2007).  Lipsitz {, 2007 #888} discusses this process in the context of the spatialization of race.  He claims that “the contemporary ideal of the properly-ordered prosperous private home” is a “spatial imaginary” that excludes those structurally disadvantaged social or racial groupings who, through necessity, rely on a spatial imaginary that “revolves around solidarities within, between, and across spaces” (Lipsitz 2007).  In the context of the Katrina Cottage debate, the focus on the house has potentially undermined these spatial networks by inserted lone family units into unwelcoming neighbourhoods. For people who need to recover from a disaster, the form of a house is not sufficient when your neighbours are petitioning to have you evicted, or the zoning regulations have been bent so that they don’t meet the basic FEMA disaster – risk levels.   Within the context of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the KC movement has also paved the way for increased profit margins for developers through appeals for higher densities, inland casinos and seafront shopping arcades, all under the guise of “community affordability”.  It may be that community becomes community only for those that can afford it.

For the originator of the KC – Marianne Cusato – the reconstruction has also provided the opportunity to pioneer a prototype that is now being rolled out, by Loews, across America as an affordable solution to the credit crunch.  For other NUs, the involvement in the reconstruction of LA and Miss has provided an opportunity to observe and understand what makes a community tick.  For example, one of the key figures in the NU movement, Andres Duany is himself setting himself up an office in the Faubourg-Marigny district, to try and get a sense of what contributes to the street culture and spirit that makes New Orleans so special.  How he will replicate, commodify and distribute this sense of community remains to be seen, but it seems inevitable that what is sold will need to be a sanitized version of whatever he finds since, that same vibrant street culture that makes New Orleans so exciting also contributes to one of the highest urban crime rates in the U.S.   An aspect of urbanity that is less marketable to the target consumers of NU communities.

A third explanation for the overwhelming focus on the house, was the way that it was portrayed in the wake of the disaster.  The infamous aerial photographs of post-Katrina New Orleans,  showed only roofs of the houses peaking out like islands, from the waters that surrounded them.  “Historic Green” an environmentally oriented reconstruction coalition directly equates the destruction of architectural heritage and history with the destruction of people and family.[27]

Similarly, the now famous, post-Katrina photos by Robert Polidori, concentrated on the “house as victim”.  Damaged, destroyed, lifeless his photos concentrated on the destruction of the built environment rather than people.  And since, as has been well documented, the violence that occurred in New Orleans, was of an undeniably racial nature, the form of the house provided a neutral, “de-racialized” form that could be addressed and repaired…unlike the underlying social and race relations.  While New Orleans has a rich and multi-racial history, it has also been affected by deep divisions in wealth and privilege.  The disaster brought these to the fore.  The focus on the form of the house, brought the debate back into the comfortable common ground of home, place, security, while forgetting that for many people affected by the disaster, this imaginary is indeed a dream.  The next section, will examine another prominent aspect of the humanitarian imaginary, within the context of Gulf Coast rebuilding:  sustainable, or “green” architecture.

 

Eco building & the culture of celebrity in New Orleans

As a shared, social imaginary, the humanitarianism increasingly includes environmental or ecological considerations. International bodies lobbying for improved environmental standards, conduct and accountability are myriad and international conferences and institutions are a prominent part of the international imagination. According to Hedren and Linner {, Forthcoming #685@210}, utopian thought is a necessary condition for the politics of sustainable development.  They define modernist utopia as including “notions of fixed truth, fixed territoriality and fixed final goals for politics.” And within this “green utopia” the development of a “green house” looms large in the imagination of architects and planners.  Human settlements – buildings – are one of the largest consumers of energy and the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and waste. As one of the largest sources of carbon emission, the individual house is being targeted by architects and urban planners as the site where significant gains could be make in the area of the environment. A “green” house refers to a residence which minimizes negative impact on its environment while maximizing energy efficiency throughout the building’s life cycle.  This implies improved living quality for its residence and neighbours and often includes such elements as harmonizing building style with local context and use of local materials. Were green building standards to be adopted on all new buildings, and retrofitted on existing ones, even in only OECD countries, the world would be well on its way to meetings its environmental targets.  The reasons why this is not already done is attributable largely to cost & cultural and manufacturing path dependence.  However OECD governments are in the process of establishing green building codes which specify standards for energy efficiency for buildings. And, for those who can afford it, green building holds both a philosophical (i.e. socially conscious) and aesthetic appeal.  Picking up on both realized and anticipated increases for green buildings, architecture firms in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Europe are positioning themselves in a “green light”.  Nor is this light local or even national.   Graft – one of the firms involved in the Make It Right (MIR) project (discussed below) – describes one of its recent domestic projects as a “genetic bastard” melding (or “grafting”) together different cultural approaches to space, building, light and aesthetics and by implication…common ecological concerns (Graft 2003).  However, as “green” houses are often relatively expensive to build or retrofit, they have not seen the uptake that their advocates would like.  As discussed above, the space of a post-disaster zone presents the opportunity to implement innovative solutions in a relatively low level of resistance and restriction.  This section will examine a high profile case of  “green” urban design plans that were implemented post-crisis, when they otherwise might not have been.

The push towards a “green” reconstruction in New Orleans has been remarkable. Dozens of groups have been focussed on ways to ensure that the reconstruction of New Orleans will be “green” – although the precise way in which this concept has been interpreted has varied. In March 2009, “Historic Green” brought together a “architects, engineers, planners, landscape architects, interior designers and contractors” to “work hand in hand with neighborhood [sic] residents on their historic houses, parks, playgrounds, and community centers.”[28]  It seeks to capture and catalyze the many “green” building projects that are going on in New Orleans, post-Katrina including a push for the Holy Cross neighbourhood to be carbon neutral by the year 2010 and climate neutral by 2030. According to their website, “[n]owhere else in the world, perhaps, is this more possible than the Lower Ninth Ward”.  Other environmental non-profits feel the same way.  Global Green[29], a non-profit organization based in Santa Monica, is building an “ultra-modern, low-income mini-neighbourhood of five houses, 18 apartments and a community center” (Los Angeles Times 2007).  According to the spokesperson for the organization, the intention is to “demonstrate to the residents of New Orleans and the South that these kinds of buildings can be built” (Los Angeles Times 2007).  Perhaps the highest profile of the green reconstruction projects is the one being done by the Holywood actor, Brad Pitt, under the auspices of his foundation:  “Make it Right”.

“Make it Right” was Pitt’s response to what he saw as the lack of progress on rehousing displaced populations in New Orleans, LA, following Hurricane Katrina, in particular the population of the Lower 9th Ward, of New Orleans. Historically, one of the poorest residential areas of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth was decimated by the break in the levees caused by the storm surge following the hurricane. To address this damage, in June 2007, Pitt invited 14 architecture firms to tour the Lower Ninth and develop plans for single family homes.  No home could cost more than USD 150, 000, or be more than 40 ft wide to conform with the lot sizes.  Also, as the Lower Ninth is in a zone which is in danger of flooding, all the houses had to be raised at least eight feet off the ground (Clarke 2009).  The focus on the project is environmentally sustainability, through the use of “cradle to cradle”[30] technology.  Geothermal energy and solar roof panels are expected to provide each house with at least 75% of its energy (Clarke 2009). MIR draws on the expertise of internationally recognized environmental experts including William McDonough and Partners.  While it is far from the only “green” rebuilding project in New Orleans, it is by far the most prominent with coverage across major media outlets.[31]  The aim is to built 150 new single family homes which will serve as a “catalyst”  for redevelopment in the Lower Ninth Ward and possibly beyond (Clarke 2009).  As of October 6th, 2008, six prototype houses had been built.

Of the 14 firms, 4 were from New Orleans, 4 from across the U.S., and 5 others international.  In general, all 14 firms used the form of the traditional “shot-gun” house as inspiration as part of the MIR mandate is to remain “true to the culture of New Orleans.”[32]  In response to initial complaints that the houses did not have front porches – an integral aspect of New Orleans urban culture – the designs were modified to include them (Clarke 2009). Of the architects involved, Shigero Ban Architecture is the firm with the most previous experience in designing post-disaster housing.  It has worked with the UNHCR in Kobe after the 1995 earthquake; in Gujurat after the 2001 earthquake; in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Tsunami; and in China after the 2008 earthquake (Pollock). Ban is perhaps best known for his work on the ideas of “temporary architecture” and the use of paper tubing to create temporary spaces and shelters.  While not explicit in the MIR designs, I suggest that a “necessary temporariness” is implicitly present in the reconstruction of the MIR houses. Within the humanitarian imaginary, the idea of emergency, and the corresponding idea of response, is repeatedly romanticized (Calhoun 2004).   A significant part of this romanticization revolves around the ideal of the temporary, the mobile, the ephemeral and can be seen by the plethora of design competitions for temporary or mobile dwellings. Examples include the 2008 Architecture Biennale  held in New Orleans (Smith 2008), the MoMA exhibit on pre-fabricated houses, the work by Architects for Humanity on temporary and mobile post-disaster housing.[33] In architectural theory there is an almost romantic interest in the concept and manifestations of temporary shelter – from the Mongolian Yurt, to the bivouac. [34] As Witold Rybczynski, says, “Architects in the past have proposed a variety of ingenious shelters including prefabs, inflatables, geodesic dome kits, sprayed polyurethane igloos, and temporary housing made of cardboard tubes and plastic beer crates…not only are these often untested ‘universal’ solutions generally prohibitively expensive, their exotic forms are usually ill-suited to local conditions.[35]

The temporariness is explicitly and ironically highlighted within some of the designs.  For example, the German firm MVRDV, prominently highlights the inevitability of future catastrophe through their brief for “concept BENT” (see Fig. 4).

Insert Fig. 4 about here

By designing a house which is “built to flood”  highlights a key aspects of rebuilding in the Lower Ninth:  that the original cause of the flooding, the inability of the levees to withstand the storm surge has still not been adequately addressed (Liu 2008a).  Their design proposes five variations on the classic shotgun typology – all designed to be completely or partially above the water line, in the case of the assumed inevitability of the next flood.  The descriptively named “floating house”, “tilted house”, “house on a ramp”, “house on a lift” and “bent house” envisage the ability for life to continue in the midst of flooding.  Describing “The Bent House”: “[t]he centre of the house contains the kitchen and bath – it is the lowest level.  Stairs lead to a living rooms on the one side, and bedrooms on the other.  The bedrooms and living room are above floodwater level. This means that escape would be possible to both the front porch and the rear porch.”[36] Indeed all the designs were required to include, as a safety feature, an escape hatch on the roof that would permit residence to move up onto their roofs, should they find themselves trapped by rapidly rising waters, as was the case in 2005 (Clarke 2009).  In the case of MVRDV, the design was chosen to explicitly show the contraction of rebuilding on a known flood plain.  Similarly, the architecture firm Morphosis, designed a “lightweight concrete foundation anchored by two pylons, like a pier, which would buoy the house if floodwaters rise”, like a boat (Pogrebin 2007).

The MRVDV design has been criticized for mocking the very people that it has been commissioned to assist[37]  however Winny Maas, one of the designs involved in the Make It Right proposal insists that the consciously ironic design is meant to convey empathy with the ongoing plight of the 9th Ward residents (Frey 2008).  But empathy implies shared under-standing. To what degree to such international architects empathize with the concerns of evacuees?  While MIR insists that all residents will have the opportunity to both choose their specific design and to personalize it with options, the question is raises as to who exactly is the “client” in this type of project?  Is it the former citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward, the 150 families who were lucky enough to be chosen to get one of the model homes?  Is it Make it Right and Pitt?  Is it the government, the Ward, the larger community that is “New Orleans”? These questions, which must be asked about the MIR project, are the questions that must be asked about the reconstruction of New Orleans at large, and of reconstruction in general. The degree to which “partnership” can exist within the context of a post-disaster reality will be examined in the last section.

As has already been discussed, perhaps the over-riding concern expressed about the MIR project, is the choice to rebuild in the Lower Ninth at all.  While not alone in their decision to do so, many government reports and prominent firms, and politicians have forward the argument that the Lower Ninth (and other low lying areas of New Orleans) is simply not a safe place to build.  The “why” of this is sometimes framed in terms of class or race {Giroux,  #456; Dyson, 2006, xii`, 258 p.} but the fact that the area consists of reclaimed land that in danger of a repeat flooding is widely-accepted.[38] Pitt’s decision to build back in the Ninth Ward resulted from the requests of the people that he spoke with on his visit to the area in early 2006 to “make it right”, to help them build back on the sites of their former houses.  However the tabula rasa quality of the Ninth Ward did not go unremarked upon by the actor turned architect.  As quoted in the New York Times, “If you have this blank slate and this great technology out there, what better test than low-income housing?” (Pogrebin 2007).  The “great technology” in questions refers, in part to the Cradle-to-Cradle technology pioneered by William McDonough and Partners (McDonough and Braungart 2002).  While the technology itself has garnered significant international kudos, McDonough’s attempted implementation has received someone unfavourable attention.  In a PBS documentary, Lesle {, 2008 #681} describes the results of McDonough’s attempt to build an entirely “green” village in Huangbaiyu, China.  Using exclusively “Cradle-to-Cradle” technology, William McDonough and Partners, in conjunction with the Portland Based China U.S. Center for Sustainable Development (CUCSD) Tongji University and the local Benxi Architectural and Design Institute attempted to build a model “eco-village”.  As McDonough’s firm admits the “outcome has been a disappointment” [39] with as of January 2008, only two of the 42 model homes occupied (Lesle 2008). While McDonough blames overly high expectations, the local and national context, and general management issues, others have pointed to a lack of understanding of the needs and wants of the intended beneficiaries as the major flaw.  The intent was to raise the living standards of 400 families by moving them to the new bungalows but once the bungalows were built villagers were reluctant to move in. The reasons for this are still not clear, but Anthropologist Shannon May has suggested that part of the problem may lie in the quality of consultation that was undertaken.  While villagers were ostensibly consulted it is not clear whether they truly understood what they were consenting to, or whether the correct people were involved.  May cites the desire to be “polite” to the visiting contractors as one possible flaw in the process {Streeter}.  It is possible that the lessons from Huangbaiyu will be drawn upon in the MIR process, however the spatial bias is such that problems with previous projects are often not adequately analyzed, or at least, not by the same people or institutions that did them in the first place.   This may partly explain the tendency to repeat or recycle previous design schemes.  Returning momentarily to the idea of the Katrina Cottages, according to Wytold Rybczynski {Rybczynski, 2005}, after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the city of San Francisco  “built 6,000 two-room temporary wooden huts” which he refers to as “cottages” some of which are still in existence today.  Part of this repetition of humanitarian solutions is no doubt, need based.  In the wake of a natural disaster people have lost their homes and therefore need new ones.  But through this work, we see that despite repeated negative experience with certain design solutions, these “solutions” are repeated advocated, implemented and often discarded.  And each time, the solution is presented as new, progressive and problem based. For within the “humanitarian imaginary” they represent, as material metaphors, ideal elements of society which have yet to implemented and yet to exist.

It is also worth considering in more depth, the location in which the majority of these green proto-types are being established. As last as August 2008, 85% of addresses in the Lower Ninth remained vacant or unoccupied (Liu 2008b).  It remains, largely a blank slate in which to experiment with these new technologies.  And while the intention is to implement affordable green technologies, the question remains as to whether it will be affordable enough for its former residents.  The use of a primarily black, impoverished parish to test technologies to be marketed to middle to high income home owners and contractors interested in green technologies raises difficult ethical questions.  While the intention to rebuild to a high building standard is an admirable one, it remains to be seen whether these technologies will be able to be rolled out to more than the few model homes. To provide assistance to a few, while failing to provide for others, is considered by humanitarian professionals to be a fundamental mistake in the provision of humanitarian assistance.  Unless there is sufficient assistance for all, or, at the least a fair and

transparent method of distribution, no aid should be allocated.  Both MIR and Global Green have been careful to ensure that they adhere to the second criteria in the allocation of their model homes, however this may not be sufficient to introduce conflictual dynamics into the community if the expectations that the entire parish will eventually be rebuilt fail to materialize.

The drive to rebuild the Ninth Ward also raises the question of where the government is in the whole process and how Pitt’s celebrity status influenced the rebuilding?  It is clear that in the context of the “green building” of New Orleans his status has been instrumental in catalyzing and mobilizing resources, and people.  That nearly four yeas after Katrina, the green effort still holds the media’s attention is testament to Pitt’s star power.  Other groups such as Global Green have also linked up with celebrities to get their message out.  Among other groups who are working on the green reconstruction, some clearly link their work in NOLA to work elsewhere.  For example, in the mission statement of one “sustainable design consultancy” the goal is to “impact on the integration of sustainable practices in the US and throughout the developing world.”[40] The next section will look at one of these examples, in the context of the “developing world” and how a third aspect of the humanitarian imaginary has influenced the direction and outcome of post-disaster reconstruction there.

Technological Salvation and the Domes of the World

The ability to “solve” the problem of a disaster through technological solutions is evident in all the responses already discussed. This technological salvationism also runs throughout the current approach to disaster recovery.  The assumption from the leading agencies such as the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), and leading donors such as the World Bank and UN Development Programme is that through the application of international standards, building and planning codes will be improved to a standard to minimize the impact of disasters.  However, this fails to address the well known problems of enforceability or the underlying cause of poverty and vulnerability.  While there is much work done on targeted interventions which support the “most vulnerable”, organizations which have followed this route have quickly found themselves on the slippery slope of needing to tackle the most basic and overwhelming of social problems such as poverty, discrimination, human rights, and enforceability of regulations.  This encourages the retreat to narrow technological responses, and  ultimately, the fetisization of technological responses (Crain 2008). The next section will look in depth at the re-occurrence of one of these forms – that of the dome house and suggest that it’s continued appeal is due to those aspects of the humanitarian imaginary that it evokes – namely ideals of resilience and the solution of technology.

On May 27,, 2006, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake rocked the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta and the surrounding areas.[41] One of the hardest hit sectors was private housing (World Bank 2007) but donors and the Indonesian government were quick to build upon lessons from the ongoing Sumatran 2004 tsunami response to ensure that both donors and government worked together quickly and efficiently to meet the victims’ needs.  The preferred model of both donors and government was “owner led” where owners are given a cash grant, initial assistance to build the roof, foundation and other fundamentals immediately, and then provided with ongoing financing and advice to complete the work themselves. However, not all donors followed this approach.  The village of Ngelen, Prambanan, in the Slemen regency of Yogyakarta Special Province, Indonesia[42] has been rebuilt in a  as the first “model community” of “monolithic ecodomes” through a joint scheme by Domes for the World, World Association of Non-Governental Organizations (WANGO) and Emaar Properties.

According to the Monolitic Dome Institute (MDI)’s reports, and interviews with residents in May 2008, the new site was chosen in conjunction with the earthquake survivors and local and regional government officials.  Initially WANGO approached the Domes for the World Foundation – the non-profit arm of the MDI – to provide low cost housing to survivors of the Yogya Earthquake.  Emaar Properties – one of the world’s  largest construction companies, based in the UAE –  was willing to provide 1 million USD in funding.  The DFTW used local labourers, paid “above market wages” and oversaw the construction themselves.[43]

The relocated village of Nglepan – now called “New Nglepen”  – consists of 71 houses, 6 communal toilet, laundry and shower facilities,[44] a mosque, a kindergarten, a clinic, and a community center.[45]  It is built on a treeless plain, down the mountain from where the original village was built.[46] It’s original plan had two main roads running along the length of the village, transected by 5 cross roads (Saraswati 2008).  The village was built with infrastructure including electricity and running water for each dome house. Six independent septic systems and six new wells have been drilled.  Each house has light fixture and electrical outlets.[47]

The development started on October 10th, 2006 and was completed in March 2007 (Saraswati 2008) with the cosmetic touches begin put on in the following months.[48]  The domes are made of concrete, through a process pioneered by the MDI.[49] Once finished the MDI claims they far surpass any established international requirements for hurricanes, fires or earthquake resistance.  They are impervious to bugs and tend to remain cooler than other buildings, making them attractive for hot climates.  It is also relatively cheap to build.  MDI estimated that the New Nglepen domes were built for 200 USD per square meter including all infrastructure and local paid labour.  Habitat for Humanity estimate their cost at 148 USD per square meter which excludes infrastructure and labour costs.

The individual domes are 7 meters in diameter, two stories high with a total area of approx 38 square meters. They have a door at the front and the back.  The first floor is divided into roughly 4 sectors:  a kitchen area in the front, two bedrooms (one on either side) and an unspecified area at the back where the stairs lead up to the second floor.  The second floor consists of a wooden floor which covers most of the area of the dome and can be used for living, sleeping, working or eating.  It has a small railing which allows the occupant to look down into the kitchen.  There is an air-vent at the top of the dome, which monitors surveys have indicated, let in rain.  There are small windows are regular intervals, with shutters which close. There are vents over the doors and windows.  The domes are white and some residents have put brick and straw awnings above the door for shade and protection from rain.

The interior design was done in conjunction with Gadjah Mada University in Jogjakarta and was modified from the original plan.  Originally, the plan was to have a single living space occupying half the floor space of the first floor with the other half split into two rooms. However, this was culturally unacceptable (Schefold et al. ; Waterson 1990), as the kitchen is seen as an unclean area that should be hidden from guests, either outside or at the back of the house.  And so, the living space (or “guest room”) and the kitchen were positioned across from each other with the bedrooms creating a gate-way between the two halves of the rooms (Ikaputra 2008). However, this did not solve the problem, as the front entry still leads directly into the kitchen. Further the uneconomical use of space has arguably created a cramped feeling on the bottom floor and aggravated the already difficult issue of finding furniture and storage options for a round house.  These observations seem to be supported by surveys of the residents which indicate that 77% of the 49 families surveyed wanted to add a new kitchen in addition to the old one (Ikaputra 2008).  Other design issues included the absence of awnings and porches – both traditional tropical design features and limited space for livestock or cars (a frequent complaint).  However residents had put significant effort into planting flowers, vegetables and decorative plants.

The standard practice in humanitarian assistance is to foster ownership of a given project in the target community. According to the logic, this ensures that the end recipients have a stake in the project, mediates against inappropriate solutions, and encourages sustainability. In the overall Jogjakarta reconstruction, the dominant model was “owner driven”.  Home owners whose houses had been destroyed or badly damaged were provided with cash grants which partially covered the costs of rebuilding or repairing their house.  They could choose how to spend the money, and a common model was to rebuilt as a community through the process of gotong royong which roughly translates as communities working together, for free.In the case of New Ngelepen, the local residents were not necessarily involved in the building of their respective houses.  The houses were built by local labourers, paid at slightly above market wages.  While the residents have themselves invested in “dressing up” the domes (Ikaputra 2008)  by attaching awnings, planting flowers, and having murals painted, its not clear to what degree they feel the homes are “their own”.  Residents are given “rules” to maintain the house by the developer (Saraswati 2008) and concerns over ambiguous land titling were repeatedly voiced.

At the handover ceremony in May 2007, the village of New Ngelepen was described as a future “monument to the May 27, 2006 earthquake, an interesting tourist site to visit and a cultural site that will always remind us of the spirit of life.”[50] Whether or not the residents or their neighbours concurred was not addressed. However, interviews in May 2008 with the residents highlighted the tension between their desire to live a normal life and the need for tourism as both a justification of their strange living conditions and as a much needed source of revenue.  From the perspective of post-traumatic recovery, the continued reliving of the experience through visitors, tour groups, government representatives and others could make it difficult for the residents of the community to forget about the trauma of the earthquake.

The current level of contentedness amongst residents is difficult to ascertain.  The few independent surveys done and ethnographic field research carried out May 2008,   indicate a moderate level of contentedness with the standard of living.  Complaints include an uncertainty as to the ownership of the land and what will happen when the government lease period of three years is up.  Lack of economic opportunities was another complaint.  The lack of space for livestock was a commonly voiced concern.  Tourism was often cited as an economic opportunity and several of the homes had set up the front room as a small “warung” or shop – selling packets of seeds, and t-shirts and CDs for the Domes of the World Foundation.  It was not clear if these were authorized by the foundation themselves.  There was some indication that the neighbouring settlements were less than happy with New Ngelepen’s existence, feeling both put upon by the extra traffic and commotion yet excluded from the assistance and attention garnered on the community.

Throughout the reports and promotional literature on the domes there is very little discussion of the community that is being re-housed. Rather, the discussion is overwhelming from the perspective of the “donor” and the opportunity to introduce such novel and technologically superior.  The MDI founder – David B. South – does not hide the experimental or “trailblazing” aspects of their work on domes.  He claims to have been inspired by the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller, but felt they “wasted too much material and could not be built big enough for what I wanted.”[51] Even in his U.S. based work, there is a strong stated humanitarian element to his work.  MDI promotional material outlines projects which provide low cost dome shelter to low income families in the U.S.[52] as well as the desire to help people in “emerging” countries.[53]   The question is worth raising why the MDI had not previously built such a community in the U.S. or Canada. While part of the problem is due to climate, another part is the willingness of humans to participate in a lived experiment. Any discussion or critique of the ethical dimensions of the realization of this humanitarian desire in the town of New Ngelepen has been largely absent.  Ikaputra (2008) and Saraswati (2008) both raise the concern that the dome shape may be culturally problematic, but neither question the ethics of using a community of people to test the viability of a dome community in a tropical location.[54]   Similarly, the overt objective of the Make it Right project is to provide a catalyst for further green development – both in New Orleans and beyond.  And while the desire to provide “World Standard” green housing solutions to those that have lost everything is admirable, what are the additional burdens to their residents of become a living example of green living?   The degree to which this raises ethical dilemmas, hangs upon the degree of real choice that the target beneficiaries received.

 

ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS

This section returns to the issue raised at the beginning.  While it is standard practice for communities to be involved in the reconstruction of their homes and communities after a disaster {Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, 2007 #687; Wilson, 2004 #233} subtle issues come into play in its implementation such as cross cultural communication difficulties, post-traumatic stress, and power imbalances.  The last point, has been insufficiently investigated within the context of post-crisis studies.  While all three cases emphasized the degree to which local communities had been involved in the design process basic imbalances remain at the heart of the consultation process. For example, when interviewed, residents of the razed community of Ngelpen said that their options were either to receive a dome for free, or to receive no home. Whether or not this was true, it was the impression of the community, making the “choice” of the dome house, strictly constrained.  Similarly, in the context of the Ninth Ward, the overall uncertainty of housing options, and the general lack of visible  progress meant that if you were offered anything, novel or not, you would be likely to take it.   These imbalances of consultation run throughout the post-crisis consultation process.  For example, the level of expertise, the foreign or celebrity status[55] of the philanthropists, the times and language gaps involved in the consultation, the over-demand for shelter solutions vs. the perceived under or slow supply on offer all contribute to a process which is arguably biased in the direction of the “external actors”.    In the case of the Gulf Coast Reconstruction Forum which paved the way for several Mississippi Communities to begin to adopt Smart Code and other New Urbanist planning tools, the charettes were organized and held by New Urbanists, de facto biasing the outcome from the beginning – a fact that may not have been obvious to the average Hurricane victim attending a design charettes.  One of the most controversial aspects of choice, is the choice of where to build the community.  As discussed, in the case of the Ninth Ward, the return of former residents was and remains controversial.[56] Much of the debates are couched in distrust and fear that the government or authorities cannot be trusted to protect the rights of those that would be moved – either re-housed, or compensated. By initiating the building process, Pitt effectively forced local and civic government to accept that the rebuilding would take place. In much of the discussion over reconstruction, there is an assumption that the affected communities should and can return to the pre-disaster state. Where, for residents of the reconstruction sites, the disaster and the consequent reconstruction are part of a continuum of their lifetime, for external actors, the disaster and the reconstruction represent an event, temporally disengaged from the longer existence of the place. The disaster is privileged as a unique event, and the response as an exception, obscuring the more permanent or entrenched dynamics which make the event into a way of life for certain sectors of the population {Hughes, 2007 #663; Rubenstein,  #407}.[57] It is worth noting that following Katrina the concern of many people wasn’t that they had “lost their place” necessarily, but rather, as shown by the now famous photographs of Robert Polidori (2005) it was the damage to the accoutrements and instruments of living:  photographs, family records, clothes & toys.  But by focussing, as all three examples do, on the form of the house as a technological solution, the deeper, structural inequalities are missed.  Consider, once again, the form of the “Shot-Gun” which has been so inspirational to the re-visioning of the Gulf Coast. While the language and imagery used to market both projects is one of Rockwellian Americana, DIY attitude and Progress, the form of the shot-gun house alludes to a less publicized historical narrative of the US – that of slavery and its legacy of racial inequality. In the context of New Orleans, the spatial dimensions of this legacy were shown by the unequal impact that the hurricane had on its inhabitants with inner city, black populations being disproportionately affected both by the hurricane itself and by their lack of financial insurance against such an eventuality.  “Katrina revealed how topographical gradients were proxies for race and class gradients in New Orleans, with largely white neighborhoods situated on higher, drier ground.  Simple put, white privilege underlay the spatial location and racial composition of communities most vulnerable to flooding” {Bakker 2005: 797}.[58] It is ironic then, that the solutions offered not only draw upon a local, vernacular architectural form but that they subsume a subaltern architecture beneath a veneer of arch-typical middle class America.  The provision of an architectural form, which arguably embodies a legacy of subjugation, as the solution for the structurally disadvantaged groups hit by the hurricane, contains within it a double message.  Superficially, the ornamentation and presentation of the cottage – the picket fences, the rocking chair, the flower bushes – offers the promise of a better life. The plans showing the growth potential emphasizing the need to work towards embedding the cottage within a larger landscape of success; of using the cottage as the stepping stone to a larger house, and a permanent, grounded, home.  The promise of the ornament, is counterpoised to the threat of the form – the shotgun house – which evokes the memory of slavery, of structural poverty and entrenched discrimination.  This suggests that unless the necessary actions are made to improve the cottage, the fate of previous generations of shotgun owners is theirs to repeat.

 

Conclusion:

This essay has discussed the spatial bias existing in the planning exercises which occur when humanitarian organizations come in to help.

 

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[1] For example, disaster affected populations may be presented with a set of pre-fabricated options from which to choose, none of which reflects their needs or concerns, but does nominally represent a participatory process.

[2] At the time of writing, the plans for this were stalled at the design stage, and were no longer listed on Studio-Libeskind’s site. http://www.daniel-libeskind.com/projects/show-all/ Accessed December 12, 2008

[3] See also Davis, Ian. (1978). Shelter After Disaster. Oxford: Oxford Polytechnic Press.

[5] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[6] Presentation by Ian Ball, B. Eng., for Engineers without Borders, Leiston Abbey, U.K., November 25th, 2008.

[7] For example see World Bank. (2006). Sri Lanka Tsunami, On the Road to Recovery:  Salzburg Village in Galle Sri Lanka. World Bank.

[8] Associated movements include the Smart Growth Movement, the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), The Guild Foundation.

[9] www.newurban.guild.com (last accessed June 29th, 2007)

[10] Email correspondence, Respondent 7-a, April 17, 2009.

[11] See http://www.cusatocottages.com/index_content.html (last access date June 30, 2007)

[12] Ben Brown, “Katrina Cottage Unveiled:  Affordable cottage a hit at builder’s show” (Orlando Florida, January 11, 2006) on www.mississippirenewal.com/info/dayJan-11-06.html (last accessed on April 5th, 2007).

[14] The description from the Lowe’s website describes the cottage as “Designed to be functional, efficient and affordable, the cottage is a permanent residence constructed of quality materials.” http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=pg&p=2006_landing/Katrina_Cottage/KatrinaCottage.html (accessed April 19, 2007)

[15] See http://www.katrinacottages.com/plans/index.html (last accessed June 30, 2007)

[17] http://mscottage.org/ last access April 27, 2009.

[18] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[19] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[20] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[22] It is well established that natural disasters disproportionately affect the residents of those areas which are more hazard prone and therefore less insurable.  Most major disasters eventually raise the question as to whether the place that was devastated by a disaster should be rebuilt in the same location, or whether new restrictions should be put in place which limit future settlement.  Inevitably, in the absence of an autocratic and omnipotent state, the ability to a) change legislation and regulation to alter future building codes; b) enforce this legislation; and c) afford the social cost of widespread social change means that a more common post-disaster outcome is that people tend to rebuild in the same areas that they occupied prior to the disaster.

[23] Consider, for example, artist Robert Polidori’s photograph of the double shotgun type:  “2732 Orleans Avenue” {Polidori}

[24] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[26] Further research is required on the genealogy of the 1906 SF Earthquake Cottages.  See http://www.outsidelands.org/shacks.php [last accessed August 1, 2007] for more information.

[27] http://www.historicgreen.org/index2.php last accessed April 24, 2009

 

[29] http://www.globalgreen.org/ last accessed April 24, 2009

[30] “Cradle to Cradle” technology is a service mark of William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart referring to environmentally sound building technology.  See McDonough, William and Michael Braungart. (2002). Cradle to cradle : remaking the way we make things. New York: North Point Press.

[31] other examples include Rebuild Green (see http://www.rebuildgreen.org/ourvision.htm last accessed January 8, 2009) and the New Orleans chapter of Global Green, an NGO that Pitt was originally involved with (MIR website http://www.makeitrightnola.org last accessed on January 8, 2009).

[33] In the reconstruction of shelter after a disaster, the line between temporary and permanent is blurred.

[34] For example, see the work of Japanese architect, Shiguro Ban.

[35] Rybczynski, Witold. (2005). There’s No Place Like Home:  The Historical Problems with Emergency Housing. Slate.

[36] Taken from the MVRDV website http://www.mvrdv.nl. Last accessed on January 11, 2009.

[37] See “Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Homes Now Under Construction” on Life Without Buildings, September 9, 2008. http://www.makeitrightnola.org/mir_SUB.php?section=mir&page=designs&mySub=mvrdv  Last accessed January 11, 2009.

[38] Other sections of the city lie lower but no one has talked of abandoning them and the nearby Jackson Barracks has received 250 mil USD for rebuilding Clarke, Gerald. (2009). Brad Pitt Makes it Right in New Orleans. In Architectural Digest. New York: Conde Nast Publications..

[39] See http://www.mcdonoughpartners.com/projects/huangbaiyu/default.asp?projID=huangbaiyu  Last access date January 11, 2009.  The eco-village of Huangbaiyu is the subject of a forthcoming PhD thesis by Shannon May.

[41] The exact location of the earthquake was 7.962°S, 110.458°E, 20 km (10 miles) SSE of Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia according to U.S. Geological Survey. (2006). Magnitude 6.3 – JAVA, INDONESIA. In USGS: USGS.

[42] Located at approximate 7.47°S and 110.30° E.  On Google maps it is located in two different locations.

[43] http://www.dftw.org last accessed January 5, 2009.

[44] In bahasa Indonesia these are called:  MCKs for mandi (bath) cuci (clothes washing) and kakus (water closet). 

[45] As of May 2008.

[46] The original village was completely destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent landslide and was recommended for relocation based on safety.

[48] A concrete slab floor, reinforced by steel rebar, is surrounded by a combination ring-beam footing. Vertical steel bars are embedded in the outer ring and are later attached to the steel reinforcing of the dome itself. An “airform” is placed on the ring base and blown up with blower fans to create a balloon-like casing which will be the shape and size of the finished dome. The fans run throughout construction of the dome. A grid of vertical and horizontal rebar placed over the exterior of the “airform”. The vertical bars are placed directly against the “airform” and the horizontal bars are placed over them. Then, concrete is applied to the exterior of the “airform” to embed the rebar and can be trowelled smooth.  After the concrete has set, the “airform” is removed from the inside and re-used. If any rebar is still showing on the inside it’s brushed with a wire brush to remove any loose material.  A final coat of concrete may then be applied to the inside surface.  http://www.dtfw.org/projects/newngelepen/final_summary last accessed January 5, 2009.

[49] As explained on http://www.dftw.org last accessed January 5, 2009.

[50] Sleman Regent, Ibnu Subiyanto as quoted in the Jakarta Post, May 2, 2007 taken from Relief Web data base http://reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/JBRN-72THAH?OpenDocument&query=yogya%20quake%20survivors%20receive%20dome accessed January 5, 2009.

[51] Http://static.monolithic.com/thedome/geodesic accessed January 5, 2009

[52] see http://www.domeliving.com accessed January 5, 2009

[53] http://static.monolithic.com/pres/thirdworld  For more work on Fuller see Crain, Caleb. (2008). Good at Being Gods. In London Review of Books. London: Nicholas Spice, Hays, K. Michael and Dana Miller ed. (2008). Buckminster Fuller:  Starting with the Universe. New Haven: Yale..

[54] The question of culture appropriateness relates to all three examples. With regard to the dome houses, whether the house is culturally appropriate is skirted around in the promotional literature.  From a shape perspective, a dome is not a traditional Javanese, nor even broadly Indonesian dwelling form, although climatically it is not inappropriate.  The problems surrounding house layout were discussed before, and more generally then houses are quite small to serve as permanent dwelling. In the promotional material, the impression of deep poverty is implied, and yet Indonesia qualifies as a middle income country, and the Island of Java is one of the richest in the archipelago.  While the one house for one family is appropriate for the central Java context, it is worth noting that one of the founding principles of WANGO is promotion of “the family”.

[55] For work on celebrity philanthropy see Dieter, Heribert and Rajiv Kumar. (2008). The Downside of Celebrity Diplomacy:  The neglected complexity of development. Global Insights 14:259-264, Duvall, S. (2007). “Ambassador Mom”:  Angelina Jolie, Celebrity Activism, and Institutional Power. In Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association. San Francisco, CA, Richey, Lisa Ann and Stefano Ponte. (2008). Better (Red) than Dead? Celebrities, consumption and international aid. Third World Quarterly 29(4):711-729, Traub, James. (2008). The Celebrity Solution. In The New York Times. New York, Zoonen, Liesbet van. (2005). Entertaining the citizen : when politics and popular culture converge. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[56] for more information on the Right of Return for post-crisis victims see Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. The Pinheiro Principles: United Nations Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaces Persons. COHRE..

[57] On the relationship between spatial and temporal binaries see Massey, Doreen. (2006). For Space. London: Sage..

[58] See also Smith, Neil (2006). There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster. Social Science Research Council  Cutter, Susan. (2006). The Geography of Social Vulnerability:  Race, Class and Catastrophe. Social Science Research Council

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The State We Are(n’t) In

“The State we are(n’t) in: Liminal subjectivity in aid worker autobiographies,” chapter in Berit Bliesemann de Guevara (ed.) Statebuilding and State-Formation: The Political Sociology of Intervention, London: Routledge, 2012, pp.230-245.

 

Amongst the many problems attributed to international statebuilding, the mismatch between ‘the international’ and ‘the local’ is high on the agenda. How to ‘bridge’ the so-called local-international divide (Donais 2009) or how to balance top-down with bottom-up approaches (Mac Ginty 2010) are familiar debates. However, these categories are not without problems. Where does the local end and the international begin? What of hybrid cultures and practices? What is striking is the persistence of the categories themselves within statebuilding discourse and even amongst critical theorists: despite the recognition that the categories of local/international are unhelpful and potentially deleterious to attempts to improve statebuilding, they continue to be used and remain the dominant way of understanding and theorising statebuilding activity (Heathershaw 2008; Pouligny 2010; Richmond 2009).

It is the tenacity of this conceptual apparatus, and in particular the persistence and implications of the category of the so-called international, that are under investigation in this chapter, which focuses on the production and dominance of this distinction – both conceptually and practically.  I argue that the persistence of these categories can only be understood through an examination of international statebuilding practice in ‘the field’, as it is through these practices and their accompanying spaces (the offices, compounds, workshops, projects) that the categories of local and international are (re)produced despite rhetorical attempts to move beyond them. Using three examples of humanitarian memoirs (Cain 2004; Minion 2004; Olson 1999) to provide insight into various aspects of statebuilding (humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping missions, elections, reconciliation, judicial reform) from the perspective of the so-called international, I identify a structural process which drives and helps explain the persistence of the international and the local in international statebuilding.

Drawing on the work of Victor Turner (1969, 1975, 1977) and Arnold van Gennep (1960), the chapter suggests that the process of going to the field is a highly structured, codified, and predicable ‘rite of passage’ and the act of being in the field, as a statebuilder (and an aid worker more broadly), creates a unique and liminal space (van Gennep 1960). The processual and structured experience of going ‘to the field’ has very little to do with ‘the local’ but rather is focussed almost exclusively on ‘the international’. This analysis suggests that the embodied, practical aspects of international assistance in the context of statebuilding are a key contributing factor to the persistence of conceptual and actually-existing divides which are at the heart of processes of state-formation as defined in this volume.

 

Statebuilding as (International) ‘Rite of Passage

Van Gennep describes a rite of passage as a tripartite process consisting of, first, separation from an initial or equilibrium state, followed by a liminal or marginal state, and concluding by a reaggregation (or re-incorporation) with the original society (Bowie 2006). Each stage has its own set of accompanying rites (van Gennep 1960). Of the three stages, the liminal is distinct from the other two and involves spatial, temporal, social and moral separation (Yang 2000). In contrast to ‘normal society’, the liminal state is a one of anti-structure, where established hierarchies and rules are inverted or suspended and transformative processes take place. Here, work and play blur, experimentation and novelty are encouraged, and carnivalesque and ludic qualities manifest (Turner 1977). The initiates are considered as simultaneously sacred and polluting to society at large and must be kept separate and distinct: confined to designated spaces and identifiable by new or bizarre clothes, masks, or face paints and possibly made to adopt new homogenising behaviours or languages. Stripped of their previously defining characteristics such as clothes, insignia, or property they may form strong and rapid bonds of solidarity with the other initiates (Turner 1969: 95). Such ties of friendship or communitas often endure throughout life (Turner 1977). Once the transformation is complete, the initiate may return to society, to be reintegrated in his/her new role. In the following, I will first give a brief overview of the memoirs looked at in this study and discuss their representativeness, before interpreting them in more detail in the light of the ‘rite of passage’ literature.

 

Brief Overview of Each of the Memoirs

In Cruel Paradise (CP; Olson 1999), Leanne, a nurse from Canada, receives an offer to work for Medécins sans Frontières (MSF). She is deployed to run a feeding centre in rural Liberia during the first Liberian civil war. After being evacuated back to Winnipeg nine months later, due to increased hostilities, she is almost immediately redeployed to Bosnia where she meets Rink, a logistics officer with whom she starts a romantic relationship. Based in the Republika Srpska, their team is responsible for providing non-partisan medical supplies to hard to reach areas such as the infamous Bihać enclave. After being evacuated again, in June 1995 (after seven months) she rejoins Rink in Burundi, where she is in charge of renovating and managing a 70 bed hospital in the north of the country. Dissatisfied with the MSF programme in Burundi, she and Rink hand in their resignations after only three months to join their friend working in Goma, Zaire (now DRC), ‘where nobody in their right mind wants to work’ (Olson 1999: 153). In mid-may they leave Zaire, fearing for their lives. After a brief time in Canada, France and Holland, they join the international medical NGO Merlin and are deployed to a series of countries as short-term consultants: Rwanda, Angola, Albania, and finally Liberia. After coming full circle, they return to Holland to resume (in their words) normal life. The narrative spans from December 1993 to May 1997 (three and a half years).

In Emergency Sex (ES; Cain 2004), three interweaving narratives tell the stories of Andrew, an Australian doctor; Ken, an American law student come human rights advisor; and Heidi, an American social worker come UN secretary come elections monitor come jack of all trades. They meet on their first mission, in 1993, in Cambodia. After overseeing the country’s first democratic elections they immediately depart for new missions. Heidi and Ken go to Mogadishu (‘the dish’), Somalia, as part of the UN Peacekeeping Mission, Operation Restore Hope, while Andrew goes to Haiti with UNMIH to document human rights violations in prisons and hospitals. After the UN (and US) withdrawals from both Somalia and Haiti in early 1994, the authors rotate missions once again. Ken takes an assignment in Rwanda, collecting evidence on the genocide for the UN Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda (ICTR); Heidi joins the next UN mission in Haiti; and Andrew goes to Bihać in Bosnia-Herzegovina to ‘set up a forensic team to investigate massacres’ (Cain 2004: 223). Unable to work due to continued fighting, Andrew is almost immediately redeployed to Rwanda to collect forensic evidence by exhuming mass graves. Ken leaves Rwanda to meet Heidi in Haiti. Heidi, in turn, has fallen in love with a Haitian man and plans to stay in Haiti when the UN mission leaves. But in November 1998, her partner dies in an accident and she returns to New York to start her life ‘anew’ (Cain 2004: 295). Ken takes his last mission in Liberia documenting human rights abuses in the middle of the first Liberian war. From 1999, they all return to New York. Andrew gets married to another expat aid worker and decides to move to live in Cambodia.

In the case of Cruel Paradise and Emergency Sex the characters had several tours or postings whereas the third book, Hello Missus (HM; Minion 2004), documents two subsequent missions in East Timor by the Australian freelance journalist, Lynne Minion. Lynne arrives in East Timor just prior to the official hand over of the new country’s administration from the UN transitional administration, UNTAET. Although she has no job, she does have one powerful acquaintance: the then Foreign Affairs Minister and Nobel Laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta, who helps her get a job working as a UN advisor to the local TV station. After East Timor receives its independence in May 2002, she is offered a job as media advisor to the then Prime Minister, Dr. Mari Alkatiri. But her contract takes a long time to finalise, leaving Lynne to occupy herself with a series of unsuitable romantic liaisons, moving from house to house in an effort to find sanctuary. When her contract finally comes through, she is given neither a job description nor a place to work; crammed behind a child’s school desk in the lobby of the perpetually absent ‘Prime Miniature’ (as she calls him)’s office. Stonewalled, and eventually sacked from her advisory position due to her affiliations with Ramos-Horta, she is preparing to depart when the December 2002 riots break out. Following the riots, she decides to return home for good, although not before initiating yet another relationship with a peacekeeper, this time a Serb. The book ends with Lynne flying up and out of Dili, her ‘capacity built’.[1]

To ensure a wide range of coverage and balance, the texts were chosen for analysis based on several criteria.[2] The authors represent a cross section of organisations: both United Nations and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) on a variety of scales (big and small). The three narratives span the full spectrum of so-called statebuilding activity: from the sectarian humanitarian aid that would lay the foundations of the future of the former Yugoslav Republics of Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia to the spate of UN missions in the 1990s (Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti) to the post-independence support to the newly independent nation of East Timor. The protagonists are both men and women, and all the authors use their real names and claim that their stories are based on real events. The time period ranges from 1991 to 2004 – 13 years in total – and, though short, nonetheless captures the ‘long decade’ of increased multilateral activity following the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the choice of these novels as the subject of analysis can be critiqued on the basis that they, through their very existence as a personal post-mortem, are biased in an ‘anti-aid’ direction, they are nonetheless valid for the significant population that they represent.[3] They are also some of the most readable and best-known examples of a much wider genre of aid memoirs that, to date, has received minimal critical attention. Equally, the books analysed in this chapter are also some of the most controversial of the genre. I learned about two of them (Cain 2004; Minion 2004) whilst in ‘the field’ where the books and their authors were regarded with a mix of disdain and jealousy. The books were madly read, circulated, and then dismissed not on the grounds that they were untrue, or misrepresentative, but that they broke the code of the field.

 

The Rite of Passage in the Memoirs of Aid Workers

Within the experience of statebuilding, an important structural divide exists between the physical space of headquarters, which are physically located in a (usually) First World location and the location that is being assisted in the field (see also Schlichte and Veit in this volume). The historical structure of international aid is such that traditional donor countries are primarily located in the Global North. The field by contrast, is where the projects or interventions are located – where the state is being built. While headquarters define policy, the objective of their policy can only be reached by undertaking a physical voyage to the space of the beneficiaries: the field. The three books in question all have a narrative structure that details this processual experience and simultaneously replicates a rite of passage. The characters all have a sudden departure to far off lands in an attempt to escape unstable, boring, and/or unfulfilling lives. An unsteady (but pleasantly exciting) beginning is followed by a steady descent into increasing political, personal, and institutional chaos. The characters become exhausted and frustrated with their persistent inability to have a significant or positive impact on their surroundings. They reach a crisis point where the characters feel the need to make a decision regarding their future, at which point all but one of them choose to return to the First World (not necessarily home) to resume so-called normal life and to write their memoirs. In the case of one of the books – Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures – the chapters are named according to increasing levels of UN security classifications moving from Condition Alpha (safe) to Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo (evacuate immediately)…and finally Return to Normal (Cain 2004). This emphasises both the anchoring effect of the ‘home country’ in terms of the trajectory and also the framing of the series of ‘local’ experiences of the field in terms of international concepts.

 

Rites of Separation: Leaving ‘Home

According to Turner (1969: 94) the separation phase ‘comprises symbolic behaviour signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure, from a set of cultural conditions (a “state”) or both.’ In all the memoirs studied, clearly identifiable rites of separation take place. The pre-departure state is characterised by a frustration with the inauthenticity or superficiality of the authors’ own western culture. In ES the characters are openly dissatisfied with the perceived amorality of western society and bored with a normal existence. When presented with the chance to leave, they jump at it. In both ES and CP the departures are whirlwind, rapid and unexpected. In Ken’s case (ES), after a 15 minute interview with a human rights organisation he is told that he has a week to ‘get shots, a visa, and on the plane’ (Cain 2004: 33).

The inoculation of the aid worker against the unknown of the field is a common theme and includes the vaccination of the aid worker against fabulous, rare, and potentially deadly tropical diseases, often without consideration for the real risk of coming into contact with, for example, rabid monkeys. Prophylactics are taken. Packing is done, often in a hurried and badly conceived manner. For example, Lynne, after a boozy going away lunch, packs bikinis, frocks, hipster slacks, and a tiara: ‘just because I’d be living in a Third World country I didn’t have to look as though I was living in a Third World country’ (Minion 2004: 3). MSF HQ warns Leanne about the impact of stress such as drinking, risk taking behaviour, and mood swings: ‘[w]e were also warned about the dangers of beginning relationships between the national and expat teams, primarily because in case of an evacuation, only the expat staff leaves, and bringing the national staff along is out of the question’ (Olson 1999: 13-14).

The narrators admit an almost complete lack of knowledge about where they are going, or even where the missions are located. ‘To say that I was a bit naïve when I first started working as an international relief worker would be an understatement of monumental proportions! I knew nothing,’ said Leanne (Olson 1999: 9). ‘I was probably the only Canadian who didn’t really have a clue about what was happening in Bosnia…’ (Olson 1999: 77). Similarly, in ES Heidi signed up for the UN mission as a secretary, ‘without a second thought, didn’t even know where Cambodia was’ (Cain 2004: 29), while Ken admits to having thought about Somalia exactly once before landing there (Cain 2004: 109). The field is romanticised, compared with Hollywood movies (The Killing Fields) or the Discovery Channel (Cain 2004: 30). Admiring the idea of living in a war zone, Ken says ‘[t]here are none of the subtleties and nuances of ordinary life; you’re at the core of every feeling…And that’s how I want to feel’ (Cain 2004: 13). These passages emphasise the role of affect and imagination, which underpins both their decisions to leave, and their initial preparations. Such fantastic or clichéd understandings are normal and expected when beginning a new experience, but in the context of a rite of passage, they will fail to be challenged.

The transition from one stage of a rite of passage to the next requires traversing a threshold. This may be, quite literally, a passageway, a stairway, or a door through which initiates must pass and is itself the quintessential liminal place. While in the threshold, initiates are suspended between two states: neither here, nor there. These transition states are often guarded by gatekeepers who determine who is allowed to enter into the next phase. The sacred status of the aid worker is communicated through dress (for example, the uniform of the MSF t-shirt, the ‘Smurf blue’ of UN peacekeepers). This makes the uniforms attractive to expats and locals alike, as they confer a degree of inviolability to the wearer. As liminal, sacred, and inviolable beings, the aid workers are allowed to pass through border zones that would, without the blue passport and the international law that it represents, be off limits. The characters are clear as to the symbolic significance of these thresholds. Ken, leaving Mogadishu, says ‘[w]e deplane and walk together across the tarmac, the UN has a special landing field in Nairobi just for us. But when I leave their company and cross the threshold of the main terminal alone, I’m a regular civilian again, a tourist’ (Cain 2004: 199). This emphasises the hold and almost magical power that the space of the field has over its international inhabitants.

 

The Liminal Space of the Field

Once the characters have crossed the threshold, they pass into ‘a cultural realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state’ (Turner 1969: 94). They are amazed at how the degree to which the new countries differ from their previous situations: extreme poverty, razed buildings, all alongside the comparative luxury of the international community. Says Lynne upon first meeting members of the international community in Dili, ‘these humanitarians have eclipsed my most affluent fantasies’ (Minion 2004: 15). Badly or inappropriately attired in the clothes/attitudes from a former life, they quickly make an effort to assimilate – in Heidi and Ken’s cases more in keeping with the international jet set aesthetic of the UN; in Lynne’s case more in keeping with what her third space patron, Ramos-Horta, feels is appropriate. Taken literally, this shedding of clothing corresponds to Turner’s description of the liminal state (Turner 1969: 103). By creating a tabula rasa the neophyte’s or initiate’s individuality is erased and she or he becomes part of the larger group of expats. Leanne joyfully exclaims after five months in Liberia, ‘I felt like a real expat. I was an actual relief worker, and I was loving it’ (Olson 1999: 47). Describing her experience in Cambodia, says Heidi, ‘[w]e’re foreign and free and obnoxious and have dollars, so stay out of our way. We’re immortal and nothing can touch us’ (Cain 2004: 76). These types of behaviours emphasise the strong social boundary formation that occurs amongst internationals in ‘the field’ and point to the open acceptance of views that would not be accepted in their home countries, and that they would certainly not say aloud, and likely not even espouse.

The freedom to express such views is attributable in part to the close-knit living situations which lead to the formation of rapid and close bonds with their expat co-workers: ‘[h]as it been six months already? Already? I love these people. I don’t even want to think about saying goodbye’ (Olson 1999: 68). Within the space of ‘us’ of the expat community, privacy is at a premium, and ‘there was no such thing as a personal private relationship’ (Olson 1999: 51); everything is shared, including bathrooms (Cain 2004: 213). Speaking of the situation in Banja Luka, Olson says, ‘[w]e have our little community here of MSF, ICRC and UNHCR, so it’s nice to be back in my little family again’ (Olson 1999: 108). This space also presents the opportunity to remake oneself in ways that would not be possible within their normal societies. Lives prior to the field are downplayed and previously important markers like ‘career or money or…social class, the currency of social intercourse at Harvard’ disappear (Cain 2004: 15). Among the expats, distinctions of race or background fade away.

For some of the initiates this is shocking. One Bangladeshi UN worker is horrified by the lack of funeral rights for Muslims in the field (Cain 2004: 73). In all the memoirs, drugs and alcohol play a prominent role and are frequently mentioned as a tool that gets them through the horrors they face. As a group they are separated from their previous lives through distance, both physical and emotional, and from their immediate surroundings. They are separated from their families and friends ‘at home’ by a ‘distance of experiences, of time, of tragedy’ (Olson 1999: 9-10). Their inability to speak the local languages also creates a barrier between them and the local population, and security concerns (ostensibly) precipitate the maintenance of physical barriers.

While Leanne insists that ‘[n]othing about this kind of work is typical’ (Olson 1999: 10), it is this unpredictability that structures the novels and characterises its authors’ experiences. The bizarre, the heterotopic, the unpredictable, the anachronistic, and the politically incorrect are recurrent themes. All the characters express their amazement at the dreamlike or surreal quality of their life and work conditions in the field. Part of this is attributable to the places where they work, war zones, refugee camps, prisons, but also because they are witness to violent events while remaining untouched and outside of the structures that created these events. Leanne often speaks of being ‘in a dream’ or ‘on holiday’ (Olson 1999: 110) while Ken insists that ‘none of this is real’ (Cain 2004: 132). They often use imaginary nicknames to refer to their situations, for example Blue Lagoon for Banja Luka.

In contrast with their previous lives, the spaces of work and play blend into one. In Cambodia, parties at Ken and Heidi’s house become a place to exchange information on the political situation in the country. Conversely, their spaces of work become the places in which they celebrate. Leanne describes the unreal experience of spending New Year’s Eve on the frontline of a war, wearing ‘bulletproofs and drinking champagne to the sounds of shelling a few hundred meters away’ (Olson 1999: 102). This feeling of unreality lends itself to ludic, verging on bacchanalian activity. Exclaims Ken,

 

[w]e’re on the roof of our mansion in the middle of Indochina, no parents, no boss. Everything everyone does is funny and perfect…we’re young and immortal and together and drunk and stupid and in Cambodia.

(Cain 2004: 37)

While not ascetic in the way sometimes described by Turner (1969: 106), by engaging in bacchanalian and politically incorrect behaviour, the laws of western society (as the characters know them) are suspended. Heidi, normally socially conscious and anti-elitist, goes to the beach in Cambodia with her fellow UN secretaries to float

in inner tubes in the steamy waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We signal to the waiters, who wade out to us fully clothed, carrying trays of beer and cigarettes already lit…We decide this must be what it’s like to be rich, to be entitled.

(Cain 2004: 76)

While in their normal lives she would condemn conspicuous consumption, here she partakes.

Part of the significance of such activities is that they occur in places that are simultaneously ‘cutting edge, dangerous, lonely, urgent’ (Olson 1999: 175). In this context, experimentation, trickery and ignoring laws of normal society become the norm. Working on human rights law Ken muses, ‘I’m not actually a licensed “lawyer” in the US, but who’s splitting hairs about that in Cambodia?’ (Cain 2004: 32). Similarly, Leanne comes to accept that if one were to play by the rules of normal society, nothing would get done. She ‘learned to lie with impunity, cheat, steal, negotiate with and manipulate anyone, to beg, borrow, stretch facts…We developed quite a ruthless reputation but, considering the circumstances, one could say that necessity drove us to it’ (Olson 1999: 118). What ‘drove them to it’ seems to have been the juxtaposition of First World goals with Third World circumstance. For example, Heidi describes trying to set up polling stations in a mud field beside pigs (Cain 2004: 82), while Ken attempts to collect human rights abuse testimonies in a context where he does not know the language and can offer no protection to witnesses. The quality of pushing the boundary creates a euphoric atmosphere amongst initiates: ‘[i]t was terrifying, it was exciting, it was insane. We were living on the edge – and you should have seen the view!’ (Olson 1999: 10).

Another way in which the structure of normal life is suspended is through sexual relations. Prostitution is openly accepted as part of the landscape (Cain 2004: 76). Two of the three female characters engage in a string of emotionally or physically promiscuous relationships. Both women are excited by the ‘smorgasbord’ of men. Crows Heidi,

[w]ith so few women available, the men have to try harder, offer more of themselves. …In the permanent emergency of the mission, I suddenly don’t have to play by the boys’ rules. Which only proves that the boys’ rules were bullshit to begin with.

(Cain 2004: 133)

However, they both find themselves being bound by yet another set of rules. According to Turner, ‘[i]n liminality, the underlying comes uppermost’ (1969: 102), and in ES Heidi describes her need to have sex in the face of death as a way of re-engaging with bare life. Heidi and Lynne also both find themselves in inverted sexual positions compared to their normal lives. Stripped of their normal human agency as independent beings, they become pure women. In Heidi’s case, she fights against this by trying to use sex to assert herself. In Lynne’s case, she allows herself (and admittedly enjoys) becoming a classic ‘Dili Princess’, wearing a tiara to serve dinner to her male, expat housemates.

While initially, the characters express an exuberance with their jobs, they all eventually descend into despair. This transition occurs as they begin to realise that they are all in a state of ineffectual limbo, where none of their efforts have any impact, and where they seem to be constantly waiting for someone else to take action. Lynne’s entire time in Timor is spent waiting: first for the Independence celebrations working in an office where she is not wanted (hated, according to her colleague); then waiting for a job in the PM’s office promised to her; then waiting for the PM to give her work to do. This leads to a sense of temporariness and uncertainty. ‘[E]veryone keeps a bag packed for emergency evacuation if we need it’ (Olson 1999: 47); ‘I feel like a yo-yo’ (Olson 1999: 98), complains Leanne.  People arrive and leave incessantly.

The state of constant movement is also reflected in the characters’ inability to affect any change. Andrew sighs, ‘[m]y dreams of being useful here are vanishing’ (Cain 2004: 173). The characters see that their activities are directed towards their own liminal state, the space occupied by the international community: ‘all they [the UN] do is bring supplies into their own UN bases for their own staff, and certainly nothing gets to the population’ (Olson 1999: 94). Many of their jobs are by definition observation posts, documenting the situations they are put in. And while, ‘we do some essential work now, the minute we leave it will all fall apart’ (Olson 1999: 151).

This results in frustration, followed by despondency and cynicism in the narrators: ‘I managed to convince myself to believe in this work again. But I don’t. It’s a lie. We are the only beneficiaries of our righteousness’ (Cain 2004: 226). The liminal situation loses its appeal, the narrators begin to crave private space and isolation. This is often preceded by a period of getting sick, when their inoculations, both medical and emotional, can no longer protect them from their surroundings; or by an evacuation where it becomes clear that their presence in the Third World can only be temporary. Discussing the UN’s evacuation from Haiti, Andrew says: ‘[n]ow that they’re at their most vulnerable, we’re abandoning them,…flying out, clutching our precious blue UN passports and bags full of Haitian art’ (Cain 2004: 174). Leanne ruminates, ‘[w]hen things get really bad and we are needed the most, that’s the time when we have to leave’ (Olson 1999: 61).

Ultimately, the characters break down, psychologically, physically, and make the decision to return home. Says Leanne: ‘I just wanted to go home…Frankly, I was sick and tired of the whole thing’ (Olson 1999: 192). ‘I’d been at aid work for nearly four years and was beginning to feel too far removed from “the real world”. I didn’t know if we could truly ever return to the world but it was time to try’ (Olson 1999: 234). This juxtaposition between the surreal world of the field and the ‘real’ world of home is indicative of the anchoring influence of the country of origin.

 

Rites of Re-Aggregation: Returning to ‘Normal

When the characters do try to return to their previous ordinary lives, they find the re-aggregation difficult. Heidi concedes,

[w]e’ve all tried to make new friends here in New York, and to reverse the alienation we feel from our peers. But the conversation doesn’t usually go far once I say we lived in Somalia for two years, or Ken says that Andrew dug the graves of Srebrenica.

(Cain 2004: 286)

Similarly, Leanne complains that upon return, ‘I found out that my friends and family, for all their good intentions, shared little interest in what I had to say’ (Olson 1999: 9). They try to relocate normalcy as ‘civilians’ (as they call themselves) and find it difficult. Observes Leanne, ‘[w]e led one life that our regular friends and family saw and one that we saved for our friends from the field. We couldn’t seem to get the two lives to merge’ (Olson 1999: 221). This is arguably due to the fact that they have been irrevocably changed by their experiences in the field. In all three memoirs, the liminal phase is described as a transformative and quasi-religious experience. ‘Life as an international relief worker changed me profoundly,’ states Leanne (Olson 1999: 9). Even where it is not overly religious, there is the voiced desire on the part of Ken and Andrew to be part of something bigger than themselves (Cain 2004: 10). This tension in the re-aggregation stage is both predictable and provides insight into the types of people who are attracted by this type of work and the types of challenges that they face. It is of course important to consider that the aid workers who wrote these memoirs are not necessarily indicative of all internationals who engage in statebuilding. It may be only representative of a small, disgruntled or marginalised group who decided to vent their frustration in literary format. But even if this is so, it still represents a significant vocal minority, whose views are remarkable in their consistency. It is also in keeping with van Gennep’s rite of passage. The act of writing such a memoir is the ultimate act of transgression and betrayal for those who remain in the field. By telling the story as they see it – ‘the story of what it’s really like to be an international aid worker’ (Olson 1999: 10) – they break the unwritten code of the field, they separate themselves out from its communitas, from its liminal state. Such an act is the ultimate rite of separation and can only be done by someone who, at least temporarily, feels that the passage is complete.

 

The States in Between, or What van Gennep Tells Us About Statebuilding

This approach holds several lessons for statebuilding efforts and attempts to go beyond the local-international divide. First, it identifies the strong, anchoring influence of the aid workers home country. So far, discussions about bridging the ‘local-international’ divide have been spatially focussed on the country of intent – that is, where the statebuilding is physically taking place. In this reading, the activities, processes, and people associated with the international community in the field are seen as part of the ‘international’ elements of statebuilding and are juxtaposed to those activities, processes, people that are deemed to be ‘local’. Here, the state of being ‘liminal’ or in-between implies being between the workers’ home country and the ‘local’ environment. However, from the perspective of the memoirs, the space of the field is liminal not with regard to its physical surroundings, but with regard to the country of origin. That is to say, that the experience of being in the field is liminal in a temporal sense – as a transformative experience between the before and after of living a ‘normal life’ in the so-called First World. This is in keeping with Duffield’s idea of an ‘archipelago of aid’ where the international space of ‘the field site’ is more closely networked through transport and communications links to its country of origin than it is to its surrounding physical geography or ‘the local’ (Duffield 2009). In the context of statebuilding this implies that to talk of bridging the gap between the international and the local both risks applying conceptual frameworks that only exist within the international, and over-estimates the ability of the international to look towards (and recognise) the local, rather than continuing to gaze in towards itself.

Second, an analysis of the liminal space of ‘the field’ contributes to social boundary formation and highlights the close-knit emotional bonds that are created between members of the international community. Understanding this as an expected part of a rite of passage provides insight into the persistence of seemingly irresponsible or culturally inappropriate behaviours. Affective and emotional bonds are further reified through the material and spatial practices of exception, practiced by the international community. As international workers, they are protected by international accords of immunity, which translate not only into different laws, but different lifestyles within the compounds. It also helps explain the noticeable absence of ‘local’ people within the spaces of the international. In the context of the memoirs, the pages are peopled largely with other ‘ex-pats’. Even when the project or intervention is intended to be for an entire population, such as the independence celebrations for East Timor in 2002, the beneficiaries end up being excluded: linguistically, culturally, and physically. Lynne describes how the grandiose celebrations to celebrate the handover of the UN transitional administration to the Timorese, in May 2002, was aimed almost exclusively to the international community. She says, ‘despite the dark skins of some of the visitors, the host country has very few of its own in attendance, other than those who carry the trays’ (Minion 2004: 114). The impact of these structured spaces is that it reinforces established ways of being, and ultimately of thinking and doing. In each one of the novels, the ‘logic of the mission’ is theirs, not the local community’s (Cain 2004: 174). This is a potentially devastating point as it emphasises the structural aspect of the international habitus of statebuilding and raises the question of whether it is indeed possible to move beyond it.

Even those individuals who speak the language of the place they are going to, or stay in a country for long periods of time, may find themselves rejected by the very populations that they have come to assist. Local populations may consider aid workers as potential contaminants to the larger society or a threat to local elites, and accordingly push the aid workers back into their spatial and social categories. A theme in the narratives is the characters’ repeated attempts to break out of the ‘expat bubble’ only to be met with resistance both from other expats and from the local communities. During Lynne’s time in East Timor, the bars and restaurants frequented by the expats are quite literally kept offshore where boats have been converted into floating bars. As late as 2008, the international community is kept on permanent stand-by, by the refusal or inability of the Timorese government to provide long-term working visas for internationals. Heidi, on ‘rest and relation’ near Mombassa, tries and fails to escape her tourist hotel to find the ‘real Kenya’ (Cain 2004: 95). Lynne attempts to enter into the daily routines of her Timorese patrons, but is met with a lack of understanding as to why she, a malae,[4] would want to.

But the exclusion may not only be on behalf of local populations. According to Douglas (2002), liminal figures by Turner’s definition are ‘almost everywhere regarded as “polluting” and “dangerous”’, and this seems to be supported by the aid workers’ experiences, the third issue to highlight. As Andrew exhumes bodies in Gisenyi, Rwanda, he thinks to himself, ‘I have my UN passport and my air ticket out. But I don’t smell so good, I have human flesh under my nails, and I spend my days arguing with priests and governors about corpses and money’ (Cain 2004: 246). Sitting on the plane back to Winnipeg, Leanne remarks, ‘[n]o one wants to sit next to a skinny orange woman who has obviously been out in the bush too long’ (Olson 1999: 58). Such experiences need to be taken into consideration when trying to understand what it means to be an international, working in challenging conditions. Issues such as staff composition and turnover may be as important in the success or failure of statebuilding missions as constitutions and elections.

 

Conclusion

The analysis of aid workers’ memoirs offers three sets of conclusions. The first offers insight into the persistence of the category of the international (and its perceived inverse of the local) in statebuilding discourse. The application of van Gennep’s rite of passage suggests the need to consider whether the practices of the international are part of a structural process that has very little to do with the so-called local. To attempt to engage in ‘rapprochement’ or ‘bridging’ is to over-simplify the essential qualities of these states and to ignore that they are driven by different incentives, with different time frames, and different objectives. Further, to understand the space of ‘the field’, the space of statebuilding, as liminal implies that ‘the international’ is not hermetic by accident, but that this has been an important part of the experience of ‘going to the field’ for the aid workers carrying out the task and therefore an important (and overlooked) part of statebuilding. The implication of such a discrete and resilient international space has implications for the epistemology of statebuilding. If the experience of the local is only conducted from within the spaces of the international – the compounds, the conference rooms, the hotels and Humvees – then what is understood as ‘local’ can only be an ‘international’ concept.

A second set of conclusions can be drawn with regard to the methodological need to go beyond established qualitative and quantitative research methods for understanding the experience of statebuilding. As encouraged by Carr (2010), Lewis et al. (2008), and Schaffer and Smith (2004), life memoirs offer insight into the processes of aid work which is easily missed by other methods; into what Pouligny has called the intangible dimensions of statebuilding (Pouligny 2010). By reading across memoirs, as done in this chapter, there is the further opportunity to identify recurrent structures, themes, tropes and absences offering yet another level of insight into the process. Further work needs to be done to understand the impact of these novels on their readership – both in terms of attracting the next generation of international civil servants and aid workers and in terms of influencing how those in the countries of origin think about the liminal space of the field.

A final conclusion is that the practice of statebuilding is not an accident or incidental part of the process, but is actually co-constitutive of the process itself. A positive reading of this conclusion would be to highlight the need to look as much at the way in which statebuilding is done, as the stated objectives. Change the process and we will change the result. This is the approach endorsed by organisations, which endorse professional standards and codes of conduct for aid workers. But a more pessimistic reading would point to the structural quality of the process of statebuilding and ask whether it is possible to separate thought from action, agency from structure. As long as statebuilding continues to be an internationally driven endeavour, it will be based in the structures and habitus of the international, raising questions as to the possibility of either bridging or going beyond the categories which continue to plague its intended success.[5]

 

Acknowledgements

 

The author would like to thank Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Ellen Smirl and Anna Stavrianakis for their helpful comments on this chapter.

 

References

 

Bowie, F. (2006) The anthropology of religion: an introduction, 2nd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.

Cain, K. (2004) Emergency sex (and other desperate measures): A true story from hell on earth, hardcover edition, New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion.

Carr, E.R. (2010) ‘The place of stories in development: creating spaces for participation through narrative analysis’, Development in Practice, 20(2): 219-26.

Donais, T. (2009) ‘Empowerment or Imposition? Dilemmas of Local Ownership in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Processes’, Peace & Change, 34(1): 3-26.

Douglas, M. (2002) Purity and danger: an analysis of concept of pollution and taboo, London: Routledge.

Duffield, M. (2009) Architectures of Aid, Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

Eade, D. (1997) Capacity-building: an approach to people-centred development, Oxford: Oxfam.

Gigliotti, S. (2007) ‘Genocide Yet Again: Scences of Rwanda and Ethical Witness in the Human Rights Memoir’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 53(1): 84-95.

Heathershaw, J. (2008) ‘Unpacking the Liberal Peace: The Dividing and Merging of Peacebuilding Discourses’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 36(3): 597-621.

Kenny, S. (2005) ‘Reconstruction in Aceh: Building whose capacity?’ Community Development Journal, 42(2): 206-221. 

Lewis, D., Rodgers, D. and Woolcock, M. (2008) ‘The Fiction of Development: Literary Representation as a Source of Authoritative Knowledge’, Journal of Development Studies, 44(2): 198-216.

Mac Ginty, R. (2010) ‘Hybrid Peace: The Interaction Between Top-Down and Bottom-Up Peace’, Security Dialogue, 41: 391-412.

Minion, L. (2004) Hello Missus: A Girl’s Own Guide to Foreign Affairs, Sydney: Harper Collins.

Olson, L. (1999) A Cruel Paradise, Toronto: Insomniac Press.

Pouligny, B. (2010) State-Society Relations and Intangible Dimensions of State Resilience and State Building: A Bottom-Up Perspective, European Report on Development, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies: European University Institute.

Richmond, O. (2009) ‘Becoming Liberal, Unbecoming Liberalism: Liberal-Local Hybridity via the Everyday as a Response to the Paradoxes of Liberal Peacebuilding’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 3(3): 324-44.

Schaffer, K. and Smith, S. (2004) ‘Conjunctions: Life Narratives in the Field of Human Rights’, Biography: an interdisciplinary quarterly, 27(1): 1-24.

Smillie, I. (2001) Patronage or partnership: local capacity building in humanitarian crises, Bloomfield, Conn.: Kumarian Press.

Turner, V.W. (1969) The ritual process: structure and anti-structure, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

— (1975) Dramas, fields, and metaphors; symbolic action in human society, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

— (1977) ‘Chapter III: Variations on a Theme of Liminality’, in S. F. Moore and B. G. Myerhoff (eds.) Secular ritual, Assen: Gorcum, 36-52.

van Gennep, A. (1960) The Rites of Passage, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Yang, G. (2000) ‘The Liminal Effects of Social Movements: Red Guards and the Transformation of Identity’, Sociological Forum, 15(3): 379-406.

 


[1] The term ‘capacity building’ is often used within development discourse to refer to the transfer of skills in a particular area from external technical advisors to local beneficiaries (cf. Eade 1997). For critical perspectives see (Kenny 2005; Smillie 2001). Here, Lynne is using the term facetiously.

[2] It is worth highlighting that this is not the first attempt to use fictional narratives to deepen understandings of development processes. Lewis et al. (2008) look at a range of texts that document the impacts and experience of development from a wide range of perspectives. Similarly, Carr (2010) has looked at the potential for using narrative to better understand different perspectives, and Schaffer and Smith (2004) and Gigliotti (2007) have looked specifically at the human rights memoir to understand the process of bearing witness.

[3] Turner himself encourages the use of ‘oral narratives of personal observation and experiences’ in his study of the rites of passage of pilgrims (Turner 1975: 167).

[4] Malae = foreigner (usually white).

[5] Cf. also Goetze and Bliesemann de Guevara in this volume.

Plain Tales from the Reconstruction Site

“Plain Tales from the Reconstruction Site: Spatial continuities in contemporary humanitarian practice,” chapter in Mark Duffield and Vernon Hewitt (eds.) Empire, Development and Colonialism: the Past in the Present (London: James Currey, 2009).

 

The idea of a ‘pure’ or natural disaster is a pervasive one. The occurrence of an ‘Act of God’ appears to be the one instance where international intervention is beyond criticism: the blamelessness of the victims translates into an ethical imperative for action on the part of the ‘international community’ to alleviate the resultant suffering (Edkins, 2000). While it is possible to point to many instances of critique of political interventions (Mamdani, 2007; Pugh, 2005; Chandler, 2006) and others who critique the efficacy or appropriateness of certain modes of disaster relief (Duffield, 1991; Edkins, 2000; Keen, 1994; De Waal, 1997), there are few authors who problematized the basic premise that the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance to those affected by a natural disaster (Bankoff, 2001; Hewitt, 1995). Yet authors such as Smith (2006), Davis (2000), and O’Keefe (1976) stress that while natural hazards exist, the severity of their impact on human settlement is determined by human decisions: where and how to build; access to preventive measures; the existence and knowledge of escape routes.

While a direct, and unique causal link between geography and social development (Landes, 1998; Diamond, 2005) is highly disputed, the link between underdevelopment and increased risk of natural disasters is well documented. According to Ian Davis (1978: 11), ‘the study of disasters is almost by definition a study of poverty within the developing world.’ Even within high income countries, those groups which are structurally impoverished, or underprivileged, experience a higher vulnerability to disasters (Cutter, 2006; Giroux, 2006). Still, such nuances

fail to stop the idea of a ‘pure’ natural disaster from being held up as an ethical rationale for intervention. This chapter challenges this assumption by pointing out that despite the perceived ethical neutrality of post-disaster intervention, particular spatial and material approaches may have similarities to previous colonial practice. Focussing on the way in which the international community moves through and lives in the post-disaster reconstruction sites illuminates power relations and dynamics generally obscured by more abstract discussions over the ethics and modalities of international intervention. The first section of this chapter places contemporary humanitarian intervention within a longer continuum of global North-South relations and looks at why a spatial approach provides a useful heuristic for our examination of colonial continuities. The second section examines two particular examples of such continuities, mobility and separation, in some depth, juxtaposing observations and interviews with contemporary development and humanitarian practitioners with personal accounts from previous Anglo-Indian colonial administrators as described in the classic text, Plain Tales from the Raj, by Charles Allen (2006).[i]

A Spatial Genealogy of Response: Locating the Humanitarian Imaginary

According to Craig Calhoun, the idea of an Emergency Imaginary is an important part of the Western social imaginary (Calhoun, 2004; Taylor, 2005; Castoriadis, 1987). According to Calhoun (2004: 7) the ‘notion of “emergency” is produced and reproduced in social imagination, at a level that Charles Taylor (Taylor, 2002) has described as between explicit doctrine and the embodied knowledge of habitus.’ Calhoun goes on to say that the ‘production of emergencies, and the need to address them, has become one of the rationales for assertion of global power’ (Calhoun, 2004: 9; Klein, 2007; Duffield, 2007). An important part of the discourse is the perceived unusual nature of the emergency: ‘”[e]mergency” is a way of grasping problematic events, a way of imagining them that emphasizes their apparent unpredictability, abnormality, and brevity, and that carries the corollary that response – intervention – is necessary. The international emergency, it is implied, both can and should be managed’ (Calhoun, 2004: 6).

An important part of this emergency imaginary is the ability to locate the emergency, the event, in a particular geography or spatial imagination (Hewitt, 1995). The ‘assertion of global power’ that Calhoun points to must be asserted over someone or something – it must be asserted from some position of (perceived) security, and over another place of (perceived) insecurity. The ‘common practices’ that underpins Charles Taylor’s understanding of a particular social imaginary happen somewhere – they are locatable, they are grounded. One specific, yet underexamined way in which this is done is in the day-to-day material and spatial practices of international humanitarian workers who come to a disaster or reconstruction site. This is important because although humanitarian policy and discourse expresses the desire to frame individuals and communities affected by disaster in terms of empowerment rather than victimhood, the material practice and spatial dynamics of intervention may work against this. Despite an increasing focus in humanitarian literature on ‘downward accountability’ to ‘clients’ (beneficiaries) the material practices of aid delivery demonstrate disturbing continuities with previous colonial approaches. While such continuities can be observed across the spectrum of relief to development assistance, this chapter focuses on the particular space of the reconstruction site. This is due both to the privileged position of the emergency within the larger humanitarian imaginary and because the immediacy of its conditions strips away the rhetoric that couches the majority of longer-term development practice, allowing the material and spatial practices to be brought to the fore.

The term ‘reconstruction sites’ refers to geographic locations that have or are being physically reconstructed, with external assistance, after experiencing a crisis that overwhelms the ability of the affected society to respond. ‘External assistance’ refers to the provision of physical and/or financial resources by individuals and agencies that normally reside outside the geographic boundaries of the reconstruction site and have been brought there specifically by the event of the disaster. The precise geography of the reconstruction site will differ depending on whose perspective we are considering. The mapping of disaster is often one of the easiest and best executed aspects of a post-disaster intervention (Davis, 1978). Careful attention is paid to the location and categorization of victims, beneficiaries, types and location of damaged buildings and infrastructure. But the lens of analysis is rarely, if ever, turned back upon the implementing actors. While there is widespread informal acknowledgement amongst development practitioners that the rapid influx of hundreds, or thousands of foreign workers has feedback effects (Collier, 2007) these are dramatically underexamined. This is partly explained by the fact that the reconfiguring of space and the reconstruction of the built environment are not seenas political and socially transformative in themselves, but just a basic, and largely neutral component of a reconstruction process (Graham and Marvin, 2001).

However, the dissemination of work by Bourdieu (1990; 1977), Lefebvre (1991), and de Certeau (1988) highlighted the subjectivity and relativism in the designation and construction of particular physical and social spaces. This work contributed to and coincided with two major disciplinary shifts in the social sciences at large. First, in those disciplines which were already engaged with ideas of space and materiality such as geography and urban planning, it led to an re-examination and problematization of the ontological pre-eminence of an independent materiality that could be mapped, designed, shaped and built. Second, in disciplines such as anthropology and sociology, it contributed to the recognition of the need to consider space and materiality both as a potentially causal variable in the societies under examination, and also as an inextricable part of the embodied experience of research, and of the construction of knowledge itself (Crang, 2000).

The 1990s saw the application of the ‘spatial turn’ to a wide range of enquiry from discourse analysis (Ó Tuathail, 1996) to economic geography (Barnes, 2003). However, it did not have a significant impact on development or humanitarian studies, nor, by extension on post-crisis relief or reconstruction which focused on the level of the individual and its aggregate – society. Issues of governance, local livelihoods, civil society, capacity building, human security and anticorruption filled the agenda in the 1990s and 2000’s (Pupuvac, 2005) an agenda that assumed the solution, liberal, democratic peace, had already been found and only the instruments required perfecting (Paris, 2006; Hoogvelt, 2006).

This overlooks the way in which post-disaster reconstruction evolved. From its modern post-WW2 inception, international humanitarian assistance was conceived in spatial terms (Slater, 1997). The categories and binaries by which it defined itself as an activity were fundamentally geographic: 1st, 2nd and 3rd worlds; developed and underdeveloped countries; the global North/global South. Direct links to the process of European de-colonization can also be found (Duffield, 2007). Fred Cuny (1983) attributes the rise of disaster response as an industry within the global north to the rapid, post-1945 decolonization process which left the former colonies without either the human or financial capacity to respond. The ‘apolitical’ international system of NGOs and multilateral agencies was seen as preferable to the reassertion of control by former colonial powers. However through the application of spatial considerations, it is possible to see how contemporary material and spatial practices of humanitarian response may continue to invoke and reproduce colonial power relations. If the social imaginary is interlinked with the material practices of the everyday, it is necessary to consider the impact of the material expression of particular places and practices (Bourdieu, 1990; Certeau, 1988; Merleau-Ponty, 1962).

An initial application of the ‘spatial turn’ to the realm of post-crisis reconstruction points to several areas which are immediately problematized. First, the need to consider that the space of a reconstruction site is not a tabula rasa, and that what is produced is immediately and inextricably politicized and used in different ways by different groups, for different ends (Lefebvre, 1991). Second, space is relative and relational. Spatial and material designations, mappings and representations of needs and responses, may not be in keeping with other scalar designations or social categories such as the idea of the ‘local’, in the policy designs of the international community; or the programmatic separation of certain categories of beneficiaries such as post-conflict vs. post-disaster (Scott, 1998; Ferguson, 2006; Escobar, 1994).

Third, that knowledge is embodied – predicated upon ‘cognitive (mental) and physical (corporeal) performances that are constantly evolving as people encounter place’ (Hubbard et al., 2004: 6). These ‘geographies of embodiment’ are therefore implicated in the subsequent production and reification of categories of class, gender, and in the case of humanitarianism of donor/beneficiary and of saviour/victim. In the case of post-conflict reconstruction, this embodiment will be the result of the social and cultural environments that humanitarian workers have come from (their countries of origin) as well as the environments that they find themselves

in during the reconstruction process. According to Bourdieu (1990), it is impossible to separate subjects from their habitus (the practices and games of their surroundings) either present, past, and possibly future (Massumi, 2002). This means that the responses of particular individuals, and agencies are conditioned as much by previous experiences both of their place(s) of origin, and of previous reconstruction sites as they are by the immediate emergency they are responding to. Further, as discussed below, the precise material circumstances experienced while in a reconstruction site may also be significant.

These linkages point to the fourth insight of the spatial turn for post-crisis reconstruction: that the presence of international humanitarian agencies in the country of intent, must always be read contrapuntally with their space of origin (Inayatullah, 2004; Said, 1995). The activities, practices, and places of the international community in reconstruction sites are as closely networked to their spaces of origin as they are to their proximate physical environments (Castells, 2000; Sassen, 2000; Appadurai, 1997) and may need to be considered as particular, embodied instances larger global processes (Beck and Ritter, 1992; Harvey, 2001). As such, their representational consequences need to be taken into consideration. How are these international practices and spaces understood and interpreted by the groups and individuals in their immediate physical surroundings? Does this impact or effect the tactics (Certeau, 1988; Scott, 1998) that may be used in their interactions with the international donor community?

A fifth area of consideration is how are the spatial and material circumstances of humanitarian relief workers related to temporal considerations? How do differential spaces effect the way in which the time of response and intervention is conceived (Massey, 2006). The differential rates of mobility and speed between the international community and the target population are rarely examined, yet lie at the heart of some of the most problematic aspects of the ineffectiveness of humanitarian assistance. While the previous discussion has focussed on the applicability of the spatial turn to contemporary post-crisis reconstruction, the foregrounding of space and materiality also highlights the continuities of contemporary practice with previous modes of colonial governance and the unequal practices associated with it. In particular, two major continuities can be identified: mobility and separation. The next section will look at these two continuities in more depth.

 Spatial Continuity A: Mobility

A key feature of contemporary humanitarian intervention is the mobility with which aid workers move to and from, and between response and reconstruction sites (Telford, 2006). The nature of an emergency requires the rapid deployment of staff. The relatively short period of time that is required for the response and post-crisis reconstruction; the frequency of disaster events and the scarcity of qualified professionals means that staff are only present in one place for a limited time: anywhere from a few weeks to, at most, a few years. Likewise, within contemporary development practice, the (necessary) introduction of transport networks dedicated to the movement or international staff and associated goods creates a parallel space of movement, maintaining physical difference between the individuals who have come to assist, and those that are being assisted.

These differential spaces of travel and movement are important in several ways. First, they are significant in that they are securitized and separated, either literally or symbolically. This will be further explored below, under the theme of separation. Second, a key aspect of humanitarian assistance and post-crisis reconstruction is timing as the space of response and reconstruction necessarily has a higher velocity than its surroundings (Virilio, 1991). Long debates have taken place on the so-called ‘relief-to-development’ continuum i.e when humanitarian assistance ends and long term development assistance begins. While the current consensus in policy circles is for the need to link the two to ensure that humanitarian assistance is sustainable in development terms, an unavoidable distinction remains: humanitarian assistance must arrive as soon as possible after an emergency in order to achieve its stated aims of saving lives. The introduction and use of parallel transport systems for staff, and parallel delivery systems for food and nonfood-items (NFIs) such as tents, medicine, blankets is justified on the grounds that a slow humanitarian response invalidates the rationale for providing assistance. But the ends of timeliness and efficient delivery require certain sacrifices at the level of process, i.e. it may be deemed necessary to bypass national systems in the delivery of aid. For example, in the case of the of the international humanitarian response to the 2004 tsunami, the World Food Programme (WFP) instituted nearly daily flights up and down the coast of Aceh to transport humanitarian staff and equipment. This was justified on both the basis of need (efficiency) and staff security. However, the perception among some Acehnese, was that particularly in the post-emergency stage of the recovery effort, the WFP travel department operated more as a tour operator than a development agency, ferrying consultants, visitors from headquarters, and well-off disaster tourists from disaster site to disaster site. The flights cost exponentially more than domestic carriers, and therefore were out of reach for the average Indonesian. They were also temporary, and will not leave a sustainable transport infrastructure behind, to be used by the Acehnese, upon the departure of the international community. In the larger picture, the timeliness of delivery is also an important proof of the technical superiority and ability of the global North to respond to and manage emergencies.[ii]

The differential rates of mobility also emphasize the different metrics that are used to assess the risk conditions of humanitarian staff versus those of the target communities. While within the emergency imaginary, a disaster is a unique and unusual event, which can be gone to, managed, and left, for the populations that are being assisted, risk (or the potential vulnerability to similar disasters) is part of the fabric of daily existence. But for the humanitarian (and development) aid workers, the ability to leave the reconstruction site at any point, is always an option; a condition of their employment. Many medium term, high risk postings also contain the guarantee of regular periods when staff are expected to leave their place of work and go to another physical location to relieve the pressure of living in confined and dangerous surroundings. This emphasizes the feeling of impermanence of location amongst the staff, and the emotional and cultural distance from their immediate physical environment. It also highlights the centrality of travel and movement to the experience of humanitarian assistance.

While often identified as a feature of contemporary globalization (Bauman, 1998; Appadurai, 1997) such impermanence and mobility has a much longer history (Hirst and Thompson, 1999). Significant work has been done on the pivotal role played by ideas and experiences of travel, under colonialism (Pratt, 1992; Gowans, 2006; Kearns, 1997). As heard in Allen’s testimonials, constant travel also characterized the life of colonial administrators and their families: ‘[F]requent transfers and movements over great distances were recurrent themes in the “Anglo-Indian” experience: “As official people we were constantly on the move”’ (Allen, 2006: 57). Allen’s interviewees describe the boat voyage to India as central part of the colonial experience: a space where professional and social networking took place and where relationships and partnerships were formed and solidified (see also Gowans, 2006).

Striking comparisons can also be drawn between contemporary and colonial experiences of arrival: ‘[r]eceptions varied according to status and connections. Those of high degree or with connections were garlanded and their luggage seized by chaprassis in scarlet uniforms. Some were met by shipping agents and shepherded through customs. Others had less auspicious introductions’ (Allen, 2006: 54-55).[iii] Such a scene could equally describe the arrival of international aid workers to a reconstruction site. Those who belong to a high level international agency such as the United Nations (UN) or the World Bank are often quickly guided through customs by their agencies’ operations staff, whisked into a large, radio equipped sports utility vehicle (SUV) and driven away in power-locked and air conditioned security, while those who are from a smaller organization or travelling as individuals may face long queues at the visa window and frustrating negotiations with local cab drivers.

Regardless of the hierarchical position of the agency or organization in question, an underexamined aspect of the reconstruction effort remains the types of individuals that it attracts. Across generations and cultures, the idea of unknown and the ‘other’ is appealing to certain segments of a population. The idea of a reconstruction site has been imbued with poetic, often romantic notions (Kenny, 2005). According to Ian Davis, the process of rebuilding after a disaster combines preoccupations of social awareness; advanced technology; mobility and impermanence (Davis, 1978) and may attract individuals that seek a life that is perceived as more adventurous, unpredictable and emotionally and professionally fulfilling that one than could be found in their country of origin (Cain, 2004). This allure of the foreign was clearly seen in the types of NGOs and aid personnel that arrived in South-East Asia after the 2004 tsunami (Kenny, 2005). Such desires are also found in the descriptions of the types of individuals who were drawn to the colonies. As described by the Prince of Wales in his opening address to the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London, ‘the Colonies…are the legitimate and natural homes, in future, of the more adventurous and energetic portion of the population of these Islands’ (British Parliamentary Papers, 1886). Indeed, within the person of the aid worker, the embodied links between colonial administration and contemporary humanitarianism can be clearly identified. Duffield (2007: 59-60) describes how during the 1950s and ‘60s the ‘expanding overseas voluntary sector’ relied on ‘people who, through colonial administration, military service, missionary societies or the business world had come of age within the Empire.’ While the types of individuals who were attracted to the overseas voluntary sector were initially different from the previous colonial administrators in their desire to give something back, the subsequent merging of NGO and donor processes has meant, once again, a reintegration and exchange of state and non-governmental personnel, through, among other things the merging of career paths (Duffield 2006: 64-65).

On a psychological level, continuities also exist between the two groups over their conflicted emotions surrounding ideas of ‘home’. British colonists in India were, on one hand, living far away from their official domicile. ‘”We never thought of England as home,” recalls Nancy Foster. ‘It never occurred to us that our home wasn’t India’ (Allen, 2006: 35). On the other hand, their ‘home’ in the colonies was the bi-product of employment, and therefore subject to uprooting at any moment. This contributed to a feeling of impermanence (Ibid: 87; see also Blunt, 1999). ‘For instance, flowers grew very beautifully in the north of India but you knew when you planted some daffodil bulbs that you’d never see them come up’ (Allen, 2006: 87). For some countries, rapid rotation of the diplomatic corps was a precautionary measure against their ‘going native’ and losing their emotional ties to the metropole. While no such official policy is behind contemporary development practices, the institutionalization of certain programmatic approaches and categories (for example, the categories of ‘relief and response’ or ‘rapid reaction teams’) means that the individuals occupying these positions will find themselves quickly rotated from job to job, from emergency zone to emergency zone. The feeling of impermanence may also account for the iconic role played by the ex-pat hotel in both colonial and contemporary post-crisis setting (Wrong, 2000; Dallaire and Beardsley, 2003; Allen, 2006).

The impact of this constant mobility is two fold. First, rapid staff turnover may lead to the impression on behalf of ‘local’ interlocutors and staff that the international agencies are not truly committed to fostering a long term relationship with the beneficiary country. It may lead to short termist programming, a lack of institutional memory, and a disproportionate amount of resources going into staff recruitment and relocation. Secondly, this rapid mobility from one disaster site to another makes it difficult for the international staff to engage with their surroundings, leading staff members to more easily turn toward their fellow aid workers than towards their physical surroundings. The institutional structure of international relief and development also creates conditions that promotes collusion amongst aid agencies at the field level, by encouraging them to spread the risk of non-delivery among themselves and concentrate on promoting collective successes rather than individual failures (Easterly, 2002).

While Easterly concentrates on the negative economic consequences that this has on the inefficient delivery of aid, the sociological impact of such behaviour is also worthy of attention. By creating an environment that encourages intensive networking through frequent meetings, coordination and information exchange, the emotional and intellectual worlds of the international community are arguably defined more by the needs and demands of the international community than by local beneficiaries. Although current policy agendas of international relief and development organizations include the need for increased feedback and input from the target beneficiaries of the aid, it is worth considering the material and spatial circumstances of the way in which this feedback is sought and collected. While participatory planning processes have long been an integral part of humanitarian assistance, they are problematized when we take into consideration the physical, and material circumstances in which the processes are held which may themselves account for the identified inability of beneficiaries to provide feedback (Ibid: 244). In the same way that the location of peace talks may influence the outcome of a fragile negotiation, so could the location of consultative meetings for the coordination of particular relief sectors, or aid frameworks.

Spatial Continuity B: Separation

The previous section has looked at the common theme of mobility in both the colonial and contemporary development settings. The differential rates of movement between humanitarian aid workers and target beneficiaries will influence programmatic choices such as where and how to build, and who to assist. Intensified by the notion of an “emergency” of which the ethical imperative for action may justify normally inappropriate decisions, this leads to a situation where response strategies are determined, in part, by a temporary and short termist logic. This creates one type of separation. However, within the reconstruction site there also exist built forms of separation between the aid workers and the beneficiaries: forms that evoke colonial patterns and practices. In this section, two particular forms will be examined: the space of the home and the space of the vehicle.

 The space of home

The living conditions of humanitarian aid workers are often compared informally to architectural and visual typologies of the fortress, the compound, the camp, the cantonment. But how applicable are these allusions? Can comparisons be drawn with colonial approaches to the built environment?

The particular physical type of building will depend significantly upon the circumstance of the particular reconstruction site. Where the built environment has been seriously damaged or destroyed, temporary accommodation may be provided in the form of tents, the few remaining hotels, or rental of select, often premium properties. Where security is of immediate and significant concern, the built form of the compound may be used. While the camp, or compound, is by no means the only type of physical experience of the international community in a reconstruction zone, it is an evocative one – a place that often becomes the focus of ‘ex-pat’ meetings and leisure activity, whether or not it is truly representative of the international sentiment at large. Authors such as de Chaine (2002), Ek (2006) and Edkins (2000) have pointed to the physical, bounded structure of the international compound (or ‘camp’) as having unique and potentially affective properties on the bodies their contain and exclude (Clough and Halley, 2007). Descriptions of the US Green Zone in Iraq increasingly point to the implications of conducting a ‘reconstruction’ from within a walled compound however the analysis is not taken beyond the point of journalistic or anecdotal observation (Chandrasekaran, 2006). This is particularly surprising when we consider the instrumental role played by the colonial home under British Imperialism.

According to Blunt and Dowling (2006: 150), the space of the Anglo-British colonial home was important in the reproduction of the ‘domestic, social, and moral values legitimating rules.’ It was partly through the example, of what a quintessentially British household was supposed to be, that the civilizing mission was to be achieved (Gowans, 2006). British superiority was to be defined by the degree to which its civility and order differed from the chaotic and unregulated space of the native, and vice-versa (Said, 1995). Allen (2006: 63) describes the British section of Calcutta as ‘a world apart’ with residential areas reflecting social divisions of the colonial administration. ‘There were the old parts of central Calcutta where the old palatial burra sahibs’ houses had been built, left as a legacy to those who came on afterwards, and around them came the new buildings, blocks of flats where the young sahibs lived when they first came out. But as you became more senior and you wanted tennis courts and more servants, you moved into what was called the suburbs. Ballygunge was the second stage, and Alipore, built under the wing of the Belvedere, which had been the old viceregal lodge and which therefore contained that air of sanctity, was the final stage’ (Ibid: 63-4).[iv]

Even within the colonial cantonment, racial demarcations ‘reproduced on a domestic scale the racial distancing that underpinned colonial urbanism’ (Blunt and Dowling, 2006: 152). However, the space of the colonial home had at least three further functions. First, the placement of particular settlements, or hill stations was useful for purposes of oversight and control of populations (Duncan and Lambert, 2004). Second, the adoption of ‘European models of household organization and domesticity’ was a central part of assimilationist strategies (Ibid: 392). Finally, the linking of metropole to the colonies was a key part of the domestication of empire. Not only did this involve bringing the colonies ‘home’ through exhibitions, scientific studies and even the import of exotic plant species (Duncan and Lambert, 2004; Blunt, 1999) but, through the transference of architectural styles, aesthetic trends, and legal and educational systems, also brought the metropole to the colonies. In this way, the space of the home played a central part of colonial governance, and nation building. However, its exclusivity and racial segregation may have also ‘provoked racial antagonisms between rulers and ruled, and ultimately contributed to the decline of the British Empire’ (Blunt and Dowling, 2006: 150). In a contemporary humanitarian context, this resonates with the rental of the most expensive houses in a reconstruction site by internationals, at greatly inflated prices.[v] Similarly, while the names, locations, and political economy of particular hotels, restaurants and clubs, may be meaningless to new humanitarian arrivals, they may evoke a material legacy of previous colonial patterns of domination (Sudjic, 2005; King, 1990; Vale, 1992).

The space of the vehicle

The separate living spaces of humanitarian workers can be seen to extend to the realm of the vehicle. Few visual images are as evocative of the international community as the white UN SUV. It can be observed across reconstruction settings, often in a caravan with several others, parked outside a particular office complex, bar, or restaurant. Even in countries where it is not necessary, it is often used.

The form of the SUV has been extensively analysed within a North American and European context (Bradsher, 2003). Edensor (2004: 117) describes how cars ‘are part of the mediated imaginaries, mundane geographies and everyday practices that inhere in the formation of national identities.’ Work on the social impact in the United States of the SUV suggests that its rise parallels a model of citizenship that values safety and inviolability of person above all else (Mitchell, 2005; Campbell, 2005). If we apply this to a humanitarian context, the material practice of the international community may be seen to constitute an ‘attempt at self-imposed exclusion from the wider neighbourhood, as well as the exclusion of others’ (Atkinson and Flint, 2004: 178) reinforcing the observations from local residents that the objectives of the international community are different from those of the community they are assisting.

Such a delimitation from the wider physical context, is also found within colonial experience. A description of the ‘highly hierarchical’ railway carriages, that reflected the social structure of British India reads thus: ‘[a] four-berth carriage had been reserved for us with a self-contained toilet compartment with a shower…. Furthermore, the windows, which were in triplicate – glass, venetian blinds and gauze – were also latched, so you were in a pretty impregnable position. We asked what would happen if anybody else tried to come into our compartment and were assured that nobody would turn up. No Indian would dare to attempt to come into our compartment so long as he saw more than one European therein.’ (Allen, 2006: 59) This allowed its travellers to ride comfortably, undisturbed and separate from the surroundings they were there to assist. More broadly, the very possibility of travel was imbued with notions of freedom versus ‘unfreedom’, distinctions which continue to resonate within contemporary humanitarian practice (Grewal, 1996).

Implications

This chapter has discussed how continuities exist in the material and spatial practices of the international community with previous Anglo-Indian colonial experiences. The initial examination indicates two ways in which this might be significant. First, even where no obvious barrier exists between the international community and the intended beneficiaries of the assistance, the material practices and spatial dynamics create a bounded microcosm of international activity. Such separation inevitably affects the way in which the international aid workers interact with and understand the target community. This will influence perceptions of what types of response strategies are needed, and, through path dependence and ‘lessons learned’ what types of interventions are used in future reconstruction sites.

Second, particular material and spatial arrangements have an observed impact on the individuals that they are intended to assist. The tropes of the white SUV, the ex-pat hotel, the UN transport planes have become clichés, but their persistence, denigration and targeting, indicates their importance in the overall impression of humanitarian intervention. By reinforcing ideas of exclusivity, transience and inaccessibility neo-colonial categories of us-them; local-international; north-south are reinforced and perpetuated.[vi]

How exactly particular material forms or designated places (Cresswell, 2004; Agnew, 1997) are implicated in and related to larger categories of space (Lefebvre, 1991) is the subject of much study. Contemporary theories of cultural geography emphasize the importance of materiality and lived experience in the construction of such abstract, scalar, concepts as the international. For example, in their work on the nation, Jones and Fowler (2007) look at the importance of local spaces in the reproduction of the nation. They argue localised places can become “’metonyms’ of the nation” through their abstract and generic representation of national messages, symbols, and ideologies (Ibid: 336). Citing Jackson and Penrose (1994) they ‘stress the potential for localized places to be key sites for generating ideas and sentiments that can ultimately reproduce the nation’ (Jones, 2007: 336). But what happens if we extend this to the category of the ‘international’? How do particular practices of the international community contribute to creations of larger ideational categories? The classic texts of post-disaster intervention point to the military spatial heritage of humanitarian relief and reconstruction: the tents, the conception, layout and organization of refugee and relief camps. (Kent, 1987; Cuny and Abrams, 1983; Davis, 1978) However, they do not include an examination of older continuities – those that may exist between the built forms of colonial occupation and contemporary relief efforts.

Conclusion

In the current processes and practices of international assistance, the lived experiences and built environment of the international community are rarely examined despite their contributions to the humanitarian imaginary. They may also be an important aspect of the way in which the international community is understood and interpreted at the local level. In this way, although many theorists have cautioned against drawing historical continuities where none exist (between development and colonialism), this analysis suggests that these parallels may be stronger than hitherto suggested and worthy of further sustained examination. The material and spatial practices of these groups will not only inform the immediate and long term direction of the reconstruction project, but may, ultimately, contribute to the larger social imaginary – both in terms of how the international community sees itself, and how the international community is viewed by others. It is within reconstruction sites and other humanitarian spaces that particular key relations are crystallized, produced and reproduced.

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[i] Empirical work for this chapter is based upon open-ended interviews with subjects working in and on the postcrisis reconstruction in Aceh and Sri Lanka. The themes are part of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge, Centre for International Studies entitled: Post-Crisis Built Environments of the International Community. For their comments and suggestions, the author would like to thank Mark Duffield, Vernon Hewitt, Tarak Barkawi, David Nally and Arran Gaunt.

[ii] This is part of the reason why the inability of the U.S. to respond to Hurricane Katrina was so disturbing. It drew into question the ability, and therefore the legitimacy, of the U.S. to respond to overseas emergencies.

[iii] Allen translates “chaprassi” as “office servant” or “messenger”.

[iv] Allen translates “burra sahib” as “great man”.

[v] According to Allen’s interviewees, bachelors would typically live in a shared household with a cook, and basic rented furniture. Such themes can be easily translated into the social divisions in contemporary development practice, with young, unattached emergency workers living in shared, rented accommodation, while heads of station, and senior staff of bilateral and multilateral agencies will be put in large, often grand houses suitable for diplomatic functions; their furniture shipped by their agency from a previous duty station.

[vi] For example, the representative significance of the form of the white SUV can be seen in its violent targeting in a variety of humanitarian and developmental contexts. In certain situations (Afghanistan) non-governmental organisations (NGOs) purposefully defaced their white SUVs to make them less conspicuous. Elsewhere, development organizations have recently foregone the traditional white SUV in favour of local taxi cabs (Darfur), and mini busses (Liberia).

Drive by Development

“Drive by Development: The role of the SUV in international humanitarian assistance,” unpublished paper (2011)

“There was even an old saying that, for 70 percent of the world’s population, the first vehicle they saw was a Land Rover” (Wernle 2000).

“A Land Rover is less of a car than a state of mind” – Car and Driver Magazine 1964 

The white sports utility vehicle (SUV) has become an inextricable part of aid and development work. Not only do they underpin the majority of aid and development activities – either through the transportation of staff, goods, or equipment – but they have become symbolic of the act of doing aid both for better and for worse.

An analysis of peacekeeping expenses between 2002 and 2009 showed that total expenditure on Motor Vehicles/Parts & Transportation Equipment amounted to $891,807,651 and between 4.5 and 9.7% of total expenditure depending on the year (Figure 2).  In 2009, this made it the 6th highest budget line for total peacekeeping expenses, however, when related expenses such as fuel are taken into account, it is likely that it is closer to third after construction, and air transport.  While peacekeeping operations are notorious when it comes to their fleets of land rovers, they are by no means alone in their reliance on SUVs as a primary form of transport. Most UN agencies, and the majority of INGOs are equally reliant upon the vehicles. Yet despite their prominence both programmatically and physically in the context of aid work they are considered to be an incidental and generally unremarkable.

When compared to the attention that car usage has received in other disciplines the complete absence of discussion over the SUVs ubiquity in aid work is striking.  While there are occasional grumblings regarding the purchase and transport costs of the vehicles and difficulties with re-sale or disposal of the vehicles, these are restricted to the logistics or operations side of aid work.  When compared to the centrality of automobiles and automobility in Anglo-European social theory, the lack of any discussion of the political-economic, sociological, psychological or spatio-material implications of its pervasive use is puzzling.  Why, when car and more specifically, SUV use has been the subject of such extensive social enquiry in other contexts and disciplines, should it have avoided scrutiny in the context of aid and development work.

My work on the SUV serves to rectify this gap, however it’s not meant as merely an academic hole filling exercise. Rather, what initially started as a quixotic sideline of my more broader work on the spatial aspects of aid has quite quickly revealed itself to be, I feel, an enormously productive approach to thinking through the major aspects of humanitarianism broadly speaking. In particular it has led me to the following set of arguments:

1. There has been a co-evolution between technologies of aid and development (in this case the SUV) and the content of aid and development practice.  While the way in which aid is done is usually seen as irrelevant to what is done – so for example, using land rovers as part of staff transport in a micro-finance scheme is seen as extraneous to the project content: advisors; training sessions; credit funds – my work shows how the way in which do aid is influenced by the how we do it.  Likewise, the SUV as a central feature of contemporary metropolitan experience, has been influenced in its design and marketing through its use in the periphery which in turn, has effected the ways in which the object has been designed, distributed and used in the context of aid work.

2.  This challenges the story that we in the humanitarian ‘North’ tell ourselves about development as an encounter “between autonomous and sovereign selves” and challenges the very premise of development as linear, progressive trajectory – as something that can be directed from donor capitals and enacted across the Global South.

3.  This disruption not only dispels the possibility of enacting development the way it is meant to be done, but can also be helpful in examining the seemingly inexplicable ways in which aid relations ‘on the ground’ change, shift, move, are challenged, supported.

4. Forces us to recognize the micro-political of everyday actions – looks at how global political relations are mediated through objects, encounters.  This is not a new recognition but it is one that has been generally applied at the national level with regards to citizenship and demos. Interesting to see what happens when we extend these ideas to the realm of aid work, and ultimately the international.

Now before I turn to the body of the paper, I need to clarify a few concepts, definitions.  First of all, I’m sure that some you are already have internal conversations regarding the flexibility with which I use the terms aid, development, relief, humanitarianism. This is not an accident. In some cases in the paper, I will make clear indication as to whether I’m referring to project based, long-term development aid or short term relief aid.  I use the word ‘aid’ to refer to both. Likewise, while in policy circles humanitarian refers to the strictly emergency phase of a response – I am using it to refer to the broader enlightenment project of helping those in need through established institutions or organizations. I am, however, often quite fluid in my use of the terms for several reasons. First, the lines between long term development and short-term relief are increasingly blurred institutionally, organizationally, in terms of personnel and policy. This is part policy, part accident.  Second, with regard to my discussion of the comment about development containing an implicit narrative of the triumph of man over his own destiny; over nature – this discourse is increasingly also present with strict aid circles.  Disaster and emergency response is increasingly embedded within narratives of prevention, mitigation, minimizing vulnerabilities and complex emergencies point to underlying structural or  root causes which can be minimized and even eliminated.

The methodology for this paper is very much a ‘mixed methods’ approach combining archival research with secondary sources and some preliminary interviews of people who either worked on or with Land Rovers in general or in the specific development contexts under review.  These were obtained through a snow-ball approach i.e. people who knew people.  Theoretically and empirically, I am still working through approaches and moments, so what I am going to present today are really the building blocks of my bigger project, from which an article needs to be extracted. Although I’ve tried to develop a line of argument, I’m intentionally kept the piece quite broad to solicit feedback on the best approach to take in the article that is struggling to emerged. Particularly, as this is turning out to be such an inter-disciplinary project, I welcome advice on theories or approaches that I may have overlooked or omitted.

The structure of the article proceeds in two phases:

1 – an examination of the theoretical approaches that I have been pursuing to explore the phenomenon

2 – an overview of the empirical trajectory that I have uncovered focussed around the object of the Land Rover.

Part 1:  Theorizing the SUV

Thinking about or through ‘the car’ has been a pet project of social theory almost since the object’s inception.  Theorists such Adorno and Benjamin were interested in understanding how the object facilitated systems of capital both materially and symbolically. This theme was to be picked up again by those interested in structural Marxism and became a trope in the writings of Barthes, Baudrillard, Althusser and Lefebvre during the 1960s.  It was during this period that sustained examination was undertaken on the object of the car.  Lefebvre, considered the “motor-car” to be “the epitome of ‘objects’” (Lefebvre and Rabinovitch 1971:101).  Fast forward to the 1990s and a renewed interest in automobilities was adopting a larger phenomenological approach to the subject, but also building upon political economy approaches which had been part of the sub/urbanization discussions of the 1980s and concerns and considerations around car use and energy security of the late 1970s. Within these approaches there was a small, but significant subgenre that was interested more narrowly in the emerging predilection amongst North American suburbanites for large, gas guzzling vehicles whose safety and security features went far beyond the requirements of ferrying lil’ Jimmy to and from soccer practice. But in very rare cases were these discussions taken outside of the metropole and into the realm of international development or even the ex-colonial periphery at large. Notable exceptions include Green-Simms and Higate and Henry’s work.   From this broad work on cars, Matthew Patterson identifies three broad approaches to theorizing the automobile:  Automobility theory (that i’ve already mentioned), ecology and global politics.

But if widen our lens to include those theories which look not only at the object of the car, but the car as objects, we suddenly find at our disposal a much wider repertoire of theory that can be drawn upon.  This includes work on objects and materiality; science and technology studies and actor network network theory.  While this may seem like a very heavy toolkit, it is one that at least, initially is helpful is thinking through how the SUV may be implicated in both the development of individual subjectivities – both of aid workers and so called beneficiaries – but also with regard to the global relations of aid.

This is the part that I am currently working on – trying to figure out how I want to position the paper, and what makes most sense.  Given time frames I haven’t been able to include the most recent work that I’ve been looking at by people like Mol on the Zimbab Bush Pump; Latour’s Aremis and his ideas of scripts and mediation or things and Bennett’s work on vibrant matter and distributive agency.  So I’m going to present the framework from the first draft, even though I am quite sure that this will be discarded in favour of something new.

Working from the micro to the macro, I suggest that at least three sets of theoretical considerations are useful for this project:

1.  affect and interiority of SUV use (being in the car);

2.  Seeing through the car: the SUV as instrument of seeing and way of knowing

3.  the economic and symbolic circuits of car production, distribution and (re)use (car as assemblage).

Having positioned the argument theoretically, the article will then turn to a select genealogy of SUV use in aid work, focussing on the iconic vehicle: the Land Rover.

Although, the way in which these cars are received by their host populations (the citizens of the beneficiary country) is a crucial part of the dynamic, this article is written primarily from the perspective of the primary user of the vehicles – the aid workers.  Understanding this trajectory is a key initial step in the process of understanding contemporary dilemmas associated with the vehicles’ use and future work intends to engage more explicitly with how the vehicles are used and understood by host populations.

1. Being in the car – affect and interiority

The first set of issues surround how aid workers experience the vehicle and what types of emotional or affective implications it may have. Although the focus of this paper is on the SUV and the related form of the 4×4, Automobility theory, which looks at the experience of being in a car more generally – either as a passenger or driver – is relevant (Featherstone et al. 2005; Flink 1988; Urry 2007), identifying a series of ways in which the SUV has affective impact on its passengers.

First, theories which relate to the interior space of the car help understand the various ways that car use impacts on the emotional and cognitive experiences of its passengers.  The attributes of commonly used SUV models such as Range Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers or Ford Kijangs include air conditioning, sun tinted windows, stereo systems and communications technology for liaising with the home base. This creates a sonic envelope – encasing the passenger(s) and driver in a different soundscape to their surroundings (Bull 2004) – allowing them to block out the representative noises of their environment and/or to create a soundtrack to accompany the passing land and city scapes.  This envelope will also be linked through radio contact to the space of the office base.  When working in tropical countries, the interiority of the LR also offers shelter, from sun, sand, rain and most importantly heat: the climate controlled vehicle a non-representative oasis of cool.  That is not to say that it is necessarily comfortable – not all vehicles are top of the line, the roads are rough, the engine is loud – but relatively speaking it is a more expedient and comfortable way of travelling than that available to the majority of the surrounding population.  Inevitably this creates a physical distance from surrounding environments and populations, particularly where rates of car use are relatively low.

By providing respite from everyday demands (Bull 2004:249), the aid worker may also have unrealistic expectations about the general living conditions of the place they have come to assist. The hermetic space of respite – where engines hum and radios crackle – may help the aid worker to ignore the pedestrian difficulties encountered by the majority of the populations: the unreliable public transport, the lack of childcare, the prevalence of disease flare ups such as malaria, the power cuts, the financial disruptions. In his discussion on cars, Baudrillard considers cars to be an extension of home – something that is even more the case in the context of working in a foreign context. {cite} Merriman compares the space inside a car, and the accompanying space of transit, to Auge’s non-space: a space between places, a space of transit, outside of the time (Augé 1995; Merriman 2004).  Particularly in the context where you are being driven, there may be a moment of nothingness where you may gossip with your co-passengers, listen to music, or contemplate the blurred passing scenery – perhaps recoiling form the children or beggars who run to the windows displaying wounds – sometimes to mirrored glass.  This non-space of the car bears little or no-resemblance its surroundings.

This disjuncture between inside and outside is also reflected in the physical presences of many SUVs or 4×4 as common models used in aid such as, mean that they are highly elevated off the ground – one needs to literally heft oneself up and out of the surroundings and into the space of the vehicle. This vantage point is remarkable, sitting in the SUV you look down upon and over your surroundings, a sense accentuated by the relative absence of similar vehicles and the prevalence of foot traffic, bicycles, or motor-bikes in the majority of development situations.  There is a sense of security through visibility – you are seen and can see.  Although as will be discussed, it is this same visibility that is increasingly putting aid workers under threat. The actual velocity of movement can also be seen as affectively fraught, motion and emotion being co-constitutive – perhaps invigorating, perhaps soothing (Sheller 2004) – but contributing again to a sense of being in-between, ungrounded, ambulatory.

As aid agencies have become more professionalized and rationalized in their labour forces, it is not uncommon for aid workers – particularly those who are visiting experts or on short term contracts to be driven by a local driver. This contributes to a sense of not knowing where you are going and renders the landscape unknown, mysterious, strange.  The ritual of being driven in an SUV, through unknown landscapes may also create a sense of inter-changeability of development or aid contexts: that they are similar in how they are interacted with, and in their unknown-ness. Within the vehicle, being driven creates an implicit hierarchy of ‘international aid staff’ being transported by local drivers although this may also confer power upon the driver – to take the best roads; to not be selling out his/her passenger; to not run out of petrol; to know how to fix the vehicle should things go wrong. A satirical aid blog “Things Aid Workers Like” comments:

Expat aid workers who have limited contact with real live “locals” will often take what their driver says as the “voice of the people.”  This “local voice” can go so far as to influence decisions an aid agency makes with regard to an entire country. Because they are such great sources of cultural information, it may be a good idea to include the driver in focus groups or run new strategy ideas past him for quick informal “vetting.” Drivers make expat aid workers feel like they are friends with a local and have “insight into local perspective,” another thing that expat aid workers like.[1]

A final area where the affective experience of being in a car needs to be considered is with regard to what Miller, Gilroy and others have describes as ‘car cultures’ (Gilroy ; Miller 2001).  These are the affective bonds which develop between people – either individuals or groups – and their cars.  They may invest large amounts of time on their vehicle – fixing it, upgrading – or may overly identify with their vehicle. Car cultures are remarkably strong when it comes to SUVs and in particular land rovers – a point I’ll return to later.

2. Seeing through the car: the SUV as instrument of seeing and way of knowing

A second way of understanding the role of the car in aid work, is with regards to its role as instrument of seeing and knowing.  As already mentioned, the trajectories and narratives of development and car use are inseparable. Post-WW2 development was focussed on a linear modernization narrative – pointing both to the endemic growth potential of so called the third world and its ability to adopt and adapt technological transfers from the first world.  This narrative was constructed by, in good part, the visiting experts – the colonial and commonwealth officers, researchers, and emerging breed of aid workers – who went to the newly invented ‘field’ (Gupta and Ferguson 1997) and discovered, collected, named and analyzed its components (Escobar 1994; Kothari 2005).  An instrumental and constitutive part of these modernization practices were the 4×4 and the concurrent development of roads: enabling factors in the penetration of territory and in the multiplication of collection practices on the part of researchers and aid workers.[2]

The perceived technological superiority of the car versus local modes of transport also reinforced the transformative logic of the modern development project within aid and development circles. An embodiment of enlightenment philosophy’s valorisation of the power and potential of the atomistic individual, the automobile is also the direct and pre-eminent product of the industrial age – of Fordist modes of production, mechanisation, Taylorist rationalisation and petroleum driven dominance.  Chella Rajan calls the car “the (literally) concrete articulation of liberal society’s promise to its citizens” (Rajan 2006:112-13). In the context of development, the SUV could be seen as global liberal society’s promise to the world’s poor.

But the impact of the SUV is more than purely symbolic or metaphorical. A bi-product of the use of the motor vehicle was that it perpetuated a hierarchy of mobility where it was seen as a necessary and normal that aid workers enacted development through short, penetrative missions and engaged with their host landscapes in increasingly hermetic ways.  As a result, the short term mission has come to dominate planning and policy aspects of aid and development (Lewis and Mosse 2007; Stirrat 2000), as alluded to n the acknowledgments of an ECHO report:

“The consultants would like to thank the many people who took time to share their knowledge, experiences and opinions in interviews and consultations for the Security Review, and via the web forum. In many cases, the organisations where interviewees worked lent drivers, recommended other interviewees and gave assistance in setting up meetings and organising accommodation and transport” (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office 2004:v).

This tendency is recognized by development agencies as problematic and widespread – for example, The EC urges staff to visit “people living away from major towns, and away from major roads.  (There is a tendency for busy humanitarian staff  to visit people near easily accessible towns and routes far more than those in areas off the beaten track.)” (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office 2004:21). And although the EC wouldn’t put it in these terms, part of the problem is the reinforcement a uniform and unreflexive subjectivity amongst aid workers.

Part of the creation of this subjectivity is through sight and the accompanying techniques of observation which are inseparable from the way in which we organize knowledge and social practices (Crary 1990:3). While in art history or the history of science, the instruments and technologies which structure site have long been the objects of scrutiny {cite}, in the context of aid work, the mechanisms through which ‘local’ knowledge has been viewed and interpreted are left invisible, unquestioned: “[t]hus certain forms of visual experience usually uncritically categorized as ‘realism’ are in fact bound up in non-veridical theories of vision that effectively annihilate the real world” (Crary 1990:14). While Crary is speaking of nineteenth century instruments of vision such as the stereo-scope and the phenakistiscope, the same argument can be applied to the car, and the SUV. For the passenger, the driver, vision is focussed on the external, distant, speeding landscapes, or those that can be reached easily by car. These landscapes are construed as real, and documented and reported upon for development purposes – becoming representative of the development ‘problem’ at large.  But in their most abstract, these landscapes are subjective and imagined and at least can must necessarily be only partial representations, based on previous decisions of where to build roads, gas stations, pipelines, settlements.

A second insight from Crary comes from his claim that “[t]hese apparatuses are the outcome of a complex remaking of the individual as observer into something calculable and regularizable and of human vision into something measurable and thus exchangeable” (Crary 1990:17).  Again, these criticisms can be applied to the SUV, where the relatively recent rise of the white SUV as a global design icon has also contributed to standardizing practice the world over.  As aid workers, the modalities of interaction will be the same whether you are in Kosovo, Liberia or Haiti (Higate and Henry 2009).  And while it is possible to argue that for aid relations this is necessary – quick response times and standardization is arguably a pre-requisite for a rapid and consistent emergency response, for development workers it is not.  Instead, their perpetuation has contributed to a material culture of aid and the creation of an aid subjectivity, which sets up a material template for the physical and embodied etiquette of the way in which aid relations are conducted.

3. Car as assemblage: economic and symbolic circuits of car production, distribution and (re)use

A final area is the area of Networks. Here work on assemblages is helpful in thinking through the material, discursive, social aspects which link together the network of aid vehicles.  For example, the very materials that make up the SUV are the same materials that have driven colonial relations of exploitation and extraction: fuel, tires, aluminium.  Economically, the car companies have seen the aid market as an important and lucrative part of their business not only in terms of its markets but also for the symbolic and moral capital that it provides when marketing to its domestic audiences – these adverts in turn shape the expectations and ideas of aid workers who go to ‘the field’ to ‘perform aid’ in an expected way. There are also well established distribution networks for the cars themselves: networks of logistics, operations managers, mechanics, and procurement experts spanning the globe.

In order to explore these three themes, the article now turns to a case study of one of the most iconic brands of aid SUVs, the Land Rover.  This will take part in four main sections and concentrate primarily on its history in Africa, but first, a brief introduction to the brand.

In post war Britain, Rover company was tasked as part of British Industry to revive the economy through export promotion.  But steel shortages made car construction difficult and limitations on car ownership meant a limited domestic market.  The Wilks brothers had been impressed by the durability of the American Willys Jeep – which were still lying around in Britain. They designed the first Series 1 Land Rover in 1947 as an agricultural vehicle circumventing purchase restrictions and using aluminium (Slavin et al. 1989:14). From the beginning a consciously patriotic product, it quickly caught on with the overseas markets and became intrinsically associated with the British empire, when the Queen and Prince Philippe used it in their Royal Tour of the Commonwealth in 1953 and 1954 (Slavin, et al. 1989:187).  The Wilks brothers – the owners of the Rover at the time – were extremely well connected in British society, and had easy access to existing Imperial and emerging Commonwealth distribution networks for their vehicles.[3] As a result, according to Slavin, Land Rovers were, as of 1989, sold into more overseas territories than almost any other single British product (Slavin, et al. 1989:80).

1. They shall know us by our velocity (Land Rover goes nuts): Development, Legibility and the 4×4

The first documented use of Land Rover in a development context is the infamous Tanganika Groundnuts Project. The mammoth project was conceived and implemented by the Colonial Office in conjunction with The East Africa Corporation (and Unilever) as a way of providing cheap fat to British production, and introduce ‘advanced agricultural techniques’ to East Africa (East African Groundnuts Scheme 1949; Hogendorn and Scott 1981).  It was also used as an employment scheme for decommissioned troops and as a way to re-use ex-army equipment. Interviews and photos indicate that the scheme was used by the rover company to test early prototype models and must have been shipped from the UK by boat and then brought inland by train from Dar Es Salam.  According to an automotive journalist, Michael Bishop, in 1949 there were four Land Rovers, but this number expanded quickly. The early models were notoriously unreliable.[4]

The project was strongly criticised for its lack of attention to local conditions and poor choice of initial location.  Rolled out without a pilot phase, the entire 6 year, 25 mil pound project covering 3 and a quarter million acres (East African Groundnuts Scheme 1949) was planned on the basis of one nine-week mission to East Africa [sic.]  “covering 10,000 miles of territory by air, 2,000 by road, and 1,000 by rail” (Hogendorn and Scott 1981:85).  This velocity would come to characterize the administration of the project, says Wood, “The air of Tanganika was thick with flying executives. They were always either coming or going: they wore themselves out: they never came down to earth long enough to sit down and collect their thoughts…[The]he unfortunate Area Managers spent half their time waiting on the airstrips for people from Headquarters to arrive, or hanging around airstrips waiting for their planes to take off.” {Wood – page?}.  And while the quote applies to airplanes, it was equally applicable to vehicles. Speaking of the scheme in the House of Commons in 1949, Sir John Barlow remarked “There are about 1,000 lorries, cars, jeeps, land rovers and tankers of various sorts. Without doubt a very large amount of transport is available there” (East African Groundnuts Scheme 1949) (See Figure 3).  He goes on to emphasize the significance of transport by says that “there are about 11,000 natives…[m]any of them are becoming skilled or semi-skilled mechanics” and mentions that he saw the Minister in passing (p.1).  International staff turnover on the project was “still” over 60% a month in 1950 (Hogendorn and Scott 1981:91).

The focus on road building and the physical, motorized penetration of the African continent contributed to the experimental nature of late and post-colonial development regimes.  By 1951, the British scientists endorsed an approach to African development that considered it to be an “equation like problem that could be solved by experiment. Planned pilot schemes constituted the laboratories where development could be experimented with, using Africans as subjects” (Bonneuil 2000:259). In particular, the use of large scale settlement schemes and land use schemes that came to characterize development projects across the African continent during this period, stressed legibility and rapid collection of data from subjects.  By 1950 the number of European researchers had reached several thousand from the fewer than 1000 in 1930 (Bonneuil 2000:266).  The novel presence of the Land Rover influenced both their ability to penetrate further and further into rural areas and the way in which they interacted with and understood their landscapes.  The geometrization of land use was facilitated and rendered logical by the concurrent need to establish roads for the multiplying vehicles.  The ability to collect, monitor and collate data at an unprecedented rate through the use of vehicles and air power was also part of this trend.

However, the relationship between the use of Land Rover and collection epistemologies is not as clear-cut as it might first appear. An informant working in Zambia from 1968-70 recounted her experience using World Food Programme (WFP) and UN land rovers. “They were painted grey with the logos on the doors. The Dutch had them too. I think they were brought up from South Africa.”[5] While the project that she worked on was about collecting nutritional data from 12 far-flung villages – visiting each 3 times over the course of a year – because of the poor quality of the roads and the absence of radio technology, the team would spent between 10 day and several weeks in each village per visit.  And although the Land Rover came equipped with a local driver, the informant commonly drove the vehicle herself, increasingly her knowledge of the place in which she worked.

A similar complication arises in characterizing development projects in the periphery as zones of experimentation for the metropole (Jacobsen 2010).  Such narratives risk over-simplifying the geographies and histories of aid and need to keep in mind 2 key points. First, although complicit in the import of experimental technologies, in this case of the LR, the aid workers are equally part of the experimentation process. As liminal populations, they are as much caught within the structures of aid and development as constitutive of it (Smirl 2011).  Secondly, humanitarianism has a much less decisive relationship between technologies developed in the colonies and then re-imported in the metropole. For example, with regard to the use of motorized vehicles in aid work – these can be traced initially to the use of interwar ambulances in Europe and the first UN-led relief programme UN Relief and Rehabilitation Agency for Europe (which would in 1946 become UNICEF). In the wake of WW2, Jeeps, Morris Minors (car), GM trucks were a common part of the European refugee landscape.   Land Rover sold Tickford Station Wagons to UNICEF after the war. It had a “timber ash frame – skinned with aluminium” (see Figure 4).[6] A total of 480 were made and about 80-100 got to Poland (others went to Finland). In concept it was closer to Range Rover in that it was meant to transport people, not just things, and comfort was a consideration although, in an off-road context. Information from UNICEF stressed the important facilitating role that improved transport networks (roads) and new vehicles played in expanding their programmatic areas (Grant 1986). By early 1950s, vehicles were an established part of the humanitarian effort. UNICEF records show that their post-WW2 programme assistance to European Countries was heavily focussed on large scale programmes around mass immunization, malaria control (Bulgaria, Romania), syphilis prevention (Finland) and imply that the approach was to bring health workers to geographically disparate locations (Grant 1986).

However, despite the necessary presence of vehicles to the aid project, it was rarely explicitly acknowledged. A quick examination of the post-war budgets of UNICEF reveal that no motorized transport was explicitly calculated for. And yet, across the world, the advent of the 4×4 was changing the way in which aid work was done, and ultimately changing the aid workers themselves.  In Haiti, the Yaws treatment campaign was realizable only through “extensive travel over difficult terrain with nearly impassable road conditions…[and] instead of trying to train health technicians to drive jeeps, experienced jeep drivers were taught injection procedures – a most successful experiment! [italics mine]” (Grant 1986:36).[7]

The same UNICEF report, describes the work of the organization quotation with reference to the words of Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

‘“Caminante no hay camino, el camino se hate al andar” (the traveller has no path; he makes his path as he goes)…Over the years the lives and work of many individuals have fashioned a path for the organization in The Americas [sic.]. They too might join today in pointing with pride to the many signposts which have marked the progress of a journey not concluded” (Grant 1986:3).

Indicating the axiomatic processual nature of aid work – that it is a route that will never end, that we are travellers, the metaphor of mobility as central to the aid project.[8]

2. Driving into the heart of darkness (1950-1970) – Aid as exploration

Land Rovers penetration of the African aid market was not accidental – as early as 1951 the company was interested in widening its overseas market, but was unsure as to this market’s potential (Slavin, et al. 1989:260). Initial awareness raising for the brand seems to have had a lot to do with specific individuals. For example – a Colonel Leblanc, a “colourful” French-Canadian adventurer who as early as 1951 took on a job as a “sort of travelling salesman” for the company, “demonstrating his Land-Rovers wherever he went” (Slavin, et al. 1989:260). The availability of Land Rovers had taken African adventure tourism to another level, opening up new markets of leisure tourists and new, previously inaccessible geographies.  Again, speaking of Colonel Leblanc, Roger McCahey, retired Manager of UK Government and Military Sales for Rover at Solihull tells us, “’He organized countless expeditions with Land-Rovers another African trip we did together was in 1958-9 from Cairo to Addis Ababa and back again, through Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (the Nubian Desert in those days) taking eight weeks or so. By this time he knew that part of African like the palm of his hand…” (Slavin, et al. 1989:261).[9] Another famous adventurer was Barbara Toy – an Australian woman who toured to world in her Land Rover called Polyanna and wrote a now series of infamous travelogues about her adventures (Toy 1956, 1955a, 1955b, 1957). She too became a travelling salesperson for the company.  It was during this period that Land Rover initiated its official relationship with the Red Cross when, in 1954 they “donated a long-wheelbase Series 1 to act as dispensary in the UAE.”[10]

Through the 1950s and 60s the number of these firms grew.  Julie and Ken Slavin worked for one of these – Militreck expeditions ltd that navigated the trans-Saharan way using up to 40 Land Rovers.[11]  In the late 1960s they broke off and formed Quest Four where they were approached by Land Rover to tailor make vehicles for long expeditions.  Part of the success of Land Rover in terms of African penetration came out of the option for clients to import kits at a much lower tariff and assemble them in country.[12]  Because of this – it is very difficult to know exactly how many there are.

Another market for the vehicles during this time were the colonial administrators. Interviews with the son of an ex-colonial administrator in Kenya indicated that the colonial police force were the primary users of Land Rovers (and other 4x4s). Upon their withdrawal in 1973 the vehicles were turned over to the Kenyans. Originally designed as an agricultural vehicle, the Land Rover also proved very popular with white colonial settlers in Kenya who by 1950 numbered approximately 80, 000[13] and, during the so-called Mau Mau Uprising of 1952-1960, were a vehicle of choice for finding and killing insurgents (Edgerton 1989:152).

From the 1950s-70s there was also the emergence of traveling cinema-mobiles that would travel throughout the country broadcasting documentary films on hygiene, sanitation and nutrition (Green-Simms 2009).  In addition to government sales – both colonially administered and newly independent nations, mining companies such as Shell were also major buyers.[14] The rapid expansion in the African market can be seen by comparing statistics on number of overseas plants. Between 1961 and 1971 they expanded from 3 plants to 13 (Taylor 2007).

3. Car Aid (1980s)

I am still in the process of documenting the use of Land Rover by aid and development agencies in the post-colonial/Cold war period.  As NGOs were not significant international actors until the 1980s (need some stats), it is likely that their use of Land Rovers was not highly significant until then. The emergence of the iconic white SUV as we know it today seems to have been a bi-product of the Red Crosse’s use of white vehicles for their field ambulances combined with the use of 4x4s for development projects. For example, the image an image of a field ambulance from 1940 clearly shows that it was not white, but this ‘kit car’ from the ICRC mission to Nigeria during the Biafran war in 1960 shows the white vehicle with the Red Cross and we found evidence of the white jeeps being used as the official UN vehicles in the first UN mission in Africa – UNOC (1960-64). More work needs to be done in looking at how these decisions were made within the UN – both peacekeeping and the UNHCR and UNICEF, as well as individual organizations such as the ICRC, Care, Oxfam and so on.[15]

It does seem clear that by the mid 1980s, the focus on mobility, and specifically mobility using SUVs was an integral and established part of the aid modality.  For example, Land Rover was intimately involved with the Band Aid project, and their Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department prepared a

“very special Land Rover for Band Aid – a mobile workshop kitted out with enough equipment to be the envy of a small garage. Based on the Land Rover 127-inch with box body built by SVO, it was airlifted to North Africa to help keep Band Aid’s food truck convoys moving. This box body proved an instant success: the first went to the Ministry of Defence, quickly followed by another to the BBC as a mobile workshop. As word got round, demand for the 4×4 ‘box on wheels’ grew…” (Slavin, et al. 1989:181).

Land Rovers and Land Cruisers were also repeatedly explicitly named as expenditures for Live Aid implementing agencies.  As explicit breakdown was not provided across the board, but even just this cursory glance indicates that the vehicles were being identified by brand name; were considered central to the emergency relief response and that Land Rover has competition. This last observation is consistent with Land Rover’s own analysis. According to their records, until the early 1980s, as a company they were the major supplier of the African aid market, but by the early 1980s they has lost their pole position to other competitors most notably, Toyota Land Cruisers dropping from 80% of the aid market in the 1970s to just over 5% by the late 1990s (Wernle 2000). This was disastrous for the company was, as late as 1989 sold over 70% of all sales overseas (Slavin, et al. 1989:16). The reasons for this are numerous including declining product satisfaction, improved distribution networks on the part of Toyota, and perhaps the recognition of the potential of the aid market.

The worldwide focus on famine relief that resulted from the media focus on Ethiopia, and later Sudan, also entrenched mobility as a central part of the aid enterprise. A much lauded part of the Band/Live Aid response was the Band Aid Trust Shipping Operation which undertook 33 voyages between 1985 and 86 and carried 5, 437, 201 USD worth of food, medical supplies, shelter materials and vehicles to Ethiopia.[16] Of the total short term relief 29,470,654 – 18,735,647 or 63% was spent on transport costs or vehicles.  This was similarly the case with Operation Lifeline Sudan (1989-91), “a massive relief operation to deliver food into Southern Sudan by land, river and aid from across the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.”[17]

Now obviously, a big part of aid is about bringing basic relief supplies to those who have nothing and doing it in the short term – but in addition to the numerous critiques of the efficacy of this type of aid in the first place (De Waal 1997; Duffield 2001; Edkins 2000; Keen 1994), this approach to humanitarianism has had at least two impacts. First, it has amplified and normalized the trend which sees movement, mobility and the passing through of space and an integral and largely unquestioned part of aid work. Secondly, through the development of the ‘relief-to-development’ spectrum, these practices broadly, and the widespread use of usually white Land Rovers/Cruisers in particular are used in places and on projects where it isn’t necessary or justified.  By the end of the 1980s, a ‘regular’ development project inevitably included one or two Land Cruisers/Rovers for the project manager, even for peri-urban or urban projects where a 4X4 was not necessary. Unlike the Groundnuts project, these vehicles increasingly were assigned local drivers – the international aid and development workers, sitting in the backseat, often quite unaware of where they were going or the direction they were going to get there. As technology advanced, the new generation Land Rovers incorporated more ‘luxury’ aspects such as air conditioning, tinted windows, and stereo equipment.  Combined with general improvements in road conditions across the African continent, this meant that the contact of aid workers with their immediate environments was minimized.

The exponential increased in the estimated number of aid workers in Africa (numbers from Stoddard, Fast) has gone hand in hand with an increase in white Land Rovers.  Throughout the 1990s they became standard equipment for everyone from small scale NGOs to UN peacekeeping operations.  Generally, white with the corporation’s logo on the side, a global distribution network grew up to become middle men between the aid agencies and car companies (Kjaer, Conaco).  Recognizing the money that was to be made, in the mid 2000s these distributors began to actively target the aid market.  For example, in 2005, Kjaer, one of the major distributors “made the decision to focus on…developing and professionalizing auto-dealerships in developing countries, and supporting humanitarian agencies” (Stapelton et al. 2009:n.p.). They became explicitly proactive as they felt that “[i]n this aggressive market they could no longer wait for the phone to ring” (Stapelton, et al. 2009:n.p.). Similarly, car manufacturers, in the advent of the media aid frenzies of the 1990s recognized not only the gains to be made from sales the organizations but the knock on effects of being able to use their involvement in aid work as a marketing tool. The companies have been quick to advertise their good deeds in Africa to potential consumers ‘back home’. For example, their website advertises their collaboration with the ICRC, ‘Reaching Vulnerable People Around the World’ in part, through the use of Land Rovers.[18]   But the potential reverberations in domestic minds is more than purely philanthropic. David Campbell has written about the deeply emotional way in which SUVs were marketing in the 1980s and 90s to American suburbanites craving adventure and distant danger (Campbell 2005).  According to Wolfgang Reitzle, chairman of Premier Automotive Group, owner of the Land Rover mark,

‘ìThe aid-agency market is only about 40,000 to 70,000 vehicles a year, but its importance goes far beyond mere numbersÖIf you look at Formula One racing, the aid market has similar benefits for manufacturers,” Slavin said. “In the present crisis we’re having with the environment and global warming, the motor industry takes a hammering. When you have disasters, you need 4x4s. There’s nothing better for a 4×4 vehicle than to be seen with an emblem that says United Nations or Oxfam or the World Wildlife Federation. That’s worth a lot of money to any manufacturer.”’ (Wernle 2000)

By stepping up into her Land Rover, a suburban housewife in Des Moines can step into dreams of escaping to a life of adventure and doing good.  But it is worth bearing in mind the impact that these media images have had on the aid workers who themselves are climbing into their Land Rovers, expecting adventure, danger, the unknown.  Since the early 2000s, however, aid work has been becoming significantly more adventurous. According to Stoddard and Harmer, as of 2009, violent incident involving aid workers were up by xx% and the majority of these involved a vehicle (Stoddard et al. 2009).  In the majority of cases, the aid worker was left unharmed, but the vehicle taken (Fast 2010).  In Darfur, in 2009, car jackings became so widespread that the UN Mission in Darfur issued withdrawal of all Toyota Land Cruisers (Buffalo) as they “are most exposed to attack” (UNAMID 2009).  This led to staff either using local, unmarked taxis or mini-busses, or more commonly, resorted to moving between the monstrous UN supercamps in UN helicopters – further distancing themselves from their surroundings.  It has also led, since the late 1980s to an increased demand for armoured Land Rovers worldwide (Taylor 2007:216).What is interesting about this problem, from our perspective today, is not that marauders are preying on UN assets – this has been the case as long as there have been UN missions to prey upon[19] – but that from a programmatic perspective, the vehicles themselves are seen as little more than incidental to the more generalized hostilities against aid workers not only in Darfur, but, on a global level.  This epistemological separation between the material or ‘hard’ and the programmatic or ‘soft’ sides of aid and development is only beginning to be identified as an area that needs attention.

Since 2003 an organization called ‘Fleet Forum’ begun to bring together the logistics managers from over 40 aid organizations including WFP, ICRC, World Vision international and many others.[20]  Together they operate a combined humanitarian fleet of 80,000 vehicles with an estimated operating cost of USD 800 million, the second highest overhead cost.  They aim to be a neutral interface between private sector resources and humanitarian transport and include a wide range of private sector partners including TNT (who fund the secretariat), Land Rover, the Overseas Lease Group and Toyota Gibraltar Stockholdings Limited. Their stated aims are efficient and effective humanitarian aid, increased road safety and security, and improved environmental impact including improved disposal.  (A common problem is what to do with the vehicles as the end of a project).  Although they were formed to re-dress the marginalization of fleet management within the overall development project, they have not gone any way to repositioning the lens of aid to include transport, which remains, for all intents, invisible.  One impact of Fleet Forum may actually be a deepening of the humanitarian assemblage. As Graham points out in his recent work – infrastructure only becomes visible when it breaks down. Similarly, it could be argued that the beneficiary only becomes visible when the transport fails.  Our previous informant recounts with joy the occasions on which her Land Rover got a flat in the bush, and they had to camp for several days while the ‘messenger’ biked back to the nearest town to fetch a spare.  Likewise, Mr. Jackson and his pregnant wife forced to walk back to Urumbo, bitten by mosquitos and threatened by wildlife, were able to relate to the experiences, challenges and fears of the people they were meant to be helping. Rather, that bring us closer to understanding the situation and concerns of potential beneficiaries, improvements to the humanitarian fleet may only increase the inability of the aid community to understand.[21]

Interim Conclusion: Car-jacking the theory

The danger of course, of looking at the history of aid work primarily from the perspective of aid workers is that it “run[s] the risk of re-inscribing the world according to experts rather than recovering the world as lived by people” (Trentmann 2009:302); or, as a participant at a recent conference quipped: “writing a history of white people, for white people, by white people”.  I recognize this as a problem, and am pursuing research into understanding rather than merely speculative how these vehicles were received.  Part of the difficulty is obviously methodological – both in terms of positionality and with regards to records which are more readily available and accessible in the metropole – in this case the UK.  Post-colonial theorists would warn that the narrative of aid and the SUV needs to be understood not only as a homogenous narrative about the imposition of modernity, but also as interactive and ‘multiple’ – taken up in different ways, spun back, hybridized and thrown back again.

Accepting the nuance, a central suspicion of this line of inquiry is that recent car-based violence needs to be read against a deeply unequal narrative of car use and interaction across many parts of ex-colonial Africa.  For example, compared to Western Europe and North America that have 500 -700 vehicles per 1 000 people, most Sub-Saharan African countries have between 20 and 60 vehicles per 1000 people (Aeron-Thomas et al. 2002; Green-Simms 2009). Partly because of this, Green-Simms argues that it cannot be considered to have the same uniform associations of power, autonomy, speed etc. but is much more “disjointed and multiply determined” (Green-Simms 2009:4).  And yet, it is worth investigating the degree to which identifiable narratives have emerged.  For example, amongst those communities who are most in contact with aid workers, anecdotal evidence suggests a perceived visual hypocrisy of the use of these vehicles has not been incidental to a deterioration of relations between aid workers and intended beneficiary populations; their connection with previous modes of interaction (colonialism, elite oppression) and their wasteful use of the very resources which had created grievance in numerous African countries:  tires, oil.   Green-Simms further suggests that fantasies of development or material success co-exist with what she calls “occult anxiety” – “anxiety produced when sources of wealth are obscured and associated with magic and witchcraft” (Green-Simms 2009:30). While Green-Simms is speaking only of West Africa, the lack of material basis for aid wealth is worth considering from the perspective of host nations – who see bases, cars, camps spring up from no-where preaching the doctrine of self-improvement through economic development, but obscuring the mechanisms through which this occurs.

Looking at the history of Land Rover and aid workers, with attention to the three themes – car as personal space; car as instrument of movement; and car as integrated network – highlights the trend of separation, and estrangement in aid and development rather than rapprochement. This may be explained by the emergence of two narratives about aid as understood through the object of the SUV. The first story is the one about development as modernization. As car use and ownership as an example of what can happen when you work hard, invest in innovation, pursue market economies, autonomy, and so on.  This is the story as told within the aid industry and it’s a story that has been exacerbated by technological advancements.  As SUVs have becoming more advanced, larger, more enclosed, so too have aid workers become more distant, and less in contact with the people and places they have come to assist. As Northern car manufacturers have relied on exoticised tropes to sell their product to home markets, some aid workers are steeped in a orientalist binary long before ever entering the profession.  With nothing outside their mobile bubbles to challenge them, these categories have become exacerbated rather than challenged.

The second narrative is that of SUV as symbol of the failure and hypocrisy of development.  Disconnected from the systems of production that created them, local populations may understand these large cars as representative of the unequal development dynamic that has played the African continent since colonialism. As the car has not been obtained through any observable dynamic of progress – but simply appeared, its material presence is a contradiction to the idea of linear, processual development.  It’s very existence undermines the  idea of global development solidarity – a amalgam of colonial and neo-colonial processes of domination – of rubber, oil, aluminium, Fordism, Taylorism, exhaust. Not only does the car appear from no-where, a feature of an elite and rarified landscape, but the repetitive, and non progressive nature of lived-aid work – where new experts continually cycle through on short term projects – undermines the aid and development rhetoric.  As a passenger/vehicle hybrid, the car itself is seen to symbolise and possibly confer power – historically the domain of colonial interests, local elites, and aid workers – it has become sought after as an object to obtain and wield. The rise in car-jackings and modifications of SUVs needs to be considered as an act by groups who feel they have too long,  been excluded from these processes.  Begging through mirrored windows, while, the drivers stare straight ahead.

But what the analysis of this paper tell us about the possibility of a third approach, one that doesn’t focus on either inside or outside, but on recognizing that humanitarianism is inseparable from its “knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc” (Foucault and Gordon 1980:117) ….where the SUV becomes the driver of development.

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Campbell, David. (2005) The Biopolitics of Security:  Oil, Empire, and the Sports Utility Vehicle. American Quarterly 57: 943-72.

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Dant, T. (2004) The Driver-Car. Theory Culture and Society 21: 61-79.

De Waal, Alexander. (1997) Famine Crimes : Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa. Oxford: James Currey.

Duffield, Mark R. (2001) Global Governance and the New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security. London: Zed Books.

East African Groundnuts Scheme. (1949) In House of Commons. London: Hansard.

Edgerton, Robert B. (1989) Mau Mau : An African Crucible. New York: Free Press ; London : Collier Macmillan.

Edkins, Jenny. (2000) Whose Hunger?: Concepts of Famine, Practices of Aid. Borderlines London: University of Minnesota Press.

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Fast, Larissa A. (2010) Mind the Gap: Documenting and Explaining Violence against Aid Workers. European Journal of International Relations 16: 365-89.

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Slavin, Ken,   Julie Slavin, and G. N. Mackie. (1989) Land Rover. 3rd ed. ed: Haynes.

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[2] Important to note that in the 1950-70s aid work and scientific research were often interlinked – considered to be part of the same modernizing project.

[3] Interview, December 2, 2010.

[4] Also, see the Queesland development scheme

[5] Interview, November 27, 2010.

[6] Interview, December 2, 2010

[7] the work of Dant on the driver-car Dant, T. (2004) The Driver-Car. Theory Culture and Society 21: 61-79..  He says…xxxx [need to look at Oct 2004 issue of Theory, Culture and Society – automobility issue

[8] ..could also say development as modernity, as technological progress…as running (driving over) anything in its path

[9] – there was also a well established overland expedition tradition (Oxford-Cambridge race)

[11] Interview

[12] These were called Completely Knocked Down (CKDs) Taylor, James Oct. (2007) Land Rover : 60 Years of the 4×4 Workhorse. Ramsbury: Crowood Press..

[13] Wikipedia.

[14] Interview, December 2, 2010

[15] Work also needs to be done looking at the use of LRs under the late colonial regimes such as the Belgians in the Congo.  More work needs to be on the evolution of the role of motorized transport in aid and development and possibly done separately.

[16] “With Love From Band Aid” report from http://www.live8live.com/

[19] See UN SC council resolution xxxx re: situation in Congo 1961.

[20] http://www.fleetforum.org/ Accessed December 20, 2010.

[21] It might be worth mentioning, also, that typically, the major problem is not the vehicles themselves – or even procurement, but logistics, transport and political border regimes. A political rather than a strictly material problem.

Not Welcome At The Holiday Inn

“Not Welcome At The Holiday Inn: How a Sarajevo landmark influences political relations,” unpublished paper, 2011 (invited as contribution to special issue of Political Geography)

Every conflict has one. In some circles its name becomes a short-hand for events, moments, or for the wider conflict itself. In Kigali it was the Mille Collines: refuge for ex-pats and select Rwandans during the 1994 genocide; subsequently immortalized through the film Hotel Rwanda (George 2004; Harrow 2005). In Baghdad it was the Palestine – the ringside seats for the toppling of Saddam’s statue in 2003. In Kabul, the Serena has become synonymous with the international community: a refuge where NGO workers, journalists, and other ex-pats excess gather to exchange information and relax (Montgomery 2008). During the 2006 riots in Dili, the attacks on the Hotel Timor – windows smashed and walls burned – symbolized the failures of the internationally bolster state to reform its security apparatus. And while this list could continue endlessly, enumerating countless examples of hotels entanglements in the context of international affairs, what would be notable is that in almost all cases, the hotels themselves would be seen as nothing more than the neutral material screen upon which geo-political events unfold.

This article is a first attempt to think through the role of the hotel in conflict. Focusing on the paradigmatic example of the Sarajevo Holiday Inn during the 1992-6 siege, it identifies and explores three inter-dependent ways in which hotels specifically, and the built environment more broadly, is significant for our understanding of conflict and geo-politics. First, these hotels are a key constituent part of the geography of the conflict – both internationally and domestically. They are a key interface between external actors and local contexts. They are often one of a limited number of physical places that members of the international community will visit. The result, is that they will have undue influence on the way in which the international community writ large experience and understand the conflict (Kalyvas 2004). Second, there is a need to further understand how the experience of enclosed and proximate embodiment contributes to constructions of the international community. The repetitive association of the international community with a symbolic venue – that of the Holiday Inn – needs to be considered for how it creates a shared subjectivity amongst internationals (Habermas 1989) and whether it communicates a symbolic message to surrounding populations. Third, it needs to be understood as a valuable resource both in terms of physical and tactical importance, but also in the strategic construction of narrative. The hotel became an important information resource for all sides and shaped the way in which both the root causes and eventual solutions came to be constructed.

The general lack of attention to the form and space of the hotel in social sciences and humanities may be explained by its ubiquity. How do you analyse something that is present everywhere – from the smallest town to the largest city; or problematise the most basic of human needs – that of shelter whilst traveling? Part of the task of this article is to filter out the form of the hotel as a necessary aspect of undertaking travel, from the specific yet ubiquitous presence in contemporary conflict of the social space of the grand hotel. Instead of accepting that its constant use in international diplomatic and journalistic affairs is inevitable, and therefore not worthy of attention, I ask what the implications are of this normalization for geo-politics. In setting our three distinct ways in which the hotel is integral to international understandings of conflict, I identify a series of research avenues of significance for the broader project of understanding the relationship between the built environmentand politics. Taking up the critical challenge to “attempt to articulate the material construction of a historically specific social reality” (Levin 1995: 10) this article brings the seemingly inert surface to the fore: challenging those narratives which prioritize – explicitly or by accident – the unimpeded agency of human actors to understand, reflect, and change the political events in which they find themselves embroiled (Coward 2006).

The methods used in this paper are a combination of primary research on the hotel itself in June 2010 including interviews with among others, the architect, Ivan Štraus and hotel staff who had worked at the hotel prior to and during and after the siege. It was supplemented by first hand written accounts of the siege, by a variety of officials, journalists and indeed Štraus himself. While the article draws heavily on the everyday experiences of journalists who can be considered to be part of the ‘Western’ press corps – European, English, American – its implications are relevant for the international community more widely. While the Holiday Inn was by no means the only hotel involved in the Siege of Sarajevo (Di Giovanni 2010; Vulliamy 1994: 186) its bright yellow facade captured international attention and became, with many members of the international community, synonymous with the city and the siege. It is also important to note that this piece is not a revisionist history of the Bosnian war, or more specifically of the Siege of Sarajevo. I am not suggesting that if the hotel had not been there, the narrative would have been inverted, but rather, by destabilizing the materially predictable relations that so unobtrusively, yet so decisively shape international understanding of conflict, we destabilize the given binary relationships of international/local; victim/aggressor; Serb/Muslim. By recognizing the embeddedness and emplacedness of our epistemologies we are forced to rethink the both the content and structure of our narratives, and ultimately the (im/potent/ial) content and (im/possible) structure of our response (Campbell 1998b, 1999). And now…welcome to the Holiday Inn…

PART I: THE ‘LUXURIOUS’ GEOGRAPHY OF CONFLICT

The Holiday Inn in Sarajevo stands twelve floors tall and contains 206 rooms (Figure 1). Built by award winning Yugoslav architect, Ivan Štraus in the American inspired ‘atrium style’ (Goldberger and Craig 2009), the main building is square with rectangular wings protruding from the first two floors (Figure 2), one on the South side overlooking the River Miljacka and one on the East side, facing the UNIS towers (also built by Štraus). No buildings stand close adjacent. It is set back about 25 meters from the main road – Zmaja od Bosne – where the main East-West tram lines run. It is across the street from the State Executive Council and the Parliament. While the Holiday Inn was made famous by its construction for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo and for its recognition within Yugoslav architectural circles, the building gained a new kind of notoriety during the Bosnian war.
On April 6, 1992, the day that the European Community announced that it recognized Bosnia Herzegovina as an independent state, it was from the roof of the Holiday Inn that snipers opened fire on peace demonstrators standing in front of parliament, across the street (Sudetic 1992). Six people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded (Andreas 2008: 27). “After they were fired on, thousands of demonstrators stormed the hotel, smashing windows and searching room by room for gunmen whom witnesses said they had spotted on the upper floors” (Sudetic 1992). A hotel worker recalled seeing the snipers pinned to the floor and arrested, as well as several staff. Many analysts date the start of the war to that day, when “Bosnian Serb forces began shelling Sarajevo from hillside positions” (Andreas 2008: 27; Donia).

A ‘War In Miniature’
Over the next three and a half years, the ‘luxurious setting’ of the bright yellow Holiday Inn played host to many of the most renowned characters involved in documenting, resolving and perpetuating the conflict. It provided the visual background for numerous television broadcasts, provided the infrastructure to send the reports around the world via satellite and created the environment to negotiate agreements and hold conferences and briefings. As there is ample high quality material describing the wider context of the siege I am not going to describe the specifics here (Campbell 1998b; Dauphinee 2007; Donia 2006; Judah 2009; Power 2002; Silber et al. 1996; Woodward et al. 1995). It is sufficient to recall that from April 1992 until (officially) February 1996 the city of Sarajevo was under siege by surrounding Serb nationalist forces. Under the oversight of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and a humanitarian relief effort spearheaded by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the city’s inhabitants were effectively cut off from the rest of the world – unable to leave, not allowed to surrender.
For the rest of the world, however, it became “the most accessible war-zone in Europe” (Andreas 2008: 38). Thanks to the world’s longest running air-bridge, journalists, philanthropists, writers, artists, intellectuals, diplomats and rock stars were able to visit the besieged city in the same way that one might visit an exotic tourist destination. The Holiday Inn became a central part of this. Says Washington Post reporter, Peter Maass,
“[i]t was, at times, a miniature war in which you could leave the Holiday Inn at ten o’clock in the morning, nearly be killed by a sniper’s bullet, and then, at eleven o’clock be on the other side of the front line, talking to the sniper who tried to murder you just an hour before, and watch as he took aim at your friends as they left the Holiday Inn” (1996: 150).
More specifically, it was not necessarily that the war itself was contained or ‘miniaturized’ but that the way in which certain segments of the international community experienced the war was rendered small. In Sarajevo, for much of the civilian international community, this smallness was locatable in the very building of the Holiday Inn. “After Karadžić’s paramilitary troops left the hotel in April 1992, it served guests – mainly journalists, diplomats, and aid workers – throughout the war” (Donia 2006: 315). For these people the Holiday Inn became their home, office, bar, refuge and ultimately source of local information. Particularly when the surrounding fighting became more intense, there was the tendency to report on what happened within a 200-yard radius of their rooms at the Holiday Inn (Maass 1996: 148). Critics would say that this is inevitable, unavoidable, the nature of the beast. But when policy decisions “depend on such considerations as where CNN sends its camera crews” (Toal 1996: 214 quoting Lake) it’s worth exploring the implications of these practices. Why was it that the “imaginative geopolitical topography of ‘Bosnia’” that held sway at the Holiday Inn was one portraying Bosnia as “the site of a clear moral struggle between good and evil, victims and perpetrators” (Toal 1996: 193)?

Do not disturb (the balkan ghosts)
Both Toal and Campbell are interested in the way in which epistemological categories were rendered geographical and topological in the context of the Bosnian conflict. Through an application of Derrida’s concept of ‘ontopology’ Campbell demonstrates how the initial dominant reading of the conflict as driven by historical ethnic hatreds was informed by assumed alignment of “territory and identity, state and nation, all under the sign of ethnicity” (Campbell 1998b: 80; Derrida 1994). This assumption has since come under mainstream scrutiny across the former Yugoslavia but especially in Bosnia where, through Dayton, this ontopology has carved a political landscape that is primarily determined by ‘ethnicity’. What is less accepted and less known is how this ontopological norm came to dominate the international understanding of the Bosnian conflict.
Lisle (2006) and Campbell (Campbell 1998a, 1998b) emphasize the key role of written and visual representations (journalistic, personal or academic) in the construction and dissemination of a clear –cut narrative of the conflict as a tale of ethnic hatred. They have both described the formative role that travelogues played in informing a predominantly ethnic understanding of the war among Western politicians. In particular, it was widely rumored that key actors within the Clinton camp were influenced by reading Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts (Campbell 1998b; Lisle 2006: 33; Toal 1996: 212). But these explanations assume or skirt over the more immediate, embodied ways in which the initial narratives or understandings were constructed. How did the authors, the journalists, the international community interact with(in) the space of Bosnia?
A possible explanation is provided by Kalyvas’ (2004) who argues that research on civil war displays an urban bias “promotes explanations of motivations that are heavily biased toward ideology” (2004: 173). Particularly prominent is the tendency amongst external parties to the conflict – journalists, policy makers, the international community – to assume that there exists “a clear, unequivocal, and fixed dividing line between combatants and noncombatants, and that the latter have only one role in the war, that of victims” (2004: 183). In line with Kalyvas’ wider project of investigating the ‘micro-politics’ of conflict, this hypothesis can be extended to even smaller units of analysis: identifying the biases created by certain spaces, such as the hotel, in contemporary understandings of conflict.
“Sarajevo was the lens through which most outsiders viewed the conflict…At most times, the army of privileged observers could get into and out of the city, stay in relative comfort at the Holiday Inn…ride in armoured vehicles along the city’s most dangerous routes, and send dispatches to the outside world using the latest communications technology” (2006: 287).
Many of the large news outlets had set up shop in the hotel’s larger suites and rooms and by December 1992, all the big names in journalism were in attendance. A shot from Marcel Ophuls’ documentary on war correspondents pans around the make shift dining room of the Holiday Inn to reveal John F. Burns – Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist – noshing with John Simpson from the BBC and an assortment of international correspondents and stringers (Ophuls 1994). Other notable names include Kate Adie, Anderson Cooper, and Paul Marchard. All of these have also published auto-biographies describing their time in Sarajevo and in all of them the Holiday Inn figures, sometimes prominently (Adie 2003; Cooper 2006; Marchand 1997; Simpson 1998).
John Simpson spends several pages describing the hotel. When he arrived in December 1992,
“[m]ost of the big plate-glass windows on the ground floor had been smashed and covered with thin clear plastic….Inside, the hotel was dark and very cold. It had been built in ‘atrium’ style, so that there was a large open space bigger than the Center Court at Wimbledon. The upper floors had been walled with glass, sheets of which fell whenever the hotel was hit…In the bedrooms, the “windows had long since been knocked out, so there was nothing between the curtains and the outside world except a single thin sheet of clear plastic. There was no electricity, and no water of any kind, hot or cold…Our rooms were on the fourth floors: the others, lower down had been taken” (1998: 435-6).
But despite this dismal description, the Holiday Inn remained the hotel of choice for the international community. Even those freelancers and stringers who couldn’t afford the outrageous room rates, still relied on the Satellite Phone connections to file their stories and on the connections and information that was found in the lobby and dining room. The hotel was also the place to access visiting foreign dignitaries or experts who stayed in the Holiday Inn during their brief trips to Sarajevo (2010). Most days, the UN held a briefing at the Holiday Inn (Rose 1998: 105). The UN spokesman, Aleksander Ivanko, was a regular fixture and many UN staff slept in the conference centre which – especially early on in the conflict – doubled as an operations center. Starting in 1993 the US Embassy occupied one suite (Donia 2006: 315) and for ten months in 1994 and 1995 the French army was also accommodated here. Part of this was lack of choice – it was the only hotel that remained open throughout the war. And although this changed as the war wore on, other attributes made it an attractive base, particular for those wishing to construct a story of what was going on.

Writing lines of sight
The Holiday Inn was located on the front line of the conflict (Figure 3). Just north of Sniper Alley, the hotel’s south side was only a few hundred yards from Grbavica, the Serb controlled neighbourhood on the opposite bank of the river Miljacka. “The rooms at the front …looked out at the Jewish cemetery a few hundred yards away on the hillside opposite. The Jewish cemetery marked the Bosnian Serb front line” (Simpson 1998: 434). When the fighting was less intense, journalists would sit on the terrace of the restaurant and watch the Serbs firing from the hills overlooking the city (Figure 4): “[t]he Holiday Inn became a grandstand from which you could watch the snipers at work. A journalist could convince himself on a slow afternoon that he was doing his job by peering through a window at people running for their lives” (Maass 1996: 146). An examination of this “hotel balcony gaze” (Toal 1996: 297) provides insight into the consolidation of a dominant narrative emerged whose clear moral lines paralleled those visible from the terrace of the Holiday Inn.
The first aspect that needs to be considered is how this practice consolidates the position of ‘viewer’ and separates it from that of ‘viewed’. Although not unassailable, the act of looking out over Sarajevo – up to the hills where the snipers were positioned; out to the city where civilians were being killed – undeniably entailed a degree of power over: over all those who were not protected by the Holiday Inn and by the international norms and conventions it implied. From their windows, from the terrace, journalists and others “exploited their verticality…their ‘visual control’ of the city” to collect the information and witness events that would inform their stories (McNeill 2008: 387; Wharton 2001: 139). The ability to survey the scene, with a degree of security that (on a good day) they would not be targeted, contributed to what Jay, Feldman, Cambell & Power and others have referred to as a ‘scopic regime’: “an ensemble of practices and discourses that establish the truth claims, typicality and credibility of visual acts and objects and politically correct modes of seeing” (Campbell and Power 2010: 168 quoting Feldman 2005; Jay 1988). In the context of modernity, there has been “a tendency toward both mimetic and ‘authentic’ visual representations and an imposition of this sense of natural order on the ground” {Gilbert@228}. In the case of the hotel in conflict, this does not necessarily imply intentionality on the part of the journalists, but that the confines and constrains of the building and its associated environments such as armoured personnel carriers (see below) contribute to the way in which journalists see, understand and in turn represent the events and environment that they survey. This observation is supported by work by Crary who stresses the co-constitutive role of both the observer and the instrument of seeing in a given scopic regime (Crary 1990; Gilbert 2010: 230). While Crary’s instruments of observation are more traditionally occular – the camera obscura, phenakistiscope, kaleidoscope and stereoscope – his observation may equally be applied to the hotel balcony where vision and what is observed, is shaped, ordered and constituted by the space, position and limitations of the building. Further, as the hotel balcony (or the hotel more general) has become a recognizable space of conflict geographies is it possible that the resultant vision and commensurate ontopologies are no longer dependent upon their precise location and are rendered increasingly interchangeable through their reliability upon a “visual propinquity between viewer and visual device” (Gilbert 2010: 231).
This structuring effect of the hotel is implied in its opposite, by Maggie O’Kane’s “anti-geopolitical eye” which “rather than adopting the detached perspectivalism of diplomats [or journalists]…brings a ground-level traveling eye to bear upon the landscape of the conflict. Her eye records the fractured lives and broken bodies of the victims of war that fall between the lines of official governmental cartographies of the war” (Toal 1996: 221). Unlike those “visual contortions of war” described by Jay – the gunfire of the trenches, the haze of the battlefield, the trickery of camouflage – which serve to destabilize and undermine a rational, Cartersian scopic regime {Gilbert@228} war as reported from the hotel balcony re-inscribes their assumptions, replicates their ontopologies.
Even when journalists did leave to cover a story, it was often done en masse. The Olphus documentary shows multiple scenes where Simpson and Burns are covering the same story, within earshot of each other, talking to the same witnesses, shooting the same scenes. This is hardly a phenomena that is unique to Sarajevo however, in the context of Sarajevo it was amplified as journalists were hyper-limited in their movements, and restricted to covering only the events that happened in their miniature world. Those journalists, such as Marchand were considered to be rogue, and were actively threatened (by outside forces) or discouraged (by their colleagues) from pursuing a line that differed from the established ethnocised narrative of good/bad; victim/aggressor. There was an overwhelming tendency of journalists to report upon the conflict from an “instinctive pro-Bosnian and anti-Serb position” (Simpson 1998: 440). According to Simpson, other viewpoints “weren’t welcome at the Holiday Inn. The prevailing mood among the Western journalists was profoundly partisan” (1998: 440). Says Simpson, “much of the reporting from Sarajevo was openly one-sided” (1998: 440) a claim supported by Brock (2006), Smajlovic (1993) and ICTY testimony (2010). The generalized sense of “occluded vision and unknown depth” with regards to Bosnia also made those areas with clear lines of sight all the more important to international understanding (Toal 1996: 207). According to General Lewis MacKenzie, of UNPROFOR, many journalists now contact him, concerned that they may have not been wholly representative in their reporting: “[a]nd my message to them when they start wallowing in their anguish is, ‘Don’t feel too guilty about all of this – because you only reported what you saw, and what you saw was only 150 meters on either side of the Holiday Inn’” (quoted in Brock and Binder 2006: 177).

PART II: PRACTICING THE INTERNATIONAL
In his book, Blue Helmets, Black Markets, Peter Andreas frames his analysis of the three year siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces using Goffman’s famous dramaturgical metaphor of front and back stage behaviours to describe the formal and informal roles that international and local actors played during the course of the siege (Andreas 2008: 8). According to Andreas, although the actors’ “front-stage behaviour was often carefully staged and choreographed for various audiences, sticking closely to the official script and engaging in what Goffman calls the ‘art of impression management,’ backstage there was greater room for improvisation and deviation” (Andreas 2008: 8). However, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, the book in which Goffman details his front/stage backstage analogy, Goffman is less concerned with creating a binary opposition between front and back stage behaviour, and more focused on identifying a range of behaviours that will depend upon the position, intent and self-awareness of the actor and upon the audience (1990). A crucial part of this is the physical setting or stage in/on which these performances take place: “the furniture, decor, physical layout, and other background items which supply the scenery and stage props for the spate of human action played out before, within or upon it” (Goffman 1990: 33). The setting influences the types and range of behaviours that the actors may choose from (Goffman 1990: 34-35) and when combined with setting, appearance and manner contributes to a front which “becomes a ‘collective representation’ and a fact in its own right” (Goffman 1990: 37). Applied to the setting of the hotel in conflict, this raises questions with regard to the ways in which the setting influences the actors who use it – its residents, workers, visitors, snipers.
The last section looked at how the hotel structured the vision and epistemology of its residents. This section is concerned with the way in which the hotel contributed to the performance and practice of a distinct space and associated identity – that of ‘the international’ – amongst its users and why this is important. In the same way that Habermas’ attention to the spatial and social significance of seventeenth century coffee shops elucidated the emergence of what we now understand as ‘the public sphere’ (1989), attention to the spaces which have become associated with the category of ‘the international’ helps us to understand what this term means, and how its members understand themselves and their role. I am not necessarily saying that the presence of grand hotels led to the creation of ‘the international’, but rather asking how the latter has been influenced and enabled by the former. How has the built form of the hotel enabled certain types of actions, performances, ways of doing that have become accepted as commonplace? How do these spaces forge shared understandings, positions and expectations?

Sanitized for your protection
The first practice, which is central to the creation of an international subjectivity, is that of maintaining stability, even in the context of war. Be it a peace-keeping base, a diplomatic embassy, or a hotel, the spatial demarcation of the space of the international is crucial. It not only provides symbolic and physical protection, but it also creates the affect that it is a physical extension of a stable (Western) normality (Calhoun 2010).
In Sarajevo, it may not have incidental that the hotel was a Holiday Inn. The brand, named after a Bing Crosby film of the same name was quintessentially American (Wilson 1996). With its signature green and yellow sign, it evoked for the Western journalists, a sense of normalcy, a sense of home:
“[f]or me, Holiday Inns represent suburban quiet and comfort, everything that is ordinary and unexciting about the world. They are reassuring, because you know what you will get, including an ice machine at the end of the corridor, a Bible in the top desk drawer and a toilet that, according to the white paper strip across it, has been sanitized for your protection” (Maass 1996: 122).
The Holiday Inn was designed in the city-in-miniature style of hotel architecture (Ibelings; Katz) : hotels like the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco or the Bonaventure in Los Angeles that went to great links to ensure that their visitors had no need and no desire to venture outside (McNeill 2008: 286). This embodied expectation “actively constitutes the consumption of the hotel…as bridgeheads of American culture in ‘hostile territories” (McNeill 2008: 387&395; Wharton 2001) and conversely constructs the surrounding hostile territories in contra-distinction to the interior rationalism of the Holiday Inn. Speaking of motels, Morris refers to this process as the making of “a myth of the Modern Universal: seriality, chain self-reference, territorialisation by repetition-and-difference” (Morris 1988: 4). In the same way that the Bosnian war was in Europe, but not of Europe (Toal 1996: 203), the Holiday Inn was in Sarajevo but not of it.
Staff too went to great lengths to try and maintain the spatial and temporal standards expected of their international (American) establishment. “Uniformed maids came everyday to make up the beds” (Di Giovanni 2010) and “waiters carefully placed salad forks and soup spoons in front of us” (Carter 2004: 252). Interviews with staff revealed the effort put into preserving the guise of normal functioning. Initially, they attempted to keep up the weekly tradition of a fancy meal resulting in more and more bizarre combinations, including one memorable dinner composed entirely of scampi and caviar. The eventual and inevitable decline in standards led to the company revoking the franchise but this didn’t mean that the staff stopped working. Simpson describes “[t]he reception staff huddled in a little room on the edge of the foyer around a stove which ran on bottled gas. They wore long overcoats and gloves” (Simpson 1998: 435). Similarly, Maass says, “I dragged my backpack and computer bag across the atrium to the reception desk, where a shivering woman was to be found under a half dozen sweaters and jackets. She gave me the keys to a fourth-floor room and apologized for an absence of towels” (Maass 1996: 123).
And while the performance of normalcy was being performed on the ‘front stage’, in full view, the actions that kept the hotel running were taking place behind the scenes. Power depended upon “the amount of fuel the manager had procured on the black market” (Maass 1996: 122). And although initially, there were huge food and wine stocks in the cellars, these ‘mysteriously’ and quickly disappeared. With the cellars depleted, it was up to the managers to find ways to put food on the table. This was procured through a variety of channels the three main ones being through the black or ‘grey’ market at Ilidža (a Sarajevo suburb), diplomatic and journalistic largess and or smuggling. Staff tell the story of the first time they had to go to Ilidža to get food. The infamous market was set up on the front lines – between the Serbs and Bosnian Muslim forces. Getting there meant a dangerous trip down Sniper alley and the first time they went – in Autumn 1992 – one staff member said that he “almost died in fear.” They arranged it so that three staff member went together: a Serb, a Croat, and a Muslim. The Serbs across the border organized that food be brought to the border and then given to a Muslim who passed it to them. In this way they once bought a cow (which they then cut up and drove back to the hotel in the back of the van). It is unclear the degree to which the food being for the Holiday Inn facilitated this exchange, although it is certain that someone higher up permitted it to occur – potentially signifying the importance of the Hotel to both Serb and Muslim sides (see ‘Resource’ section, below).
What is striking, as Andreas (2008) documents, is how the front stage narrative of ethnic homogeneity and grievance was perpetuated and sustained as the official story while the back stage behaviours were well known by all those who visited the Holiday Inn; obvious for any who choose to see them. But perhaps the explanation for this oversight can be found in Habermas’ emergent European public sphere which “could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who…as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion” (1989: 37). In the same way, the residents of the hotel were oriented elsewhere: toward their viewers and audiences back home, intent on providing them with the front-stage story of ancient hostilities, or toward each other (Jeffrey 2007).

In our lobby we were all the same
The second practice fundamental to the creation of a distinct ‘international sphere’ was the forging of affective bonds between patrons: patrons who, though exceptional vis-à-vis their surroundings, were united in their common experience. Similar to Habermas’ coffee shops, the space of the hotel disregarded status, but celebrated “rank with a tact befitting equals” (Habermas 1989: 36); “nervous and cynical journalists from the world’s biggest newspapers…[mix with] Humanitarian workers, diplomats, international bureaucrats, military officers, wheeler-dealers and one or two dumbfounded intellectual-humanists” (Vasic 1994).
Prior to the war, the hotel was the city’s only luxury category hotel, and its position as a space of elite and interaction was acknowledged by the city at large. As the siege commenced, these distinctions became increasingly marked. As described by the infamous Sarajevo survival guide, “The hotel is well supplied …you try the best of local cuisine – big selections of Viennese and Oriental delights… At night, the hotel resembles Casablanca” (Prstojevic 1993: 82). Initially, the “hotel had its own generator, so during the long spells when the city had no electricity or heating, the Holiday Inn might have some for a few hours a day” (Maass 1996: 122) and by 1994 “[e]lectricity supplies have been restored” (Davico 1994). The hotel also produced its own bread and was even known to produce cakes for special occasions for purchase by those who could afford them (usually staff of international organizations). However, the supply of water was erratic. Staff were sometimes able to secure water from the brewery cistern; other times, they had to truck it in.
The prices within the hotel, already exorbitant before the war, reached preposterous rates during the siege. “Prices are war-like. The average menu is 50 DM per person” (Prstojevic 1993: 82); “bed and breakfast (croissant, butter and a spoon of marmelade), cost 122 US$” (Davico 1994). “You could order wine for $40 a bottle, a fortune by siege standards but for journalists on expense accounts this was no problem” (Maass 1996: 124). This rate was only affordable for the top international newspapers, and well established international agencies such as the UN. But, the centrifugal force of the hotel, meant that many other individuals involved in international affairs would venture in for a meal, a phone call, or merely to exchange information.
The hotel attracted a variety of sentiments from the local population. On one hand the physical presence of the internationals may have fed the hope that their city’s plight would not be forgotten. On the other, the disparity between what they had and what was on offer at the Holiday Inn was sometimes hard to bear. Ivan Štraus recounts an evening at the height of the war where he was invited to dinner at the Holiday Inn to honor some academics [sic]. At a time when the rest of Sarajevo was struggling to find food, the guests of the Holiday Inn “could eat and drink all night… there was champagne, whiskey.” Štraus, disgusted, said that as Sarajevans living under siege, “[i]n our poorness we were all the same” while within the walls of the Holiday Inn, the journalists, the diplomats, the generals were all the same in their bizarre and enclosed experience of the war. Meals were supplemented by diplomatic luxury items such as wine, and foie gras. “In Sarajevo, it was very easy to convince yourself that you deserved any luxury that came your way” (Maass 1996: 124). A clip from the Ophuls (Ophuls 1994) documentary shows John Simpson, his camera man Nigel and a French journalist discussing the availability of Stilton cheese courtesy of the BBC.
The social and economic disparities were reinforced through highly visible security measures. “The battered and extremely expensive Holiday Inn Hotel is full of foreigners: …Armed men guard them—there’s a police station in front of the lobby. It’s the Saigon ‘Inter Continental’ of the late sixties revisited: an air-conditioned island with an armed guard” (Vasic 1994). There was a use of bulletproof vests and armoured vehicles to a degree never before seen in any humanitarian operation (Cutts 1999: 2). “The basement garage of Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn was packed with ungainly steel-plated white Land Rovers with the logos of news organizations stencilled on the doors” (Kifner 2002). Even sortees from the Holiday Inn were done as an extension of the building itself with passengers and driver in constant communication with the hotel (Vasic 1994).
The vests, helmets and cars and the hotel itself formed a material shell that separated out those that had the freedom to leave, and those that were forced to stay. Describing a scene where Maass and other journalists went to report on a nursing home on the front lines (Jan 6, 1992) where they found dead and dying residents
“[w]e were aliens in that room, dressed in our high-tech clothing, wearing Gore-Tex gloves, our wallets stuffed with money and passports that meant we could leave this hell at any moment we wished and fly, for example, to Paris, where we could stay at the Ritz and impress our friends with tales of adventure from Bosnia…We left in a hurry, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was relieved. I returned to the Holiday Inn, wrote a thousand-word story and, later on, drank several glasses of wine with dinner” (Maass 1996: 139).
In contrast to the lived experience of a city under siege, “the atrium [of the hotel] was like an alien pod” (Carter 2004: 224): utterly separate; utterly strange.
In the early days of the siege, when accommodation was ad hoc, and when shelling was bad, all types of people were sleeping together in the nightclub. As the number of visitors increased staff decided to convert the large second floor conference room into a dining room. With movable interior walls, a bar, and most importantly – no windows – the conference room was big enough to accommodate any number of diners. The lack of windows and easterly position made diners feel safe (even if they were still exposed) and the access to an enclosed staircase, which led down, to the underground nightclub, provided an escape route, should one be needed. “Dinner, served between six and nine, was a communal affair in which everyone sat together at large tables and ate the same food, like at boarding school” (Maass 1996: 124). The shared experience of living within the Holiday Inn created a bond between patrons and and may have contributed to the lack of perspective which developed.
“Dubbed the ‘Pack Shack’ by critics who felt [sic.] the close living quarters, scrounging, supping and the regular late-night boozy roundtables, the not-so subtle peer-pressure for pro-Muslim, pro-Bosnian government bias that fostered pack-journalism, the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo was home to over 200 journalists in August 2003” (Brock and Binder 2006: 178).
In the case of one of the most high-profile journalists, Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, John F. Burns, Brock claimed that Burns lost objectivity completely and was effectively in the pockets of the Muslim leadership while Simpson claims that “if you share the sufferings of a city under siege you instinctively side with the people in it; that’s natural enough. But what many of the journalists based there did, and it has to be remembered that they were young and inexperienced, was to line up with the government rather than with the people” (Simpson 1998: 440). Part of this lining up was due to the fact that the journalists were not sharing in the experiences of the city at large, but forging their own awareness – and narrative – of the war from within the elite space of the Holiday Inn – an awareness not lost on other actors in the war.
Even those journalists who attempted to disrupt the binary spatialisations enabled by the hotel, found themselves reinforcing rather than disrupting them. In a famous incident, Paul Marchand, a French free-lance journalist abseiled down from the fifth floor into the middle of the atrium/lobby onlookers cheered and clapped. (“It was acrobatics” said one informant.) Marchand was acutely aware of the over-simplifications and sanitization that occurred in the process of reporting war. A troubled individual (he committed suicide in 2009) he was known for engaging in constant risk taking , all the while refusing to wear a flak jacket, or a helmet and driving a battered car (Burns 1992; Marchand 1997; Ophuls 1994). Exercising his “anti-geopolitical” eye, he sought out necro-geographies – “J’aime les morgues des pays en guerre “ – in order to better understand the nature of death, of war (Marchand 1997: 17). An obituary essay says, “he despised those who reported from the confines of the hotel and admired those who worked amongst the ordinary people who were the victims of that war just as he did and he never failed to tell anyone exactly what he thought of them.” But his performances – the abseiling, the lack of flak jacket – remained oriented toward to ‘international’ and were often practiced within and with reference to the Holiday Inn (Burns 1992; Marchand 1997).

PART III: HOTEL AS RESOURCE
The hotel was considered by all parties to be a protected space, evidenced by the fact that it generally avoided intentional shelling. And although it was hit – the upper floors and south facing rooms were closed (Prstojevic 1993: 82; Simpson 1998: 434) – when compared to the utter decimation of the parliament buildings across the road – the hotel was left relatively unscathed. Although some analysts attributed this to logistical considerations – “snipers could angle their shots inside the rooms; thankfully, they had easier targets to go after” (Maass 1996: 122) – as the war wore on the hotel’s relative lack of shelling became less about luck and more about design. Three explanations may be put forward as to why the hotel was too valuable to be hit.

War Economies
A huge body of work has been done on war economies: on how conflict is both driven by economic interests (Collier and Sambanis 2005; Keen 1998; Nordstrom 2004; Pugh et al. 2004) and more recently, how the event of the conflict itself permits criminal or extra-normal economic pursuits (Andreas 2009; Kalyvas 2004). These often criminal activities then become an important factor in sustaining the conflict and often transforming its dynamics, allegiances and rationale – particularly at the micro-level (Kalyvas 2004). In the case of Bosnia, these economic incentives are widely accepted to have been a decisive aspect of both how the war was fought (all sides relied heavily on irregular soldiers, and criminal gangs) and in sustaining the conflict. Particularly, in the case of Sarajevo, the siege dynamic, created uniquely lucrative opportunities for those who were willing to take the risks and make the moral sacrifices (Andreas 2004; Donia 2006). In this reading, the Holiday Inn was spared as a particularly lucrative asset – for one or possibly both sides. It was well known that the hotel had “two directors. One was appointed by the City Parliament, and the other one by the Republic” (Prstojevic 1993: 82). It was reputed to have contributed to the grey economy either as a money laundering mechanism or as a key interface between local and international actors seeking to cut a deal. This is largely and necessarily speculative as information on the economic significance and role of the hotel during the war, is almost impossible to find. However, its prominent and controversial position in the post-war privatization exercise indicates that its economic potential has not gone un-remarked upon by key political actors. The hotel was notoriously sold for just over 10% of its estimated worth to group led by Nedim Čausević – a prominent Sarajevo business figure with close relations to the director of the Federation Privatization Agency who in turn was “a close relative of former Federation Prime Minister Edhem Bičakčic, a senior figure from the Muslim-nationalist Party of Democratic Action (DSA) and widely considered to be among Bosnia’s most corrupt politicians” (Donais 2002: 7). While USAID – the organization in charge of privatization in post-war Bosnia – said that they were unable to discuss the sale of the hotel, the Čausević contract was annulled in February 2001“even though many of the international community continued to insist the sale was ‘technically’ legal” (Donais 2002: 7). The hotel has subsequent been various sales and is currently owned by an Austrian consortium with plans to redevelop the hotel into a large retail and leisure center.

Symbolism
Since its construction in 1983, the Holiday Inn has been a metaphor for the age. The government’s original intent for the building was to use it to showcase the city on a global stage during the Olympics, however, it can also be read as an attempt to embody and unify the competing philosophical and ideological trends present in Sarajevo in the post-Tito era. The building includes (then) contemporary Western architectural elements such as an enclosed atrium and clean exterior lines, while the interior modifications such as the circus tent and the use of light and space in the lobby, evoke the Morića Han (a café/inn in the Baščaršija), and are intentional nods to Sarajevo’s cosmopolitan, urban history (Figure 5). While, the architect, Štraus, was intent on using the building to weave together competing strands of civic identify (Štraus 1994), these subtle nuances of design were outshone by the brilliant yellow façade and the internationally recognized sign.
It was these qualities, and the prominent placement meant that meant it lay physically and metaphorically at the heart of the city. “If you stand on the mountain Bjelaànica and look down onto the city of Sarajevo, the only building that you see clearly is the Holiday Inn: right at the centre of the city.” Its position between the Baščaršija and the Marin Dvor districts symbolizing an attempt to reconcile the modern and the traditional in Sarajevo’s built heritage (Alić and Gusheh 1999). The significance of the structure itself to Serbs as well as Muslims is evidenced by the suggestion of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) leader and Republica Srpska Vice President, Biljana Plavšić, in September 1992 that “Sarajevo be divided at the Holiday Inn” (Donia 2006: 288).
Indeed, Bogdanović, Coward, and Štraus make the argument that the Serbian attacks on Sarajevo (and other Bosnian cities such as Mostar) were a clear case of urbicide – the destruction of the urban environment as an extension of warfare (Bogdanović 1993, 1996; Coward 2009; Štraus 1994). Drawing on Heidegger, Coward (Coward 2009) suggests that the pointed destruction of sites such as the Mostar Bridge, the Sarajevo Library and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliament buildings were an attempt to destroy the lived togetherness that defines all urban spaces, and in particular, the cosmopolitan identity that had been a self-conscious part of Sarajevo’s built identity during the Tito era (Neidhardt 2004; Štraus 1994). The lack of shelling of the Holiday Inn, could therefore, be seen as an indication of a recognition on the part of the snipers – Štraus’ anti-cosmopolitan ‘barbares’ – that the hotel was not a space of togetherness – that this was a space of separateness, of the other, of the international. Instead of being a “metaphor of cosmopolitianism”, the Holiday Inn consolidated a particular and bounded notion of ‘the international’ (Berens 1997; McNeill 2008: 385). Kate Adie describes a Serb soldier apologizes to her for accidentally hitting the Holiday Inn with sniper fire (Coward 2009: 7) and Mauss himself describes an encounter with a Serb sniper in Grbavica “’You see that yellow building?’ Slobodan pointed with his pistol. ‘Is Holiday Inn. No problem! No problem!’” (Maass 1996: 152). Although Maass is not clear as to whether the sniper “meant that it was no problem to kill the hotel’s guests, or whether I should not be worried about staying at the hotel” (Maass 1996: 152), what is evident from this exchange is that the sniper was well aware of the relationship between the building and Maass, as a foreign journalist. The building of the Holiday Inn and the presence of the elite, civilian international community in Sarajevo were considered as one by the snipers who looked down on them.

A Visual Echo Chamber
A final way in which the hotel was a significant resource, was in its informational value. The wars of the ex-Yugoslavia were always closely tied to media representations (Myers 1996; Robinson 2000; Robison 2004) in particular in those areas which suffered from a lack of access. And while Sarajevo, was very much one of the locations, the apparent ease of access disguised the reality that the journalists were little more than embedded reporters – seeing what the elites wanted them to see; going where they were allowed to go resulting in a situation where almost every major news channel carried the same story (Brock and Binder 2006). There was a disregard – either intentional or accidental – of Kalyvas’ warning against taking “elites’ descriptions of who they are and who they represent at face value. Because these elites are aware of this propensity they manipulate it accordingly” (Kalyvas 2004: 171). Returning to the Holiday Inn and Adie and Mauss’ conversations with snipers with regard to protection of the Holiday Inn as a space, it seems almost certain that the hotel and its residence was considered – either implicitly or explicitly; officially or unofficially – to be an audience to be performed for, entertained, excited, horrified. As least, both sides were aware of the potential that the presence of these embedded journalists provided. Speaking to Karadžić’s spokesman, Ljubica Rakovic, Maass was told “We read your stories very carefully. I personally was very interested in the stories you have written about so-called mass rapes by Serbs” (Maass 1996: 157). This quote demonstrates the elite awareness of the potential risk – and utility – of the hotel and its residents in the war of information.
The importance of the televised news as a way of promoting one side over the other, was amplified by the fact that most Sarajevans had little other diversions than to shelter at home and watch TV, the reporting from the Holiday Inn was streamed back to them via London or Washington. “The citizens of Sarajevo saw from close up the biggest world powers, they saw their houses and streets on CNN, glamorous faces and names visited them in order to encourage and support them, and in the end they were left with the impression that their misfortune was just a good background to the pictures which were sold in world metropolis [sic.]” (Cerovic 1995). Štraus’ wartime journals regularly describe his witnessing of local events via international television networks, as he and his family were confined to their flat (Štraus 1994: 99). And so, with a limited number of potential scenes, stories and angles, “[a] visual echo chamber developed: rather than encouraging reporters to find the news, editors urged them to report what was on TV” (Maass 2011).
The relationship between a place, observers and events is one that has not gone unremarked upon in the context of war (Baudrillard 1995; Retort and Boal 2005; Virilio 1989). In the more specific context of hotels, Maass argues that the proximity of The Palestine Hotel, in Bagdad, was not incidental to the ostentatious and arguably somewhat staged display of the now famous destruction of Saddam’s statue in the city’s Firdos square, suggesting that the US military, aware of the concentration of journalists only meters away, enabled the removal of the statue with the recognition of the part of a media-savvy general, that this would make good viewing ‘back home’ (Maass 2011). While the strategic objectives and nationalities of the actors in Sarajevo and Iraq are quite different in both cases, their tactical use of the hotel as information resource is the same. Both situations recognize the potential of this information resource to disseminate information in ways that appears, from the audience’s perspective, to be of their own interpretation. That is, in distinction to situations of ‘embedded’ journalists where there is a consciousness on the part of the journalists that what they observe is what they are being allowed to see, in the context of the Holiday Inn (and hotels more widely) an illusory space of autonomy is created which suggested to its residents that they had more power, more independence than was actually the case. Maass was one of the journalists who had been present at the Holiday Inn, and who frequently returned in his writings to descriptions of the building and his experiences in it. It is not coincidental that he recognizes the significant role of these places in the construction of international geopolitical narratives.

CONCLUSION

This article has tried to expand upon existing explanations of conflict narratives, by looking at the built form of the grand hotel and arguing three things. First, that the ubiquitous presence of the ‘grand hotel’ which becomes the centre of international activity in a conflict zone, should not be taken for granted, but need to be understood as constitutive of the conflict geography, and therefore how the conflict is understood and represented. These observations emphasize the need to bring considerations of the material and built environment on par with other factors of conflict (Coward 2006).
Second, an examination of the hotel in conflict points to their importance, and the importance of spaces like them to create shared social identities. This is some through affective factors, for example shared living conditions, shared risks, but also through the perpetuation of clear demarcations between who is inside ‘the international’ and who is not. This allows the maintenance of a sphere of (relative) normality, against which the exception of the conflict can be contrasted, as a sphere in need of intervention (Calhoun 2010). It was possibly the attempt to maintain normalcy that contributed to journalists clinging to a coherent (if flawed) narrative of clear-cut ethnic conflict, in spite of conflicting evidence to the contrary, in the kitchens and back corridors of ‘their’ hotel. These affective considerations of how shared subjectivity are formed is essential to gaining a better understanding of what is meant by the ‘international community’ at large and how its members identify and understand themselves both vis-à-vis each other and their surroundings. If identity is closely linked to the notion of a figurative, or literal home space (Bulley 2006), how does the predictable and globalised environments provided by hotels such as the Hotel Holiday Inn, the Inter-Continental or the Serena influence what is thought to be possible?
Finally, there is the need to consider the hotel as a strategic resource in conflict,
materially, symbolically and informationally. This adds to the existing literatures on war economies, by highlighting the particular ways in which international interventions need to be considered for their simultaneous feedback effects on the conflict. It is worth considering how advancements in information technology may change this – by opening up new avenues for information, but also disinformation.
Taken together, these three insights, point to the need to consider how spaces and the built environment are not only stages upon which we perform, but integral and constitutive of the performance itself.

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