Home Away From Home

“Home Away From Home: The role of the single family dwelling in the construction of a ‘humanitarian imaginary,'” unpublished paper (2008)

The elementary moment in reconstruction after a large scale disaster is the re-housing of populations that have lost their homes and possessions. And despite the historical and social specificity of the built form of the house, it is dramatically under-theorized in a post-disaster context. Through its material, built form and through its visual representations, the reconstructed house is a site where and through which global categories and frameworks are constructed and reproduced. This paper looks at how it is both defined by and contributes to the (re)production of the space of the international and in particular, to an international ‘humanitarian imaginary’.

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.” (p.  336).

If we take these arguments to the level of the supra or international, we begin to see the potential of place in the (re)production of international scale and in specific aspects of the ‘international’ as a collective concept.  An important narrative in stories about international, or cosmopolitan identity is that of international humanitarian assistance:  the imperative, or expectation that those actors capable of assistance those in need should do so.  Drawing on Charles Taylor’s concept of a ‘social imaginary’ and Craig Calhoun’s subsequent elaboration of the ‘social imaginary of emergencies’  the idea of an international ‘humanitarian imaginary’ is embodied, in part, in the built form of the reconstructed house.

The first part of this paper, provides a brief genealogy of housing in the context of reconstruction, and begins to unpack some of the cultural and historical assumptions associated with this practice.  It problematizes the predominance of the single family dwelling as the dominant building typology through an examination of two case studies:  Hurricane Katrina and the Katrina Cottage; and the houses built in and around Banda Aceh, after the 2004 South East Asian Tsunami. Through recourse to contemporary architectural theory, I suggest that while the built form, the materiality of the house, is indeed a vital aspect of reconstruction, it may not be for the reasons that are immediately apparent, but rather for what it represents to the various actors involved in its reconstruction and use. As such, the act of rebuilding a home becomes not only an act of place making – but also an act of place taking and giving, and is inseparable from the interactions and contestations that this involves.   

SECTION I:  The built form of the house in post-disaster reconstruction

After a large scale natural disaster, there is an inordinate focus on the reconstruction of single family dwellings, or ‘houses’. In the context of a large scale reconstruction, the success or failure of the reconstruction effort is popularly judged according to the number, speed, and arguably, quality of houses built. Media accounts of the reconstruction of the Indonesian autonomous province of Aceh, one of the hardest hit areas after the 2004 South East Asia Tsunami, focused almost exclusively on progress in housing construction.  Progress reports and representations of the Tsunami response by the large international aid agencies such as Oxfam, and Care, give prominent focus to the built form of the house – both visually and in their choice of monitoring indicators. But is this focus on externally provided houses – particularly when separated from discussion of location, infrastructure, water & sanitation, livelihoods, and subsequent use – the best way to approach reconstruction?

It is true, that shelter is a basic human need:  third only in importance to water and food.[1]  As described in the Sphere Standards:

Shelter is a critical determinant for survival in the initial stages of a disaster. Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security and personal safety, protection from the climate and enhanced resistance to ill health and disease. It is also important for human dignity and to sustain family and community life as far as possible in difficult circumstances. [2]

The right to housing is enshrined in a variety of international documents. According to Cornelis and Vitale (2005), “The strongest reference to housing rights in the international legal context is the right to adequate housing as enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article II (I) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).” In their 2002 publication, UN-HABITAT and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) assert the legal importance of ‘adequate housing’.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the right to adequate housing has been reaffirmed and explicitly recognized in a wide range of international instruments as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and joined the body of universally accepted and applicable international human rights law.[3]

Therefore, it is possible to argue, in the context of international humanitarian law, that after a disaster, there is the international legal obligation on the part of the international community to ensure adequate housing for the affected populations.[4] But the provision of shelter – as seen by the persistent derision directed at the FEMA trailers – is not the same as the provision of houses, nor should the provision of houses necessarily by assumed to translate into the particular form of the single family, detached house.[5]  According to the head of shelter from the International Federation of the Red Cross, instead of asking, as the media did in June 2005– “why had only 10 000 units been built in 6 months?”, the question that should have been asked was “why are we building so many houses, so quickly?”[6] 

The most commonly observed approach to the reconstruction of permanent houses is a small, single story, house with 2 or three rooms:  most often one living/bedroom, a kitchen and/or an adjacent living area/bedroom. They are constructed from a small range of materials – usually cinder block, brick or concrete. In Aceh, the same design proposals were seen over and over despite consultations with the target communities and a lack of initial guidelines from the government. (Fig. 1 & 2))  The designs were remarkably similar – at least in external appearance –  to approaches seen in other post-crisis settings including those as geographically diverse as Kosovo, and Rwanda. 

Figure 1 – Banda Aceh, June 2006 [missing – eds.]

figure 2

Figure 2 – Meulaboh, June 2006

Dynamics of International Relief and Reconstruction

Part of the focus on housing can be accounted for by the dynamics of the international institutions and organizations, whose objective is to provide assistance to countries to rebuild after large scale disasters. These include both large international and multilateral agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank, as well as the international development arms of OECD governments and Non-Governmental Agencies.  While the institutional arrangements and development literature, attempt to demarcate between those organizations whose objective is primarily humanitarian relief (UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance; International Federation of the Red Cross) and those organizations who are tasked with assisting with long scale development (UN Development Programme, the UK’s Department for International Development), in reality, many humanitarian agencies continue working well into the reconstruction phase of post-disaster work.  This is partly because the distinction between relief and reconstruction is itself an artificial one – with many ‘temporary’ solutions becoming permanent and many development interventions starting while a society is still operating in a relief framework.  It is also partly due to the rhetoric of the international aid community itself, with many programmatic discussions in the 1990s and early 2000s advocating for the closing of the ‘relief to development’ gap.[7]

In the case of housing, the path dependence of the initial relief operations is particularly strong:  many temporary or semi-permanent shelters becoming effectively permanent dwellings  and the post-disaster displacements resulting in long term social restructurings.[8]  This blurring of the relief and development functions can be demonstrated by looking at the agencies that are involved in the housing sector – for example, in the case of Banda Aceh, two of the largest agencies involved in the building of permanent houses are the IFRC and Christian Relief Services (CRS).  The mandate of both agencies is primarily relief, however after the Tsunami, various bottlenecks in the relief effort meant that even the provision of temporary shelter was massively delayed.   With people still living in tents, 6 months after the Tsunami, it no longer made sense to provide temporary shelter or even transitional houses.  Instead, both the IFRC and CRS undertook the construction of thousands of permanent housing units.[9]

The dominance of ‘relief actors’ in the provision of permanent housing after a disaster may partially account for the dominance of the single family detached housing model as the dominant approach to reconstructed housing. Within the context of humanitarian assistance, the dominant mode of shelter is that of the tent.  While many architectural attempts have been made to provide alternative forms of emergency relief, the dominant typology of international assistance remains the tent.[10] Even if established in a ‘row formation’ which allows for an adjustable length – this implies that the dominant unit of social organization is the nuclear family.  If we translate the type and logic of the tent to a more permanent dwelling, the detached, single family dwelling becomes an obvious choice – so much so, as to be largely unproblematized, as a form, throughout the relief community.

Both Fred Cuny (1983) and Randolph Kent (1987) trace the genealogy of natural disaster relief to the provision of relief from the damaged inflicted by conflict, beginning with Henri Dunant’s establishment of the ICRC in 1863 following the human suffering that he observed at the Battle of Solferino (1859). During and after WW1, the Red Cross movement “remained the single most important landmark in the evolution of humanitarian relief” however, Kent identifies the contributions of two other organisations as being particularly significant during this period. The Commission for Relief in Belgium and the American Relief Administration (in conjunction with the European Children’s Fund and the European Relief Council) provided basic assistance to war affected Europeans and with the end of WW2, the plight of millions of refugees gave rise to the creation of international response mechanisms through the newly created United Nations (Kent:  37).[11]

As emergency assistance moved from an ad hoc form of international activity to a more professionalized, structured activity[12] the provision of emergency shelter grew in importance. Following both the first and second wars, the relief effort included the large scale reconstruction of houses to replace those that had been destroyed, and to provide new housing for displaced persons. And while high profile architectural contributions offered innovative design possibilities, in the main, most humanitarian NGOs relied on engineers to “design and oversee the construction of projects.” (Stohr: 40) Standards were developed for the design of temporary and transitional shelter, as well as accompanying components such as water and sanitation, layout of settlements, and guiding principles of interaction with the affected populations.  However, until the mid 1980s, “the approaches and techniques used in relief operations”  were still based on those that had been developed to assist European refugees and displaced persons after World War II.  These included the establishment of large camps, located far away from the people’s original place of residence; the reliance on “temporary measure and goods supplied from outside the affected region” including food, blankets, tents, and clothing.  Most importantly, “because the relief agencies operated in close cooperation with military occupation authorities, the approaches were often regimented and relied heavily on military-style planning and logistics for operation.” (Cuny: 18).

According to Cuny, the provision of relief after-WW2, informed the direction of relief services globally: 

In the late 1940s, the relief agencies operating in Europe began to expand their services into the trouble spots of the Third World:  India, Palestine, and Korea required the agencies’ help in dealing with refugees.  The agencies continued to use the techniques that they had used in Europe and adapt them to needs in the developing countries.[13]

In the 1950s, the demand for their services was magnified by rapid withdrawal of colonial powers, which left the newly independent states with fledging government and civil infrastructure, unable to cope with natural disasters – either in terms of expertise or resources.  Unlike the national governments, relief agencies were able to take a direct operational role, without concerns of breaches of sovereignty. (Cuny:18)  Most importantly, the “response pattern used by the relief agencies for natural disasters was virtually the same as that developed for use with refugees. There are many differences between war and refugee relief, and relief and recovery needs after a natural disaster.” (Cuny: 19)

The ‘WW2 paradigm’ continued to dominate until the 1980s, when various groups began to undertake significant and focused work to improve the international response to emergencies.  These included the re-examining camp layouts:  moving away from traditional military grid systems and towards more organic forms of social organization.[14]

Such proposals were in response to the recognition that temporary solutions often last years, if not decades and that relief should be designed in a way that enables long term, positive development.[15] However, despite advances in camp design, and attempts to modify the design of transitional shelter, the single family dwelling or ‘hut’ typology (Hayden, 1984) remains the dominant form of reconstructed housing.

SECTION II:  Theoretic importance of home and house in reconstruction sites

The concept of ‘home’ has now been extensively discussed in various literatures.  To be ‘homeless’  in Western society means that you are unable to be a functioning member of society.  Without a fixed physical address – a home – it is almost impossible to hold down a job, to receive education or medical care.  On a symbolic level, ‘home’ represents an emotional or spiritual grounding:  a place where a person can feel comfortable, safe, and a part of their surroundings – be that a family, a community or a country.[16]  While no architect, or development planner would be so delusional, nor arrogant, as to claim that the reconstruction of a house is all that is required to re-establish a home, there is an assumption in the discourse of post-disaster reconstruction that while not sufficient, such an aspiration is both realistic and desirable.  The conflation of ideas of shelter-housing-home can be seen in the slogans that are deployed by many of the organizations, for example:  “Building Houses Rebuilding Communities” (UN-HABITAT, 2005); or “A Place to Stay, A Place to Live” (Oxfam Briefing Note, 2005).

Beyond this initial logical slippage, is the already identified near automatic assumption that the reconstruction of housing means the reconstruction of a single family dwelling – an architectural form termed by Hayden as that of the ‘primitive, sacred hut.’[17]

For many Europeans, and for many settlers in North America who came from Europe, the archetypal house is a hut with a peaked roof, a strong door, and small windows to resist snow, wind, and rain.  The house may be constructed of wood, if it is near a forest; or stone, if it is near a quarry.  One large hearth provides a warm, bright place, the center of nurturing activity.  The archetype can be elaborated in its English, French, German, Scandinavian and American versions.  As ham, domus, bauen, or log cabin, the image has been analyzed, romanticized, sanctified, psychoanalyzed, celebrated, and copied.[18]

Theorists such as Bachelard, attribute the tenacity of form of the primal hut to its archetypical nature – locating within its form the embodied solution to the isolation of the human condition. (Bachelard, 1994)  Others, such as Claire Cooper and Carl Jung see the house as the symbol of self:  the attic representing the mind, the basement the unconscious.[19] Still others, such as Martin Heidegger, and Mircea Eliade link the building of a domestic dwelling to the construction of a temple and ultimately to an entire world view.[20]   Within the American context, the detached house has even more overt spiritual dimensions, for example, Catherine Beecher, an 19th c. minister and social commentator, considered the home to be a space for ‘domestic ministry’ and experimented with designs that incorporated areas for both living and worship. (Hayden, 2003: 41)

Such domestic ministry also carries a strongly gendered association. Beecher goes on to say that “a woman, nurturing her spouse and children, could create a ‘model family commonwealth’ in her suburban home.” (Hayden, 1984: 23)  The binary association of the female to the realm of interiority, the private and that of the male to the exterior, the public, has a long and well documented history.[21] In the West, no other built form so clearly articulates the patriarchal structure of the nuclear family than the single family dwelling. “Post-war propaganda told women that their place was in the home, as nurturers; men were told that their place was in the public realm, as earners and decision makers.[22] This ideal, gender-based division of labor [sic] described women’s and men’s economic, social, and political relationships to the private and public realms as distinctly different.” (Hayden, 1986:  42)  The result was “a spatial prescription for married suburban bliss that emphasized gender as the most salient feature of every citizen’s experience and aspirations”; (Hayden, 1984:  42) a spatial prescription that, 60 years later, continues to dominate as the preferred mode of housing across the US and, as concurrently, as the preferred mode of re-housing after a large scale disaster.

In his brief history of the ‘Home’, Rybczynski traces the genealogy of these spatial prescriptions to the emergence of the contemporary single family dwelling in 17th c. Netherlands.  “The emergence of the family home reflected the growing importance of the family in Dutch Society….The publicness that had characterized the ‘big house’ was replaced by a more sedate – and more private – home life.” The emergence of what Rybczynski terms ‘domesticity’ is bound up with “family, intimacy, and a devotion to the home, as well as with the house embodying, not only harbouring – these sentiments.”[23] (Rybczynski, 1988:  59)

As industrialization began to transform the old cities of Europe, and the emergent ones of the New World, the desire for a retreat from the chaos and pollution of the inner city drove more and more of the emergent ‘middle classes’ to seek affordable, private solutions further afield.  According to Hayden, “[b]y the mid-1830s, American architects were designing developments of single-family detached houses with gardens on the outskirts of cities.” (Hayden, 2003:  47) By the mid 20th c., the “American dream of single-family ownership” was firmly entrenched within the American psyche.  (Hayden, 1984:  13) She continues, “[s]ingle family suburban homes have become inseparable from the American dream of economic success and upward mobility.  Their presence pervades every aspect of economic life, social life, and political life in the United States…” (Hayden, 1984:  14)

The ownership of a house remains the dominant life goals of the majority of Americans and Western Europeans. As a symbol, it represents achievement, stability and security.  It is culturally preferable and seen as superior to other arrangements for living.  It is also the primary locus of consumption. Under U.S. President Hoover, private, single family homes were established as a “national goal to promote long term economic growth and recovery from the depression.” (Hayden, 1986:  34) Not only did they provide a excellent potential for consumption with their endless possibilities of modern appliances, furniture and garden accoutrements, they also provided a locus upon which the capitalist worker, and his wife, could focus their energy, and see the material results of their labour.  The connection between home ownership and national stability was clearly and overtly articulated in the policy of the time. Perhaps the strongest testament to the success of this rhetorical strategy is the complete absence, within American public discourse of alternative living arrangements, despite the inability or unwillingness of large portions of the American public to achieve the ‘dream’ of the house ownership.

Such embedded assumptions are rarely foregrounded – and particularly not in the context of emergency reconstruction.  These issues will be examined through two examples of reconstruction – first a case where a particular vision of society is communicated through the built form of the detached single family dwelling and second, a case where the generic form of the house is replicated as the dominant reconstructive form via the reconstructive process.

i) The Case of post-Katrina Housing:  the Katrina Cottage[24]

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.[25] Originally designed by New York architect, Marianne Cusato, the term referred to a 308 sq ft., one floor, downsized “Mississippi-style coastal cottage, complete with an inviting porch.”[26] To ensure elements of local vernacular Coastal style, inputs were solicited from the affected communities and ‘fine tuned’ by local architects.[27]  (Fig. 3 & 4)

figure 3

Figure 3 – KC1 308 – Bunkhouse  (www.cusatocottages.com)

The “KC 308” 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.”[28] 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.[29]

figure 4

Figure 4 – KC1 – 308 – Bunkhouse (www.cusatocottages.com)

When speaking of traditional Gulf Coast architectural forms – for example, ante bellum –  the choice of a ‘cottage’ is not an obvious one.  The term itself is a rich one, and one more commonly seen in the North East States of the US and Canada than the deep south.  It is a term that is generally used to refer to a small, single story, dwelling intended to house a single family often for vacation purposes or as a second home.  In some parts of the US such dwellings may be referred to as ‘cabins’.  It is more likely to be seen in rural or peri-urban than urban areas and carries with it a variety of associations.  These range from ideas of ‘leisure’, ‘casualness’, ‘coziness’, ‘nostalgia’ – as described in the lifestyle magazine ‘Cottage Life’ to the  ‘pre-fab’ or ‘temporary’.  These associations vary strongly accordingly to the location where it is used, the term ‘cottaging’ in the UK, for example, referring to a particular sexual acts performed in a public lavatory.  All this is to say that a ‘cottage’ is not an obvious choice as either a permanent, not a ‘vernacular’, housing solution, along the Gulf Coast.  Interestingly, the term ‘cottage’ for post-disaster housing is not new.  According to a post-Katrina article in Slate, Wytold Rybczynski tells us that after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the city of SF ‘built 6,000 two-room temporary wooden huts’ which he refers to as ‘cottages’ and some are still in existence today.  (Rybczynski, 2005 and 2006)

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).

However, its popularity, as a form, has proved sufficiently popular for it to have been picked up by Lowes’, the US building supplier, for distribution.  Follow 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.[30]  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.[31]  For example, models which fall into the  Thin House type “are between 500 and 1,600 sq ft., and are 16′ wide or less, measured to the eaves.”[32] Both Katrina Cottage IV, and VI are ‘thin cottages.’

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 Lowes website include 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.

The dream of building a enclave of one’s own from scratch, is a deeply engrained part of the American identity.  For in the mid 1800s, work by such authors and amateur architects as Andrew Jackson Downing, and A.J.Davis provided written and visual guidance on “how to convert an ordinary farm into a gentleman’s estate or “Country Seat”.” (Hayden, 2003:  27)  Through their work, they “suggest that in the borderlands, buying a farmer’s land and turning it into a suburban property was what men and women of this era – and indeed every succeeding decade – needed to do.”[33] (Hayden, 2003:  27)

In the same way, the advice for “Using the Cottage:  Building for the Future”, found on the CusatoCotages.com website, implies 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.  Significant work has been done to document the uneven swathe of damage caused by Katrina: those who lost the most were exactly those people who could least afford to do so.  With persistent ambiguity over insurance claims, property rights and ownership, the dream of re-establishing oneself on a clean, lot remains exactly that.

The images of the mansions on these web pages also raises obvious questions, such as where the income necessary for the reconstruction will come from if the residents have lost their jobs.  And if the Cottage is truly meant to be temporary, why is a trailer not sufficient? Is it becomes what is being sold is less about the form of the cottage, and more about the possibility for a new life(style) that it represents.[34]

The Lowes online ‘model cottage gallery’ is careful to present the images of the cottages accompanied by white picket fencing, rocking chairs and bushes.[35] However, the form of the cottage itself bears a striking resemblance to a less bourgeois tradition.  In his 1976 article, John Michael Vlach explores the historical origins of a vernacular Louisiana housing type – the shotgun 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 quoted in Vlach:  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.  (Vlach in Upton & Vlach, 1976)

In order to demonstrate the historical linkages between Louisiana’s shotgun house and earlier, African architectural traditions, Vlach traces the genealogy of the house.  In contemporary Louisiana, the shotgun house is most commonly associated with poor, black communities; its presence in visual representations of post-Katrina New Orleans, so ubiquitous as to be unremarkable.[36]  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 5)  and the shotgun house of New Orleans (Fig 6). (Fig 5 & 6) plans in Upton & Vlach:  65 and 66).

figure 5

Figure 5 – Traditional Haitian Maison-Basse Plans (Upton & Vlach, 1986:  65)

figure 6

Figure 6 – Traditional New Orleans Shotgun Types (Upton & Vlach, 1986: 66)

When we compare these plans to those of the Katrina Cottage, the are strikingly similar both in the layout, dimensions, and intended room use.  (Fig. 5).  The similarities in layout – rooms arranged in a row, with the entrance placed on the gable end, leading off a porch – is evident by looking at the respective plans.

figure 7

Figure 7 – KC3081 Floor Plan (www.cusatocottages.com)

While the average dimensions of the initial Katrina Cottage (KC 308) had a shorter length than the examples of shotgun houses that Vlach found in Port-au-Prince or New Orleans, they are identical with regards to width.  They are also similar with regard to intended room usage:  multi purpose space at the front, sleeping quarters (reached through the multi-purpose space) at the back.  The observed variations, or ‘sub-types’ are also similar between the shotgun house and the Katrina cottage with frontal ornamentation of (the appearance of) two doors (see KC 612)[37] or the addition to the shogun house of extra rooms on the side (similar to KC 576).

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 p. 73 in Vlach).  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.  Cultural contact did not necessitate an overwhelming change in architecture; what was needed was rather an intelligent modification of culture.  The shotgun house form is the result of this kind of mental transposition.” (Vlach: 76)

If we accept that the Katrina Cottage draws upon a shotgun legacy, Vlach’s observations have relevance in the post-hurricane landscape of the Gulf Coast. While the language and imagery used to market the cottage is one of Rockwellian Americana and a DIY attitude, the form and type of the cottage is one that draws upon the 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)[38]

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 irony runs deeper still. According to the New Urban Guild’s website, The Katrina Cottage has been designed using the concepts of ‘Living Traditions’ and ‘Most Loved Places’. According to the New Urban Guild website, ‘Most Loved Places’ are “the places in every region which have been valued the highest and loved the longest.”[39] A living tradition is “something that resonates enough with the average citizen that they want to repeat it on their house, on their shop, or in their town.[40] The implication of these concepts is that people will turn to, and value, classic architectural forms, such as the antebellum architecture of the Gulf Coast.  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.  Suggesting that unless the necessary actions are made to improve the cottage, the fate of previous generations of shotgun owners is theirs to repeat.

Hayden distinguishes between two aspects of the built form:  the building program and the architectural form:

The building program is the implicit or explicit statement of spatial requirements to be fulfilled within the constraints of available sites, budgets, and technologies; it can be simple or detailed, but it will usually define the building type (such as detached one-family house, or thirty-unit apartment house) and the intended activities such as eating, sleeping, or parking the car.  A program will also usually specify what kinds of spaces are to be provided for these activities, such as kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or garage; how large these spaces must be; and what sorts of daylight, mechanical systems, and other equipment are necessary.  At the same time that the building program conveys the economic, social, and technical requirements for built space, the architectural style chosen for a building conveys the cultural requirements.  The choice of style may be made by the client or by the designer; it can be as enduring as any religious dogma or as fleeting as high fashion.[41]

She goes on to say, “The one thing that architectural style cannot do is transform the building program.  So if the basic social model of home is outdated, or the basic economic model of home is not appropriate, then architectural design cannot save the situation.  Architects cannot make outmoded family etiquette modern; they cannot make false economic definitions of private and public work equitable.  Because architectural style and building program represent form and content (or, if you will, cultural superstructure and material base), architectural styles and building programs often conflict in industrial societies.[42]

Within the context of reconstruction, the focus is generally on the built form of the house – with the larger building program receding into the background either as part of a larger reconstruction effort that downplays the importance of space (focusing instead on issues of economic regeneration, and livelihoods, abstracted from their material base) or due to the piecemeal nature of the reconstruction effort.  By presenting the choice of a better life as one that lies with the individual – the structural aspects, and governmental failings are obscured. The focus on the built form of the house obscures the larger issues of why the disaster happens, which groups are disproportionately affected, and highlights instead micro-issues of ornament, façade, and layout. The packaging of the solution to the reconstruction effort in the form of a single family dwelling on private (seemingly limitless) property draws the attention away from larger context; one, where, a second Katrina is more likely than the eventual conversion of the Katrina cottage into a children’s play cottage in the corner of an expansive property.  Just as the single family dwelling has come to represent, and even embody the value of the individual over the value of society, the Katrina cottage places the burden of reconstruction on the individual, as the form of the house implies a permanence that a wheeled trailer does not.

[F]or the first time in history, a civilization has created a utopian ideal based on the house rather than the city or the nation.  For hundreds of years, when individuals thought about putting an end to social problems, they designed model towns to express their desires, not model homes.[43]

But isn’t the Katrina Cottage ‘better than nothing?’; better, as many of the disaster victims themselves have said, than the FEMA trailer?  Perhaps.  At the very least, Lowes franchising of the design demonstrates at least a temporary demand for the cottage[44] although whether this demand is partly a result of the fascination with the Katrina disaster, or a love of the cottage itself, is unclear.  There is even discussion of the adoption of the design by Habitat for Humanity, for use in its overseas housing projects.[45]  It is also remarkably similar to models made nearly a century earlier.

In 1906, “Earthquake refugee cottages, or “shacks” were built by the Department of Lands and Buildings of the Relief Corporation to house refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.”  According to the Western Neighbourhoods Project, a nonprofit historical organization based out of San Francisco:

5,610 cottages were constructed to house over 16,000 San Franciscans in 11 refugee camps in locations including Dolores Park, Washington Square, Precita Park, Portsmouth Square, and today’s Park-Presidio Boulevard. Union carpenters built three main sizes of cottages between September 1906 and March 1907. Cottages had cedar-shingle roofs, fir floors and redwood walls. All were painted green to better blend into the parks and public squares in which they were erected. When the camps began closing in August 1907, refugees hauled cottages to private lots, and often cobbled together two or more to form larger residences. Of the 5,343 moved from the camps only a handful are certified to still be standing.[46]

figure 8

Figure 8 – Preserved San Francisco Earthquake Shack

( http://www.outsidelands.org/shacks.php)

Pictures of the preserved cottages (see Fig 8) show a remarkable resemblance to contemporary Katrina Cottages…perhaps reflecting a nostalgia for a time when disasters were manageable, and refugees respectful and grateful.

ii) The case of post-Tsunami Banda Aceh

In June 2006 – one and a half years after the Boxing Day Tsunami – driving into the harbour area of Banda Aceh gave one the impression of driving into a fairground.  A single gravel road snakes through kilometre after kilometre of buildings in all stages of completion.  The carnival quality is due to the rainbow of colours that the buildings are painted and the variety of designs and placement.  Some houses are low long bungalows, others are built in a vernacular manner.  Some are elevated on stilts with staircases running up the side, and balconies wrapping themselves around the façade.  Some have been built on hills of gravel, while others are nearly sitting in tide pools. And in which ever direction you look, you are met with competing logos, flags and billboards – most in English, all proudly taking responsibility for their section of the building patchwork.

Housing – or ‘shelter’ – makes up the largest sector of the largest reconstruction budget ever seen, and has become the primary focus of government as well as the implementing agencies and organizations.  Out of an overall reconstruction portfolio of US $4.9 billion, US$1.1 billion – or just under 25 percent – has been allocated to housing.  The next highest sectors are transport, health sector, education, and community infrastructure, in that order. (Ivaschenko et al., 2006:  78)

What is remarkable about the Achenese example, is perhaps less the amount of money allocated to housing – it is, after all, a vital component of a reconstruction effort where 500, 000 people were displaced – but rather the number of actors involved in, specifically, the reconstruction of housing and the high visibility of the reconstruction endeavour.  According to the 2006 World Bank report – over 300 NGOs were involved in the reconstruction of houses – many with little or no prior experience in this sector. The scale, & high international profile of the disaster, and the commensurate high levels of money, meant that the numbers of independent, international NGOs was particularly high.[47]

Most concentrated in easily accessible areas – such as the capital, Banda Aceh – and, typical of post-crisis situations, many failed to go through the official coordination channels, meaning that their presence, and contributions, were initially unrecorded with either the government or the central coordinating body – the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, one of the few International Agencies who had kept international staff ‘in country’ after the collapse of the 2003 peace talks.[48]  But while the reconstruction effort attracted a large number of small, independent NGOs the majority of the housing reconstruction was undertaken by a few major players. These can be divided into three main categories.

On the government side, the BRR is tasked with directing housing reconstruction.  Overall, they are the largest reconstruction player with a portfolio “about twice as large portfolio as the next major  player (Red Cross).” (Ivaschenko:  80).  The Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency[49] is the new government agency, created to oversee the reconstruction effort.[50]  Its head had a Ministerial rank, and the agency both builds houses and oversees the building by other agencies.[51]

On the side of the international community, the overall reconstruction effort was ostensibly coordinated by the UN – first by UN OCHA, and then by the Office of the Resident Coordinator (UN ORC).  The UN, however concentrated strictly on coordinating, documenting and supporting the relief effort, leaving the physical reconstruction projects to be carried out either by the World Bank or by the large bilateral (national donors).

A third category of reconstruction actors are the large, international non-government organizations (INGOs) such as the Oxfam, Christian Relief Services, Habitat for Humanity.  The “massive global public fundraising that followed the tsunami” resulted in international NGOs having “unprecedented budgets.  Some NGOs such as CARE, Save the Children, and various national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies each have over US$100 million to spend.  This makes them larger than some donors or UN agencies” . (Burke & Afnan:  39). And, unlike UN Agencies, whose criticisms, though multiple, are usually indirect, International NGOs are answerable to private donations.

The prominence of the disaster and its aftermath on Western news outlets, contributed to a record level of donations from individuals who had participated in the mass donation campaigns, and were eager to see the visible (and quick) impact of their aid dollars.  And what is more accountable, countable, and visible than houses?  Houses are easily identifiable symbols of reconstruction – emotionally satisfying to Western audiences. In the mind of Western audiences a Western house is a powerful, visual symbol of progress, and economic and social stability.  For example,  in the US, housing starts are an important indicator of economic growth (Hayden, 1986:  38) and private home ownership has at various times, been promoted as an explicit government policy to ensure social stability and encourage a more conservative political environment. They are particularly useful if the organization in question needs to spend large amounts of cash, quickly, as they involve large building contracts including materials.

The construction of housing is also attractive become it is perceived by humanitarian organizations as relatively non-technical.  It is also adaptable – allowing you to build as many units as you have money for.  While high profile projects such as schools and hospitals are quickly ‘cherry picked’, the need for new houses is seemingly limitless and sells well to audiences (the donors) back home as an obvious human need.[52]

Much has been written on the slow pace of reconstruction.  For our purposes, this means that by the time the international agencies and NGOs were ready to build, the need and demand was for semi-permanent or permanent housing rather than temporary. In addition to predictable construction bottlenecks (discussed below), the reliance of implementing agencies on national funding cycles and systems means that continued delays in the delivery of aid, makes temporary and even transitional shelter redundant for large proportions of the population:  by the time the relief programmes are delivered, it is time to start building permanent shelter or temporary or transitional shelter becomes permanent through lags, and path dependence. It is also possible that there is a transfer of knowledge between international NGOs and aid agencies. People with similar functional knowledge, i.e. in post-disaster reconstruction, are moved from one zone to another bringing with them experience, knowledge, and contacts from previous disaster zones, meaning that this dominant mode of reconstruction remains largely unproblematized.[53] In the case of international development, the inertia associated with any large organization, is amplified by a rapid staff turnover, limited funds for managerial development and often poor, or antiquated systems of record keeping. This means that experiences learned, and mistakes made are quickly lost (or covered up) and therefore, have a high likelihood of being repeated. 

In Aceh, guidelines for reconstruction were set by the government – by the BRR.  The BRR is the donor supported, government agency responsible for reconstruction. Initially created under another name, it was quickly re-established in its current guise after allegations of corruption and mismanagement.  BRR developed guidelines for reconstruction based on previous building codes, but initial problems with the set up of the government agency meant that there were delays in actually issuing the guidelines. The rough ‘design guidelines’ were that the house should measure not less than 36 sq. m (not including bathrooms) and should be “constructed in accordance with applicable Indonesian building codes concerning building materials to be used and electrical and mechanical systems to be provided.”[54] But these were not issued until approximately March 2005 and the final versions were not issued before June 2006.  Further, the issue of translation added another level of interpretive difficulty, with many of the official documents being issued primarily in Indonesian.  In the time spent waiting for these guidelines many agencies went ahead and started building houses.

However, this was before the dynamics of a reconstruction effort of this scale were properly understood.  As reconstruction began, the bottlenecks that would hamper reconstruction efforts for the next year and half, began to become apparent.  Shortages of labour and building materials resulted in massive and rapid inflation far above any that had been factored into the cost projections for the houses, reducing the number of projected modules that the agencies could build and leading them to try and reduce unit cost, resulting in smaller, less fancy houses.[55]

Now instead of competing on design or grandiosity, the benchmarks for competition began on number of units, rapidity, quality of materials and location.  Arguably, another type of competition – although one less easy to quantify – was ‘loyalty’ or allegiance from a specific community. 

The basic design was supposed to have in keeping with government guidelines – leaving little scope for major community input.  It is hardly surprising, given this constraint, that the housing designs are all very similar.

Housing Designs

A survey by UN-Habitat of the housing designs by the various organizations operating in Aceh revealed an over-riding basic typology with certain key, recurrent variations. Although the BRR guidelines were not yet official, when the plans were designed, the guidelines, as expressed at various working groups and through consultation, was that the houses were to be 36 meters square, excluding terrace area.  The majority of floorplans were roughly square, with a pitched (or double pitched roof).  They all had two doors (a front and a back) and most had two bedrooms (kamar tidur), a living area (ruang tamu) and a kitchen (dapur).

Where they varied was largely to do with the placement of the Toilet (W/C) and Bath/Sink (Kumar Mandi).  In some plans (such as the one’s by the NGO SOS Children’s Villages)[56], the WC/KM was directly inside the house (Fig. 9) where in others, it was placed outside the back (Fig 10); built as a separate small building (Fig. 11); or simply non-existent.  Informal interviews conducted in June 2006 with beneficiaries, contractors and workers for NGOs and multilateral organizations raised the location of the WC/KM as being a concern for some beneficiaries.  Certain people said that having the mandi inside was in violation of Islamic laws,[57] it may have been more in terms of local norms, as the houses planned by PKPU, a Jakarta based Islamic NGO, also included an interior WC/KM in their plans.

figure 9

Figure 9 – SOS Children’s Villages Design (courtesy of UN-Habitat)

fig 10

Figure 10 – Houseplan Yayasan Social Kreasi (courtesy of UN-Habitat)

fig 11

Figure 11 – Houseplan Oxfam (courtesy of UN-Habitat)

There were also complaints that the houses did not provide for a sufficiently private area for female members of the household.

Such cultural preferences seemed to be only marginally reflected in the planning, although ornamentally it is possible to identify a vernacular touch in the choice of bright house colours (a typically Acehnese style) and occasionally, in the presence of an apparently ‘Islamic’ influenced pediment and entrance columns (see Fig. 12).

fig 12

Figure 12 – House PKPU (courtesy of UN-Habitat)

And while there were a few plans put forward for multi family dwellings, the predominant approach remained that of the single family dwelling.  Given the similarity across the donors, it is worth noting the degree to which some of the buildings, and settlements, appeared to convey the worldview of their donors.

For example, the houses built by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) houses were identifiable by their standardization.  USAID houses were uniform, square, and tended to be on the small side.  They were constructed of and were built in long, perfectly straight lines.  18 months after the disaster the houses observed in Banda Aceh, were not yet completed, and none were occupied, but the lines and grids of houses were immediately identifiable as a USAID product.  At that stage there was no ornamentation, and the houses, looked as though no one had worked upon them for some time:  the grass was growing long through the foundations, and frames, and there was no construction going on. Still, proudly displayed – clear and well maintained – were banners with the USAID logo.

This was contrasted with the much lauded houses contributed by Turkish Relief.  Their houses were built on significantly larger plots of land, and the houses themselves, although only slightly larger, had some structural variation in shape:  they had a small porch and a triangle over the front door, complete with an Islamic Crescent.  Pink in colour, they had a front window approximately 1 m sq, into the front, multipurpose, living room with glass.  The Turkish houses were much remarked upon as being particularly well made.  The BRR also built some of their own houses.  Informal site interviews highlighted problems of poor and slow construction.[58]

Interesting, although most likely coincidental, the design put forward by Habitat for Humanity – had more of a shotgun feel – with the bedrooms one behind the other – and the dimensions being 5 m across by 10 m deep.  (See Fig. 13)

fig 13

Figure 13 – Aceh Barat, Habitat for Humanity

Also telling, was the way in which different donors built the houses – the process and management of construction and the approach that they took to the site. For example, Catholic Relief Services, frustrated with inability to locate a reliable and ‘non-corrupt’ contractor, made the decision to establish an in house team of architects, designers, engineers sourced from across Indonesian and overseen by their American core team.  This meant that the output in terms of design, architecture and implementation, will be closely managed by the CRS.  It also means that the houses will be composed, designed and monitored at arms length, from within a physical compound, a microcosm of the ‘Western world.’

In the case of Aceh, there is also the need to mention one type of “temporary shelter”:  the ‘barracks’ which are long, thin buildings, normally used to house soldiers, with a long thin balcony running along the front.  Immediately after the disaster the Indonesian army built these to house large numbers of displaced persons quickly.  And while, initially there was fear that this was to be used as a population control strategy by the military, this fear remained unrealized.  When it became clear, that there was no ulterior motive to the building of barracks, other donors – including GTZ – replicated this form of temporary housing.  These barracks were still being used 1.5 years after the tsunami – housing large numbers of families who are increasingly treating them as permanent, rather than temporary houses including decorating them with plants, and other ornamentation. From a public health perspective, this raises concerns over the lack of sanitary facilities such as running water, and toilets.  Water is supplied to the barracks from tanks, and many families live side by side, with little or no privacy.  The locations of these barracks may also have an impact on the social structures of Banda Aceh, as they were built in what was, immediately post tsunami, considered to be ‘temporary’ locations.  One group of barracks is concentrated directly beside the wind ravaged, and yet unreconstructed, stadium.  If this grouping of ‘temporary’ barracks persists, how will this play out in terms of developing a (new) community?

The idea that temporary shelter can (and should) be convertible into permanent housing is the physical manifestation of the idea that the humanitarian response should meld seamlessly into long term development planning (the ‘relief to development’ continuum)  In Aceh, the International Committee for the Red Cross experimented with a type of ‘transitional’ shelter which was supposed to be easy to put up and could be used also as semi-permanent housing.  But the uptake of these structures was not great – many remained unlived in, 1.5 years after the disaster – deemed unacceptable by the local populations.

The idea behind the development of the cottage was in response to a similar type of reluctance by the end user to a transitional solution.  Various reports claimed that the FEMA trailers were not aesthetically desirable, not sufficiently comfortable and even that they led to an increase in crime in the neighborhoods in which they were located (Fornoff, 2005). Reluctance of permanent residents to have them located in their neighborhoods can make post-disaster planning difficult.

SECTION III:  The house in international humanitarian Identity

The history of international development, of which humanitarian response is a part, is a history of (often failed) social experiments[59]; the idea of the hinterland, the margin, the reconstruction site as a unique space where innovative and unexpected events may occur is a well developed theme.[60]   In these spaces, the lack of oversight, accountability, or continuity makes them particularly open to the implementation of progressive or avant-guard practice; to the implementation of designs and forms of the built environment which will better the human condition.

Similarly, within the Western architectural imaginary, the ‘reconstruction site’ has always occupied a prominent place. By virtue of their seeming blank slate quality, their lack of restrictions, the phoenix-like potential – they are perceived as sites of enormous potential for those architects wishing to push the boundaries of architectural practice (viz. Diller & Scofidio).[61]  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: 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: 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.” (Stohr: 39) And while, not strictly speaking 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.” (Stohr: 38)  More recently, Studio Libeskind has been involved in the design of a Master Plan for Unawatuna – a beach side community in Sri Lanka, devastated by the Tsunami.[62]

Significant theoretical and practical work has been done on the concept of temporary shelter.[63]  In architectural theory there is an almost romantic interest in the concept and manifestations of temporary shelter – from the Mongolian Yurt, to the bivouac. As Witold Rybczynski, says (drawing on Davis), “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.”[64]

And while there is a particular fascination with the way in which the temporary influences the permanent the designs remain (as described by Rybczynski) largely  utopic.  Peter Kraftl (2007) claims that architecture is fundamentally linked to utopia, and outlines, how historically, the most common type of utopia has been linked to ideas of comfort and home.  In the context of global geopolitics, the domestic is held as a realm of relatively stability against a backdrop of “disease, famine, war and death”. (Campbell 2007: 358)

However, in the approaches that we have considered, ideas of comfort and home have been bound up in ideas of nostalgia, the ‘traditional’ or ‘the vernacular’, but as we have seen from the built form of the Katrina Cottage, and from the process of reconstructing post-Tsunami Banda Aceh, these ideas are themselves have been informed by the history of intervention and reconstruction.  Indeed they embody and reproduce, as part of the humanitarian imaginary, the nostalgia/utopia of humanitarian intervention and salvation first, in the belief that it is possible to control first place, and ultimately time.

i) The nostalgia of place

The marketing of place – of utopic space – is a key part of reconstruction.  For example, if we consider New Urbanism – the urban design movement which the designers of the Katrina Cottage espouse:  it originated in the US, in the1980s in response to the problems identified with suburban sprawl. New Urbanism 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.[65] New Urbanism promotes the notion of ‘natural variety’ and that architectural and planning decisions should follow a transect approach to planning, respecting the essential truth that different areas have different qualities – different flora, fauna, and social norms.  They identify 6 different ‘context zones’ ranging from the rural to the urban.[66]  According to the website of the New Urban Guild, “the list of things that change along the transect is far too long to fully include here [in the principles for transect planning].”  Readers are advised to “[j]ust look around you; you’ll see it in all the great old places.”[67]  What we will see are the essential qualities of a place that should be respected during the design, planning and development process.

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.”[68] 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”[69] and the explicit call for a return to so called traditional social relations through urban and architectural design is evidenced by the above quote.[70]

While green neighborhoods, sustainability, walkability are all principles that are hard to dispute within the current ethical climate of Western society, the level of social control and the homogenous implications of the planning designs – largely white, economically middle class – sit uncomfortably with main stream architectural and urban design practice.  It is interesting then, that New Urbanism has found new life along the Gulf Coast.  Starting with the Mississippi Renewal Forum, of 2005, many of Mississippi’s coastal communities decided to rebuild using SmartCode planning – the transept approach developed by Duany, William Wright and Sandy Sorlien. Two years later, “most of Mississippi’s coastal communities, with the notable exception of Biloxi, are embracing the SmartCode.” (Snyder, 2007)

Consider the tension identified by Hayden with regards to form versus programme – can changes to the programme be made through the base. If suburban sprawl is the result of underlying, structural dynamics, can local, largely aesthetic decisions reverse these trends? Is it possible to imagine reversing capitalist trends through local planning decisions, when the social and economic relations that underpin ownership, employment, family relations, and ultimately place, are driven.  Surely, they can only be temporary enclaves in the sea of progress, Looking at the dubious legacy of Celebration, Florida, where – according to Hayden, it seems likely that the original community (Phase I) provided the marketing hook for future, replica villages, suddenly New Urbanism rather than reversing sprawl, is merely replacing the grid like suburbia of the 1940s and 50s America with the 21st century version of the picturesque enclave.  (Hayden, 2003).

And indeed, the enclave model is one that is aspired to – evoked not only through the design and aesthetic, but also by the romantic, pastoral rhetoric of the movements’ propaganda.[71] The marketing material for the Katrina Cottage is rife with a similar nostalgic, aspiration – promising not only a chance to rebuild and recovery, but to regain a sense of place and belonging that was arguably lost long before Katrina ever hit.[72]

ii) Time

In much of the discussion over reconstruction, there is an assumption that the affected communities should and can return to the pre-disaster state. Andrio Adiwibowo, a lecturer on Environmental and Natural Resource Management Policy at the University of Indonesia, suggests that donors are more likely to provide assistance to disasters which have an end which can be defined.  Describing the lack of response to an ongoing, catastrophic mud volcano, in Eastern Jave he says,  “International donors responded quickly when the tsunami struck Aceh and Nias and the earthquake rattled Yogyakarta and Central Java, but disappointingly, they have never come to Sidoarjo.  Perhaps from a donors perspective, the Sidoarjo disaster is not “attractive”. Once the mud is spilled, you cannot un-spill it.” (2007)

In disaster literature, and practice there is a recognition of the complexity involved in defining a disaster as a discrete event.  Still, the formal engagement with the situation, defines a ‘starting point’ at which the disaster is brought into public awareness and creates a before and an after.  This distinction allows for a romanticization of the pre-disaster situation. As discussed above, this may be done through the largely arbitrary use of such terms of ‘traditional’, ‘vernacular’ and ‘authentic’. These terms often serve as a modifier for existing, pre-formulated design solutions. For example, in the case of the designs put forward after the Tsunami, a housing design would become ‘vernacular’ by the addition of a specific ornament, or a coat of paint in a ‘traditional’ colour, whereas post-Katrina, ‘Traditional Mississippi style’ seems oddly synonymous with ‘has a front porch.’  The romanticization of a pre-disaster state, through a focus on design solutions obscures pre-disaster dynamics – which as we saw so starkly in the case of Katrina – inform the severity and demographic impact of the disaster. Consider the advertised virtue of the Katrina Cottage as its ability to ‘take a swim.”[73] “Even if it’s completely submerged in a flood, you simply remove any furnishings that have absorbed water, hose down the interior, and replace the electrical switches.”[74]  This neglects the  larger issues of why it is necessary for certain people to rebuild in locations where their houses must be submergible.

The issue of mobility is intertwined with how external vs. local’s perceive the reconstruction in terms of time.  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. There is also the issue that certain actors have the ability to move more or less easily, back and forth, to and from the reconstruction site.[75] Here, Massey’s discussions of the hierarchies/binary of spatial versus temporal considerations come into play – and suggest that different actors – the external versus the local – respectively privilege a spatial versus a temporal approach to reconstruction.  (Massey, 2006)

Because of the power dynamics identified above – skewed in favour of external actors –  it is possible that the reconstruction project, may be biased toward a spatial approach, at the expense of a more nuanced one that also incorporates a temporal element.  From a development perspective, this can be seen in the lack of continuation, oversight, evaluation or follow up.[76]  All the focus is on the built product, the physical outcome.  It is also seen in the broader dynamic of international reconstruction work which sees each reconstruction site as an event, one in a series of reconstructions – creating a network or horizon – between reconstruction sites, rather than seeing the disaster as part of the continuum of the place in which it occurred.

Conclusion:  External vs. Local and the Humanitarian Imaginary 

The problematique of attributing spatial or geographic attachment of a certain group of people to a specific place is notoriously difficult. All people are a unique amalgam of places, traces and experiences derived from a range of geographies and locales.  However, in the context of a reconstruction site, it is possible to differentiate between ‘local’ and ‘external’ actors.  External actors can be defined as those organizations that are brought to a reconstruction site through the political economy of humanitarian assistance:  they would not be in the reconstruction site, had it not been for the event of the disaster. In the context of a disaster, this binary could also be described as the relationship between donor and recipient; saviour/victim; capable/incapacitated and so on.  These categories are reified within the institutional structure of disaster response where they are given geographic attribution:  North-South, or the ‘West and the Rest’.[77]

Many authors distinguish between international (external) and local actors with respect to their physical and economic relationship to the reconstruction process.  The claim is often made that those actors who do not have demonstrable ties to the damaged area should not have a voice in the reconstruction, or their voice should be weighted to reflect their origin and physical relationship to the site.  In some ways this makes perfect sense – those people who are the ‘beneficiaries’ of the reconstruction should have more of a say in the design of the response.  In others, it is a conservative approach which assumes that place may be geographically discrete, and that identification with place implies primary rights to that locale.  It neglects the interdependencies of that place or the layers of ownership.

However, post-colonial scholars have critique such a binary narrative for its failure “to acknowledge the ways modernity is constantly in negotiation and constructed not only vis-à-vis the West but within non-Western places.” (Besio, 2007: 72) Through her work on tourism in Northern Pakistan, Besio (2007) problematizes the attribution of geographic origin to particular modes of thought.  While a superficial reading of the interactions of western travelers to northern Pakistan would seem to suggest a modern/non-modern split between travelers and local resident, she suggests drawing on the work of Timothy Mitchell and Chakrabarty (2000) that the categories are much more nuanced.  In the same way, it is important to recognize the iterations of identity construction that are going on in the process of reconstruction.  For example, in Banda Aceh, designated recipients of new houses were reluctant to accept homes made of more resilient and less dangerous materials such as cinder block, insisting instead on brick houses – an option which is much more likely to cause bodily harm, in the case of an earthquake – based on its status value.

Such unexpected demands, and expectations of the reconstruction process are consistent with Neil Smith’s observations of post-Katrina New Orleans where, he warns, the reconstruction programmes may interweve with pre-existing class divides  in unexpected ways. (Smith, 2006)

In practice though, in a post-disaster context, the money or expertise of the external actors – their power  –  allows them a voice in a discussion that they would not normally have a right to participate in:  how to reconstruct the built environment of a society.  Inevitably, those actors who are not normally physically located in the area, the normative framework from which they are operating is (at least partially) representative of/constructed by the societies, and communities where they are regularly located; as well as by their own needs and incentives and their perceptions of the needs and incentives of the recipients.[78]

The built form of the house is a particularly important site for the construction and negotiation of categories which our central to humanitarian intervention and to the (perceived) utopia of reconstruction.  When contextualized by their history – that is, more likely than not, a previous experience with disasters and an endemic, structural proclivity to experience them in the future – the futility of the utopia of reconstruction; and the vacuity of the term itself –  is highlighted.[79] [80]

The site of the house becomes less an example of comfort, and security, and instead, becomes imbued with qualities of the uncanny, the unhomely.  Kraftl puts forward the hypothesis that this unhomeliness is inextricably bound up with more traditionally positive definitions of the word, not only in a binary, mutually constitutive way, but also that “aspects of the comforting, homely utopian…can be powerfully anxiety inducing and unsettling.” (Kraftl 2007:136)   That these tensions are embodied within a reconstruction site are consistent with the idea that although  the struggle for security may be a key concern of modernity (Bauman 2000) “homelessness and homesickness are equally important in the spacings and desires of modernity.” (Kraftl 2007: 35) Theorists such as Beck (1992) have famously argued that the uprootedness of contemporary, global society makes the idea of a perfect home attractive but since such a utopia can never be achieved, the best that can be attained is a model version.   And while the reconstruction site provides a place that ‘can’t fight back’ Grosz, as quote in Kraftl (2007: 126) argues that “utopias ‘in’ space – if conceived by architects separately from time – are bound to produce architectures of direct control and political inflexibility…”

This tension is manifest in international development thinking, where, according to Pupavac (1995), “international development now offers so little materially to populations globally, its continuing existence may perhaps better be understood as addressing the therapeutic needs of the international community to feel a sense of moral purpose.” Combined with the tendency for external actors to experiment with utopian futures, or recreate nostalgic pasts, reconstruction sites provide a key geographic locale for the othering of a Western, humanitarian identity. The portrayal of reconstruction sites and their occupants as chaotic, incompetent, disabled, disorganized, corrupt, needy simultaneously sustains the superiority of those external actors who are assisting, and justifies introduction and use of various techniques of governmentality:  monitoring, oversight, reporting, management structures.

Shock and outrage have been the reaction when the same problems have occurred in the reconstruction process in New Orleans, as have been seen elsewhere – incompetent, slow, or corrupt contractors; disputes over land ownership and tenure, the janus faced nature of the ‘victims’ who may try to play the system for their benefit.[81] Such behaviour and attitudes have been understood to be those of poor, disaster victims in places far away, not contained within the geographic confines of the West.[82]  The built form of the house is thus important both through its positive contribution to the creation and reinforcement of a Western humanitarian identity by offering ‘concrete’ examples of social ideals, AND through the neo-Orientalist role which physically locates the needs, inadequacies, ineptitude and simplicity of the victims of the disaster in a specific, external geographic local – the reconstruction site. It is in these sites, that the West looks to both reassure and define itself.


Adiwibowo, Andrio. “One Year Later, Still Stuck in the Mud.” Jakarta Post, June 1 2007.

Bakker, Karen “Katrina:  The Public Transcript of ‘Disaster’.” Environment and Planning D:  Society and Space 23 (2005): 795-809.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Community : Seeking Safety in an Insecure World: Polity, 2000.

Beck, Ulrich, and Mark Ritter. Risk Society : Towards a New Modernity: Sage Pubns., 1992.

Burke, Adam and Afnan. “Aceh:  Reconstruction in a Conflict Environment:  Views from Civil Society, Donors and N.G.O.S.” In Indonesian Social Development Paper DFID, 2005.

Campbell, David. “Geopolitics and Visuality:  Sighting the Darfur Conflict ” Political Geography 26 (2007): 357-82.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Chesterman, Simon. You, the People : The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Cornelis, Tom, Antonella Vitale. Transitional Settlement:  Displaced Populations Oxford: Oxfam and Univeristy of Cambridge shelterproject 2005.

Corsellis, Tom, Antonella Vitale, Yasemin Aysan, Ian Davis. “Exploring Key Changes and Developments in Post-Disaster Settlement, Shelter and Housing, 1982-2006:  Scoping Study to Inform Revision of ‘Shelter after Disaster:  Guidelines for Assistance’.” United Nations/OCHA, 2006.

Cuny, Frederick C., and Susan Abrams. Disasters and Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Cutter, Susan. 2006. The Geography of Social Vulnerability:  Race, Class and Catastrophe.  In, Social Science Research Council http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Cutter/. (accessed May 31, 2007).

Eliade, Mircea. The Myth of the Eternal Return : Or, Cosmos and History, Bollingen Series 46. [Henley-on-Thames]: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

Ferguson, James. Global Shadows : Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, N.C. ; London: Duke University Press ;, 2006.

Graham, Stephen. 2006. Cities under Siege:  Katrina and the Politics of Metropolitan America In, Social Science Research Council http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Graham/. (accessed May 31, 2007).

Hales, Linda. Oct. 15, 2005. In Mississippi, the Reshape of Things to Come In, washingtonpost.com, Washington Post. (accessed April 5, 2007).

Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia : Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.

———. Redesigning the American Dream : The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 1984.

Hetherington, Kevin. The Badlands of Modernity : Heterotopia and Social Ordering. London ; New York: Routledge, 1997.

Ivascheno, Oleksiy, Ahya Ihsan and Enrique Blanco Armas. “Aceh Public Expenditure Analysis:  Spending for Reconstruction and Poverty Reduction “, 132: The World Bank Group 2006.

Kent, Randolph C. Anatomy of Disaster Relief : The International Network in Action: Pinter, 1987.

Kraftl, Peter “Utopia, Performativity, and the Unhomely.” Environment and Planning D:  Society and Space 25 (2007): 120-43.

Lane, Barbara Miller. Housing and Dwelling : Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture. London: Routledge, 2007.

———. Housing and Dwelling : Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture. London: Routledge, 2005.

Marcus, Clare Cooper. House as a Mirror of Self : Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home. Berkeley, Calif.: Conari Press, 1995.

Massey, Doreen. For Space. London: Sage, 2006.

Mitchell, Timothy. Questions of Modernity, Contradictions of Modernity ; V. 11. Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Oxfam. “A Place to Stay, a Place to Live:  Oxfam Briefing Note.” 14: Oxfam, 2005.

Perry, Rex “Katrina Cottages.” Review of Reviewed Item. Cottage Living, no.  (2006), www.cottageliving.com/cottage.

Rybczynski, Witold. Home : A Short History of an Idea. London: Heinemann, 1988.

———. 2006. The Katrina Cottage:  Cute Beats Cutting-Edge When It Comes to Temporary Shelters.  In, Slate. (accessed July 31, 2007).

———. 2005. There’s No Place Like Home:  The Historical Problems with Emergency Housing.  In, Slate. (accessed July 31, 2007.

Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State : How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, The Yale Isps Series. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 1998.

ShelterCentre. “Shelter after Disaster 06b.” Paper presented at the Shelter Meeting 06b, 16 November 2006.

Smith, Neil 2006. There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster.  In, Social Science Research Council http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Smith/. (accessed May 31, 2007).

Snyder, Mike. “Mississippi Communities Hope to Avoid Sprawl in Rebuild.” HoustonChronical.com, June 3, 2007 2007.

Stohr, Kate ed. Design Like You Give a Damn:  Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crisis Edited by Architecture for Humanity. London: Thames & Hudson Not Specified.

UN–HABITAT. “Building Houses, Rebuilding Communities:  Un-Habitat Post-Tsunami Reconstruction Effort in Indonesia.” edited by UN–HABITAT Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, 3: UN-Habitat, 2005.

UN–HABITAT/OHCHR. “Housing Rights Legislation – Review of International and National Legal Instruments.” Nairobi: United Nations Housing Rights Programme, 2002.

UNDRO. “Shelter after Disaster:  Guidelines for Assistance.” New York United Nations 1982.

Vidler, Anthony. The Architectural Uncanny : Essays in the Modern Unhomely. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press, 1992.

Wilson, David ed. The Sphere Project:  Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response The Sphere Project 2004.

[1] Depending on the climate, a human being is physically unable to survive for long without the protection from the elements afforded by a shelter. In addition to meeting the immediate needs of its users against the elements, shelter also provides protection by providing a barrier to its inhabitants from wild animals, or aggressive humans.  Depending on the quality of its construction, it also secures its inhabitants against pests and vermin, and allows for a higher degree of hygiene and sanitation for its inhabitants by separating different human functions from one another.

[2] David  Wilson, ed., The Sphere Project:  Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (The Sphere Project 2004).

[3] UN–HABITAT/OHCHR, “Housing Rights Legislation – Review of International and National Legal Instruments,”  (Nairobi: United Nations Housing Rights Programme, 2002). As quoted in Tom Cornelis, Antonella Vitale, Transitional Settlement:  Displaced Populations (Oxford: Oxfam and Univeristy of Cambridge shelterproject 2005).

[4] Beyond emergency shelter guidelines, UNDRO, “Shelter after Disaster:  Guidelines for Assistance,”  (New York United Nations 1982).no official international standards exist for the reconstruction of permanent houses after a disaster.  These guidelines are currently under review.  See ShelterCentre, “Shelter after Disaster 06b” (paper presented at the Shelter Meeting 06b, 16 November 2006).

[5] In a relief situation, the distinction between temporary, transitional (semi-permanent) and permanent housing refers to the length of time that the building is intended to be used for, and therefore, is also indicative of the types of building material used, as well as potentially, site location.  Typically, temporary housing refers to tents (or some variant) while permanent refers to buildings made out of brick or concrete.  Transitional is more ambiguous and all three categories are ultimately dependent upon the geographic situation.

[6] Interview, February 15th, 2007.

[7] For more on distinction between relief and development see Simon Chesterman, You, the People : The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[8] See Witold Rybczynski, The Katrina Cottage:  Cute Beats Cutting-Edge When It Comes to Temporary Shelters (Slate, March 31 2006 [cited July 31 2007]).

[9] Both agencies used different modalities, however.  The IFRC primarily outsourced their housing contracts to other NGOs and developments agencies, whereas the CRS used Acehnese engineers, architects and builders to build the houses.

[10] For an excellent overview of various architectural models for emergency shelter see Kate  Stohr, ed., Design Like You Give a Damn:  Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crisis (London: Thames & Hudson Not Specified).

[11] In 1943, 44 states signed a convention to create the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Agency which was replaced only a few years later (1946 – 1947) by four separate functionalist agencies – The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF, created1946), The International Refugee Organization (IRO, 1948), The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 1945), and the World Health Organization (WHO, 1946).  Out of these, only the WHO had a ‘clear cut reference to the principle of universal emergency assistance.  Stephens, as quoted Randolph C. Kent, Anatomy of Disaster Relief : The International Network in Action (Pinter, 1987).38.

[12] See Chapter 2 ,  Ibid. for an overview of the development of international response from WW2 to the late 1980s.

[13] Frederick C. Cuny and Susan Abrams, Disasters and Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).

[14] C.f. Tom Corsellis, Antonella Vitale, Yasemin Aysan, Ian Davis, “Exploring Key Changes and Developments in Post-Disaster Settlement, Shelter and Housing, 1982-2006:  Scoping Study to Inform Revision of ‘Shelter after Disaster:  Guidelines for Assistance’,”  (United Nations/OCHA, 2006), ShelterCentre, “Shelter after Disaster 06b”.

[15] See James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State : How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, The Yale Isps Series (New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 1998). and work by James Ferguson, Global Shadows : Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, N.C. ; London: Duke University Press ;, 2006).  for examples of large scale development schemes gone awry.

[16] Witold Rybczynski, Home:  A Short History of an Idea (London:  William Heinemann Ltd, 1988)

[17] This is contrasted with two other dominant programmes:  “the industrial strategy produced the program for high-rise mass housing treated aesthetically as an efficient machine for collective consumption; and the neighborhood strategy produced the program for low-rise, multi-family housing treated aesthetically as a village with shared commons, courtyards, arcades, and kitchens.” Dolores Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream : The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Clare Cooper Marcus, House as a Mirror of Self : Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home (Berkeley, Calif.: Conari Press, 1995).  See also Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny : Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press, 1992).

[20] cf. Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return : Or, Cosmos and History, Bollingen Series 46 ([Henley-on-Thames]: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982).  and Martin Heidegger’s seminal essay “Being, dwelling, thinking” reproduced in Barbara Miller Lane, Housing and Dwelling : Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture (London: Routledge, 2005).

[21] Recent artwork by Geraldine Pilgrim, challenges the binary categories of female/male; inside/outside by bringing elements of the outside ‘in’ (a young girls bedroom has trees growing in it) and  a sitting room is overwhelmed by snowdrifts of teacups – disrupting the domestic calm of the interior through the introduction of the outside.  See also work by Suzanne M. Spencer -Wood in Barbara Miller Lane, Housing and Dwelling : Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture (London: Routledge, 2007).

[22] Hayden considers the promotion of the detached house as the overt decision of American capitalist interests to move women away from their war time roles as factory workers, and back into the domestic sphere – removing any their emergent power as wage earners while encouraging their increased consumption. “Developers argued that a particular kind of house would help the veteran change from an aggressive air ace to a commuting salesman who loved to mow the lawn.  He would also assist his wife to forget her skills as Rosie the Riveter and begin to enjoy furnishing her dream house in suburbia.” Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream : The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life. 42.

[23] The value attributed to domesticity can also be seen in, England, in the 1800s.  Throughout the 1800s there was an increased emphasis amongst the British upper classes, on the house as a center for both leisure and for private contemplation.  The material expression of these social trends was the rise of the picturesque with its emphasis on rural retreats and organic, romantic form; as well as the return to neo-classical forms of construction, favoured by the 16th c. Venetian architect Palladio and his latter day enthusiast, Inigo Jones.  These trends coincided with an increased emphasis on the value of privacy – on the importance of private space. “The desire for a room of one’s own was not simply a matter of personal privacy.  It demonstrated the growing awareness of individuality – of a growing personal inner life – and the need to express this individuality in physical ways.” Witold Rybczynski, Home : A Short History of an Idea (London: Heinemann, 1988). 111.

[24] Acknowledging that the ‘New Urbanist’ response to Katrina is but one of many competing visions of what a reconstructed Gulf Coast should look like, it is illustrative of the recurrent themes observed across reconstruction sites. It has also engendered significant support from communities along the coast and is being considered by many as their dominant planning approach. Duany Plater-Zyberk also has a planned development for Mostor for the resettlement of war refugees. http://www.dpz.com/projects.aspx

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

[26] 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)

[27] Brown

[29] 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)

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

[33] I explore this theme of the reconstruction site as borderland, in my other work.

[34] 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.

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

[37] see KatrinaCottages.com

[38] See also Neil  Smith, There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster (Social Science Research Council 2006 [cited May 31 2007]); available from http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Smith/. Susan Cutter, The Geography of Social Vulnerability:  Race, Class and Catastrophe (Social Science Research Council 2006 [cited May 31 2007]); available from http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Cutter/.,

[39] New Urban Guild

[40] There are a host of problematic assumptions contained within these definitions including the pre-existing equality of a society’s citizens to travel to, experience, ‘most loved places’ and therefore to equally define its living traditions.

[41] Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream : The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life. :99-100.

[42] Ibid.: 100.

[43] Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream : The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life.18.

[44] The cottage has been in demand not only as a ‘permanent dwelling’, but also, according to the Lowes website, for use as a mountain retreat, vacation cabin, or guest house. http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=pg&p=2006_landing/Katrina_Cottage/KatrinaCottage.html (last accessed on July 10, 2007)

[45] This would be very interesting, and worthy of further investigation.

[47] This was even more the case in Sri Lanka, where the easy accessibility of affected areas and the familiarity of the Island as a popular holiday destination meant that many more Westerners actually came to help with the reconstruction.

[48] after the collapse of the 2003 peace talks, most international agencies and NGOs left Aceh, “as the government made it increasingly difficult for them to operate.” Adam and Afnan Burke, “Aceh:  Reconstruction in a Conflict Environment:  Views from Civil Society, Donors and N.G.O.S,” in Indonesian Social Development Paper (DFID, 2005).: 3.

[49] Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi

[50] It has also served a key role in the peace process by providing jobs to high ranking GAM officials.

[51] Leading to accusations of conflict of interest by various donors.  (From interviews, June 2006)

[52] For work on media representations of disaster see David Campbell 2004 and Moeller 1999.

[53] According to Stohr, ARH, p. 40 – While some of the nascent humanitarian NGOs employed architects in their relief work following WW2

[54] Taken from Attachment B, Regulation of Executing Agency Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency and the Lives of the People of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Province and Nias Island, North Sumatra Province [sic] On Policies and Administration of Housing and Settlement Assistance for Victims in the Post-Disaster Area (2006) DRAFT.

[55] “Since the tsunami, prices in Aceh have increased more sharply than the national average. The  most dramatic increase is in Banda Aceh where year-on-year inflation in June 2006 was almost 30  percent, down from 41 percent in December 2005. The increase in prices has been mostly driven by  increases in transport costs that in turn have been the major determinant in the increase in the cost  of construction materials (year-on-year inflation of brick, wood, and sand was 83 percent, 124  percent, and 164 percent respectively by December 2005).    Labor costs also increased significantly in 2005; up 40 to 50 percent across all categories of  construction workers. On a less pessimistic note, since January 2006 prices for both material inputs  and labor have remained relatively stable at the high 2005 levels but they have not increased  significantly since then. The impact of inflation is readily shown by the fact that BRR has increased  the average unit cost of new houses from its original estimate of Rp. 28.5 million to Rp. 53 million-  an increase of some 85 percent.” Oleksiy Ivascheno, Ahya Ihsan and Enrique Blanco Armas, “Aceh Public Expenditure Analysis:  Spending for Reconstruction and Poverty Reduction ”  (The World Bank Group 2006).111.

[56] SOS Children’s Villages are an example of an NGO whose mandate does not normally include the reconstruction of houses for families.

[57] The Islamic Code of Qadaahul Haajah has strict prescriptions regarding personal hygiene including that one should be out of sight of people when going to the toilet.

[58] It should be noted, that the responses given, may have been to some degree slanted to what the interviewee thought that I wanted to hear, since, I, the interviewer, was white, and by appearances from ‘an NGO’.

[59] Cf. Scott, Seeing Like a State : How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. or works by James Ferguson.

[60]Cf. Kevin Hetherington, The Badlands of Modernity : Heterotopia and Social Ordering (London ; New York: Routledge, 1997).

[61] There is also an argument to be made with regards to similar ‘far off’ architectural opportunities in the architects imagination, e.g. Corbusier’s Chandighar, Rem Koolhaus in Beijing,

[62] A fascination can be identified, in architectural desig with the temporary structure, the emergency shelter.  This can be seen in the popularity of Shuguru Ban’s designs and the attention given to the design proposals for post-Katrina reconstruction at the 2006 Venice Bienalle.

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

[64] Witold Rybczynski, There’s No Place Like Home:  The Historical Problems with Emergency Housing (Slate,  2005 [cited July 31, 2007).

[65] Associated movements include the Smart Growth Movement, the Congress for New Urbanism, The Guild Foundation.

[66] The six ‘context zones’ identified on the New Urban Guild website are Natural, Rural, Suburban Neighborhood [sic.], General Urban, Urban Center [sic] and Urban Core.  www.newurbanguild.com (last accessed June 30th, 2007)

[67] www.newurbanguild.com (last accessed June 30th, 2007)

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

[69] Linda Hales, In Mississippi, the Reshape of Things to Come (washingtonpost.com) (Washington Post,  Oct. 15, 2005 [cited April 5 2007]).

[70] For a discussion on the pros and cons of New Urbanism see Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia : Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003)., ch. 10 “Nostalgia and Futurism”

[71] Stephen Graham, Cities under Siege:  Katrina and the Politics of Metropolitan America (Social Science Research Council 2006 [cited May 31 2007]); available from http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Graham/. identifies a possible ‘anti-urbanism’ in the reconstruction of New Orleans.

[72] The New Urbanist approach to post-disaster reconstruction should be compared to

[73]Rex  Perry, “Katrina Cottages,” review of Reviewed Item, Cottage Living, no.  (2006), http://www.cottageliving.com/cottage.  In other descriptions, it has been referred to as ‘The Cottage that can go for a swim.” – from the April 2006 issue of New Urban News (www.newurbannews.com)  (last accessed on April 5th, 2007).

[74] Perry.

[75] The issue of mobility is an interesting one in two respects: first, in the role that it plays in transitional and temporary housing and the However, With the rise of mass produced housing, the interpretation of ‘one’s own’ began to emphasize the need for aesthetic detailing, which emphasized the ‘sacred hut’ quality as well as en element of grounding.  The distain with which mobile homes and caravans are regarded within popular culture, may be partly attributable to their cultural associations with certain class behaviours, but it may also be due to the antipathy with which nomadic or transient behaviour is regarded.

[76] An article in the Jakarta Post, describes the policy [he does not specify whose, although the implication is that of the Indonesian government] of “visiting, donating and forgetting that has been applied to victims of the Aceh tsunami and the Yogayakarta earthquake.” Andrio Adiwibowo, “One Year Later, Still Stuck in the Mud,” Jakarta Post, June 1 2007.

[77] C.f. Chesterman, You, the People : The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building.

[78] Granted, that no matter how small the locale, multiple identities, values, and visions would enter into considerations of the reconstruction.  Even if the individuals and organizations were geographically located in the reconstruction site, the complexity of their identifies, histories and external geographic allegiances would mean that the reconstruction would, inevitably, incorporate elements of external (to the reconstruction zone) considerations, values, and expectations (viz. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

[79] For example, the occurrence of a level 4 or 5 hurricane in New Orleans was regarded as an inevitability by its residents.  See Karen  Bakker, “Katrina:  The Public Transcript of ‘Disaster’,” Environment and Planning D:  Society and Space 23 (2005).

[80] The idea of a utopia has always embodied an aspect of impossibility – Thomas More’s original definition of a utopia as “simultaneously the ‘good’ place and ‘no’ place – in a sense, somewhere perfect whilst being unachievable.” More as quoted in Peter  Kraftl, “Utopia, Performativity, and the Unhomely,” Environment and Planning D:  Society and Space 25 (2007).Kraftl 2007:121)

[81] Dan Baum’s regular column in the New Yorker has been excellent at revealing these tensions.

[82] Arguably, this incomprehension, was responsible for the visual distancing (othering) – in the footage of the immediate post-disaster situation the faces chosen to be broadcast, were of poor, black, New Orleans residents.  And they were geographically contained within a specific, seemingly separate geographic locale – the superdome. That the superdome was not physically cut off from the rest of the city – connected, as it were by a bridge – was arguably not communicated through the media coverage.  Likewise, the resonance with the ‘thunderdome’ and the chaotic, apocalyptic imagery from Mad Max was hard to miss.

Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves

“Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves: Spatial Dimensions of International Humanitarian Response,” International Political Sociology (2008) 2, 236-253

Humanitarian reconstruction after a large-scale natural disaster has become a key site of international politics; a site where global assumptions, relationships, and responsibilities are negotiated, solidified and questioned. While post-crisis response strategies and institutional practices have strong spatial and material characteristics, these are rarely considered as significant—either to the reconstruction effort, or to international politics more generally. This article identifies and examines the ‘‘auxiliary space’’ created by the everyday practices of international aid workers and asks whether its effects may lead to unanticipated and potentially transformative outcomes not only for the reconstruction effort, but also for global North-South relations at large. The article concludes that post-crisis reconstruction sites may offer both cautionary and emancipatory potential for the evolution of international relations.[1]

This is the accepted version of the following article: ““Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves: Spatial Dimensions of International Humanitarian Response,” International Political Sociology (2008) 2, 236–253, which has been published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-5687.2008.00047.x/abstract

Internationals and locals are from two different worlds.

– Azwar Hasan, Founder and Chairperson of Forum Bangun Aceh

We created a world.

– International employee of a multilateral development bank, Aceh.[2]

In the analysis of humanitarian response, debate among theorists and practitioners centers on the inefficiency of particular response modalities, or the lack of preparedness of affected communities (Birch and Wachter 2006). Missing from these discussions are considerations of how post-crisis humanitarian interventions have become a key site in the negotiation of international political relations. The event of a large-scale natural disaster offers a unique possibility to view the way in which the international community conceives of itself and its role in the ‘‘international’’ (Calhoun 2004). It also provides insight into assumptions that underpin global North-South relations—both on the part of the donors and on the part of the so-called beneficiaries. This article examines this encounter by foregrounding the aspects of humanitarian assistance which despite being the most tangible, are the least remarked upon in the policy and analysis of the global North: the spatial and material practices of the international aid community. The highly visible bodies and physical environments of aid workers are almost completely overlooked in any analysis of post-crisis reconstruction or emergency response. It is not considered how these bodies and environments may be an essential aspect in international political affairs and to the way particular categories and relationships are constructed. This politicization of the bodies of aid workers and the acknowledgment that the presence and associated practices of the international community are themselves transformative can be seen in the Myanmar government’s statement, following Cyclone Nargis (2008), that they were willing to accept aid money but not the aid workers themselves (Mydans 2008). It highlights that while the normative international claims of humanitarian assistance may be framed in terms of ethically neutral discourse, the delivery mechanism belies an implicit politicization. A politicization that is regularly airbrushed over in the international community’s accounts of its own activities.

This article explores these claims with reference to the post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh, Indonesia. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with international aid workers, government officials, and local NGO representatives in Aceh, Indonesia, over a period spanning from May 2006 to December 2007, this article proposes the production of an ‘‘auxiliary space’’ of reconstruction which needs to be taken into consideration in any post-crisis humanitarian intervention. The larger theoretical claims are further supported by field work on the 2004-tsunami response in Sri Lanka (June 2006 and December 2007), and the international presence in contemporary Timor-Leste (May 2008). Turning the frame of analysis back upon the spaces and practices of the international aid community, and at the material and cultural aspects of the delivery of aid (Certeau 1988) calls into question the programmatic claim that it is possible to ‘‘do no harm’’ (Anderson 1999) and problematizes such operational distinctions as ‘‘relief’’ and ‘‘development’’ planning.[3] Most importantly, it reveals how the practices involved in post-crisis reconstruction by the international humanitarian community are inseparable from the production and reconstruction of global relations and identities (Barnett 2005). In a context where the visible presence of the international community and aid agencies is growing— recently with the piloting of United Nation (UN) integrated missions, in certain countries—there is an urgent need for such an examination.

In the context of this article, this is done in three steps. First, the article looks at the material and physical accoutrements of the international community including the procurement and use of vehicles and spaces of living and working; then it proposes that these aspects are essential, although underexamined, aspects of any intervention (Pandolfi 2002, 2003). While vernacular and autobiographical writings are rife with well-established visual tropes of the white UN Land Rover and the gated humanitarian compound (Cain 2004), they remain largely untheorized. Theoretical work by Yacobi (2007), Elden (2006), and Hyndman (2000, 2007) has drawn attention to the unique spheres created by NGO and humanitarian agencies; however, any causal impact this auxiliary space may have has not been seriously examined (Yamashita 2004). Recent work by Heathershaw and Lambach (Forthcoming) applies a spatial lens to post-conflict situations and identifies several ways in which such an approach can be helpful both in understanding policy failures in post-conflict settings, and in contributing to the overall debate on post-conflict reconstruction, statebuilding, peacebuilding and associated themes. This article argues that the application of a spatial lens is useful to humanitarian reconstruction more broadly (Hyndman forthcoming; Kleinfeld 2007; Le Billon and Waizenegger 2007), and that it is possible to identify characteristics of ‘‘auxiliary space’’ which are common across post-conflict and postdisaster reconstruction sites alike. These characteristics are derived from the spatial and material practices, techniques and approaches used by the international community in post-crisis settings (Certeau 1988) and contribute to how the international community is perceived by its beneficiaries, and to how the international community itself conceptualizes the reconstruction effort. They may lead to unexpected or unanticipated consequences. Contained within the ‘‘auxiliary’’ approach is the overwhelming assumption that places can be ‘‘reconstructed’’—that space is malleable and static and that the production of space can be disconnected from the techniques and processes used to produce it.

This assumption is explored in the second section which looks at two ways in which priorities and approaches of ‘‘auxiliary space’’ influenced the direction of the post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh in terms of what was built, where and how. The type and quality of response strategies were significantly informed by the personal trajectories, narratives and resultant imaginaries of the international aid workers themselves. In particular, the inordinate focus on the reconstruction of the form of the single family dwelling and the perceived ability to distinguish a space of disaster from a space of conflict are looked at (Elden 2005; Helmig and Kessler 2007). The article suggests that many of the programmatic problems that have been identified need to be understood in the context of competing fields or spaces of reconstruction which are adopted, used and adapted by the groups and individuals for which they are intended (Bourdieu 1990).

The article concludes by pointing to two possible outcomes that require further examination—one potentially emancipatory, and one cautionary. Just as the process of reconstruction creates new houses, spaces, and social relations, so too do the means of reconstruction—the physical presence of the aid workers has its own impact on social relationships and identity formation. On one hand, there is the need to recognize that the presence of aid workers is itself political, both through its overt influence over political dynamics in the country and implicitly through the differential modalities of movement, living, bargaining, and interacting which are used by the international community and which may create or reinforce perceptions of global inequalities. On the other hand, the spaces that are created may also provide emancipatory opportunities for both donor and recipient to forge new relationships, new routes, and new identities.


Within international politics, a ‘‘container’’ approach to space remains the dominant assumption (Helmig and Kessler 2007). The ‘‘territorial trap’’ (Agnew 1997) assumes that physical geography and political territory are coterminous and can be mapped out, carved up, bordered and defended. In few situations are these assumptions as visible as in the reconstruction after a large scale disaster. A tabula rasa approach to post-disaster reconstruction is in evidence by the similar approaches used in planning adopted in places as diverse as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Orleans, and Ecuador. To challenge this assumption leads us in two potential directions: first, the problem of ‘‘fit’’ between international solutions to local circumstances, that is, project design; second what happens in the physical and material encounter between international aid worker and local beneficiary.

The Problem of ‘‘Fit’’

The counter-intuitive impacts of restructuring space and the built environment are well documented. Scott (1998), Ferguson (2006), and Hodge (2007) all look at the way in which large-scale development schemes have backfired. In the area of humanitarian response, work by Edkins (2000), Keen (2008), Duffield (2001), Chandler (2006), and Marriage (2006) have demonstrated how the implementation of humanitarian interventions produce unintended and often negative consequences for the very people for whom the intervention has been designed. In de Certeau’s (1988) terms, this is because the very creation and attempted imposition of a top down strategy necessarily entails the appearance of ‘‘tactics’’ that will be deployed by those whom the strategy is intended to assist. These tactics are inseparable from any strategy, and will arise wherever one is imposed. They allow the user of a space to adapt it to his ⁄ her own needs. This changes the way in which the strategy operates, and potentially disrupts the attainment of its intended objectives. In a context of post-disaster reconstruction, tactics are manifest by the intended beneficiaries in the way in which they use, adapt, or reject the houses, infrastructures or trainings that are provided for them by donors.

The Effect of ‘‘Auxiliary Space’’

While specific human subjects deploy the tactics, they are as much a relational product of strategy and environment as they are of human design (Bourdieu; Bourdieu and Nice, 1977). The way in which subjects respond to the imposition of a particular structure is informed by, and inseparable from their personal experiences, social and class conditioning, and past-and-present environment. In the context of post-crisis reconstruction, particular approaches will therefore be informed by previous experience as well as current circumstances. This implies that if the physical circumstances, or habitus of the international community in country is circumscribed, then this will have an effect on how they interact with their intended beneficiaries (Newman 2003). While ideas of the reciprocal causal relationship between subjects and their environments have been common currency in other, more spatially oriented disciplines, development studies, and practice have not, in the main, stressed the importance of spatial concerns in shaping human subjectivities and their social and material practices. Doing so has several implications for the reconstruction effort. First, in terms of project design and delivery—the proposed strategy will be influenced by the particular experiences of its implementers—both in design and interpretation. In their work on the protests of Sudanese refugees toward the UNHCR, Moulin and Nyers (2007) discuss how sited categories such as ‘‘global political society’’ obscures the non-representational reality of how these categories are interpreted and played out on the ground. Second, subtle yet particular socio-cultural biases may manifest in the programmatic approach adopted, as arguably informed the focus on housing and home in post-tsunami Aceh. Third, the particular unique space of the international aid community may invoke further tactics on the part of the intended beneficiaries, thus changing the direction of the overall reconstruction effort.

‘‘Auxiliary Space’’ and the Culture of Reconstruction

The rapid arrival of thousands of humanitarian workers, following the 2004 ‘‘Boxing Day’’ tsunami, has frequently been referred to as a second tsunami. The largest post-crisis reconstruction effort ever seen led to approximately $US 7.7 billion being pledged for post-tsunami reconstruction and hundreds of humanitarian agencies descending upon the province in a matter of months. According to Telford, Cosgrove, and Houghton (2006), the number of International NGOs (INGOs) peaked at around 170 in mid-2005. This was in addition to 430 local NGOs that were also identified. In December 2007, the official government database had identified 841 ‘‘Donors and Partners’[4] and according to Barron (2007) they initially numbered in the ‘‘thousands.’’ The Government of Indonesia (GoI) stated that 133 countries provided assistance, and during the emergency phase, ‘‘16,000 military troops from different countries were deployed in what has been described by observers as one of the largest non-war military missions since the Second World War’’ (BRR 2007a). (The peak number of NGOs and individual donors remains disputed.) What remains completely overlooked in the programmatic literature are the bodies and material circumstances which compose the agencies, and organizations. Viewed from a spatial perspective, the metaphor of the aid tsunami is remarkably accurate. The physical occurrence of a tsunami is the visible result of unseen events (an earthquake) miles away from the damage that takes place. Its footprint is narrow, circumscribed, arrives quickly and retreats shortly afterwards—leaving an uneven, unpredictable, and remade landscape in its wake.

Similarly, work and progress on a post-crisis reconstruction are intimately linked to its site of origin—geographic and functional priorities dependent upon domestic or institutional agendas of organizations based elsewhere (Drury, Stuart Olson, and Van Belle 2005). Evocative of the auxiliary forces of a Roman army, international humanitarian workers are drawn from a wide range of locations and brought together in a foreign land to promote shared values and cosmopolitan norms. While differing in their approach and personal relationship to the particular location, they all have the shared objective of assisting and supporting the reconstruction after a large-scale disaster. Common to this post-crisis space are the three themes of mobility, securitization, and links to the place of origin. Running through all three of these is the fourth theme of exceptionalism.


The ability to leave at will—mobility—fundamentally distinguishes the international community from its intended beneficiaries who are generally unable to leave after a few weeks, months or even years, and if they do so it is often in an illicit capacity (Bauman 1998). This applies both to the ability of internationals to arrive and leave a post-crisis site and to their ability to negotiate the space of the disaster itself. In Aceh, the geography of the disaster—long and narrow— meant that the reconstruction site was relatively easy to physically get to from Jakarta. However, the difficulties in moving up and down the approximately 300 km of damaged coastline, led the UN to set up a parallel transport system including almost daily flights to and from certain coastal cities (Calang, Meulaboh). These flights were used to transport (primarily international) staff to and from projects. Throughout the reconstruction effort, the transport of staff—- both of internationals working in country, and visiting experts, consultants, and staff from headquarters—constituted a major part of the UN’s activities. One Acehnese interviewee felt that the constant arrival and departure of international staff was tantamount to tourism, and commented that this money would be better spent on concrete reconstruction work rather than on transport, salaries, and per diems. It also meant that NGOs with fewer resources tended to concentrate their activities around the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.[5]

The theme of mobility is closely related to the theme of securitization where the conditions of movement of international staff around a reconstruction site will often be dependent upon the level of risk that various agencies are willing to expose their staff to. Differential measures of risk with regards to local and international staff are reflected in the operating procedures of various organizations. In the case of largest international organizations such as the UN and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), locally recruited staff members are only evacuated in the most exceptional of circumstances and only if the threat is a direct consequence of their employment by the organizations. While for internationals, disasters and other risks are an exceptional circumstance to be temporarily manage and remunerated with hazard pay, the uncertainty that characterizes the live of the inhabitants of many disaster prone regions is a normalized part of their existence (Beck and Ritter 1992; Giddens 1999).


The archetype of international securitization is the walled and gated compound: an enclosure containing an assortment of offices, storage, medical, and sometimes living and leisure facilities. This can be seen most clearly in countries that are perceived to be highly insecure, where the experience of the international worker in the country will be physically circumscribed. It is highly securitized and may have an extra buffer zone or checkpoint. There may be watchtowers on the walls where guards can be located. It can also have other oversight mechanisms such as security cameras, or barbed wire on top of the walls. Compounds secure the vehicles, materials, and delivery systems that are used to interact with the target beneficiaries and provide communications networks when others have been destroyed, or are not working. The form will vary in terms of scale and level of securitization, and on the level of resources that the particular organization invests in staff security.

The compound must also provide bodily security to the aid workers who are increasingly targeted by elements of the populations they intend to assist (Boone 2008). With the increased targeting of humanitarian aid workers, both the UN and INGOs have invested more resources into ensuring the physical safety of their staff (Report of the Secretary General 2000, 2003). However, as the humanitarian community becomes increasingly physically separated from their intended beneficiaries, such securitization inevitably comes into conflict with the need to have an open and easy dialog with one’s beneficiaries. With the advent of the integrated UN mission, such analysis is increasingly important; however, much analysis concentrates on the programmatic impacts (Eide, Therese Kaspersen, Kent, and von Hippel 2005).[6]

While the extreme separation of staff from their environments is only seen in the most non-permissive of reconstruction and development circumstances—situations which are arguably not ‘‘post’’ anything (Heathershaw and Lambach forthcoming)—even where the security considerations are not extreme, there is a spatial separation between international staff and their local environments. From the perspective of an organization, it is necessary to provide an environment in which staffs are able to carry out their tasks to a speed and level of efficiency required by their donor governments and funding agencies. This means high-speed communications systems and a common working language. In a development context, it may also be required for hygiene standards to be maintained at a level where foreign nationals are able to function and remain healthy—food and water may be flown in or provided to a standard that reduces exposure to local pathogens and meets country of origin standards. Power generation facilities will also be required in most developing contexts. The degree to which such material and logistical support systems are required will depend upon the pre-existing infrastructure and the level of security and inevitably contribute not only to a physical circumscription. In countries that are deemed to be highly insecure, or dangerous, the staff of international agencies will be restricted in their physical movements.

One way of ensuring mobile security is the wide spread use of what has by now become a development cliche´: the white Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). While its large frame, and on-road visibility do offer a level of physical safety to their occupants, the protection that it offers has historically derived from its symbolic value. Its form is a mimetic of international humanitarian presence, in many countries better recognized than the symbol of the ‘‘blue helmet.’’ But recent experiences in many countries have shown that the form of the white SUV has become more of a liability than an asset. In some countries, it is not uncommon for international agencies to use local cars or taxis to transport staff instead of official, branded, vehicles to make both staff and vehicles less visible.

Work on the social impact of the SUV in America suggests that the rise in the SUV parallels a model of citizenship that values safety and inviolability of person above all else (Campbell 2005; Mitchell 2005). Similarly, the material practices of the international community may be seen to constitute an ‘‘attempt at self imposed exclusion from the wider neighborhood, as well as the exclusion of others’’ (Atkinson and Flint 2004) reinforcing the observations from local residents that ‘‘the objectives of the international community are different from those of the community they are assisting.’’[7] 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.’’ The SUV’s large petrol guzzling body has increasingly become a symbol of the excess of the ‘‘West’’ and the exceptionalism with which it regards itself.[8] Such ‘‘self-imposed exclusion’’ may also be related to a personal limited of geographic places that may be deemed risky or insecure, particularly by those internationals who are there on a short-term mission, and therefore are limited in their ability to assess the situation. For most international agencies, the level of security is highly subjective, influenced by political and institutional factors (Lowenheim 2007).[9] It may be tied to the global political concerns of the agency, and may not be directly correlated to the material circumstance of a particular location, again emphasizing the linkages with country of origin rather than location.

Links to Site of Origin

Experiences of host governments have proven that the activities, and priorities of NGOs and multilaterals are remarkably difficult to coordinate and are both strategically and temporally more closely linked to their respective places of origin than to the host government’s (Collier 2007). As the source and location of primary funding, it is in their ‘‘space of origin’’—the country or institution that they are ordinarily based—that field missions are approved and results are assessed.[10] The creation and oversight of contracting, procurement, and assessment all happen in the space of origin, as does the recruitment and retention of staff. Employees’ career paths are tied to their points of origin, or through short-term contracts tied to particular events or disasters. Current debates and policy models at headquarters will inform strategy and approaches where programmatic operating procedures are often based on ‘‘best practice’’ or ‘‘lessons learnt’’ from previous reconstruction efforts, and may be implemented in a new situation with minimal adaptation to local circumstances.

In the case of post-tsunami Aceh, the larger organizations flew in their crisis response teams from headquarters and quickly transported those field staff who had been working on ‘‘similar crises’’ (Telford et al. 2006). This had two effects. First, while the locale of the reconstruction may change, its basic attributes do not, and similar spatial and material circumstances which accompany the aid industry will inform the people who work in them ‘‘hopping’’ from one disaster to the next. From an institutional perspective this is logical. To accomplish a quick and efficient intervention, you need people who are experienced with the instruments and processes of humanitarian response. You do not want to be re-inventing the wheel at every new disaster. However, from a political perspective, the reification of a mobile space of response means that certain assumptions regarding reconstruction become increasingly difficult to challenge and will develop into the ‘‘de facto’’ way of doing things in a particular context; the implications of which are not questioned. It creates an environment where ‘‘you can forget where you are and sip your latte.’’[11] That the priorities of the donors were at spatial and temporal odds with the location can be seen in the frequent complaint from the government and local NGOs that the timing of the reconstruction was problematic.[12]

While many development theorists have criticized the programmatic inefficiencies that result from such disjunctures, this article argues that the discrepancies have a further impact—they are embodied in the material practices of the international aid community. For example, the temporal structure of the in-country workday, including holidays and working hours, will be strongly influenced by the country of origin. Local customs such as prayer and fasting may come into conflict with competing temporal demands such as fiscal and reporting deadlines from headquarters. The length of time that staff spends in country is also significantly different from the local environment with work being carried out by staff who come for either very short periods as consultants (a few days or weeks) or for slightly longer, but still temporary assignments of 6 months to 2 years. To remain in a country longer than a few years is unusual in most agencies and particularly in the case of emergency relief and reconstruction; the demand for such skills is high, and workers are often quickly moved on to the next emergency.

The occurrence of ‘‘burnout’’ amongst this group of individuals is also very high. Other spatial exceptions include common dress codes, in keeping with the business practice and cultures of the point of origin, which may be at odds with local customs, for example, women baring their heads. Depending on which aspects of the space are in question, they may also be the location of potentially exceptional cultural practices such as the consumption of alcohol.

For all three themes, it is worth noting that to talk of the international community as a homogeneous entity is itself an abstraction. Within the aid community there exists, in many large-scale reconstruction sites, a ‘‘tiering of aid’’ between the Multilateral Organizations, INGO, and small scale NGOs.[13] Often these three groups create their own spheres of dialog and interaction—functionally separate from the others, although similar in the characteristic described. This tiering only serves to reinforce the overall theme of exceptionalism, as the more ‘‘elite’’ or prominent the international body, the higher the likelihood that it will have resources to invest in securitization, mobility and links to the space of origin. Such practices focus the international community inward, and bound their experience—both spatially and temporally. But also to disparities in the ability to produce knowledge that is recognized as such by the international community (Siapno-De Araujo forthcoming). The next section will look at how this circumscription contributed both to a particular understanding of the beneficiaries, and to particular choices regarding the built environment. It will first look at the inordinate focus on the built form of the single family dwelling and second, at the assumption that it is possible to separate out natural from political spaces of disaster.

Siting the Reconstruction

The Central Role of the Single Family Dwelling

In the reconstruction of post-tsunami Aceh, the building of new, permanent houses has become a key indicator of recovery. The number of completed houses, as well as required houses has been the source of much debate, and has changed in light of updated beneficiary information and increased costs. By the third anniversary of the tsunami, in December 2007, over 100,000 houses were completed, and the government was continuing to build toward the target of 120,000 (AFP 2007). Of the houses that have been built, many remain unoccupied because of either questions over ownership, land tenure, problems with quality of construction, or lack of adequate infrastructure. The tone between donors and beneficiaries was marked by frustration, mistrust, and sometimes outright anger (World Bank ⁄DSF 2007). Interviews within Acehnese civil society and government offices blamed both the international community and their government-sponsored institutions for the slow pace of construction, misuse of aid funds, and unfulfilled promises. The  internationals in turn, have blamed beneficiaries, government, and contractors for corruption leading to resentment by some internationals toward the very people that they had been brought in to assist.

Prior to the tsunami, there was almost no international presence in the province. Due largely to the protracted guerilla campaign by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) against the GoI, few agencies maintained a presence in the province and of these even fewer maintained international staff. Consequently, relatively little was known about Aceh as a province. This element of the unknown contributed to the fascination that many aid workers felt coming to this place (Kenny 2005) and may have added to reported perception of ‘‘disaster tourism’’ by local interviewees. Upon arrival, the sheer scale of the disaster was overwhelming to many less experienced NGOs and more experienced players alike. Added to this was the previously unheard of US$ 7.7 billion in aid pledges that needed to be spent. In addition to this, the GoI pledged an additional US$2 billion. Rather than begging for funding, they were begging for beneficiaries. In this setting, large building projects, which would show results quickly and use up relatively large amounts of cash, were very attractive to the donor community. So, by December 2006, World Bank figures show 1,424 projects and programs in the housing sector alone—over 757 more than the next nearest sector—transport (World Bank 2006).

Within the humanitarian aid community, the idea of ‘‘home’’ is an elusive concept. The ethnoscape of the humanitarian aid worker is the topography of nomads (Appadurai 1997; Deleuze and Guattari 2004). The concept of home is held up as an archetype of stability and comfort. Arguably, within a globalizing concept in general, the idea of home or neighborhood has come to occupy almost a sacred status. Houses have the added benefit that they are seen to be relatively non-political: they are a basic human need. But for the international community to physically rebuild permanent houses for an entire province is an unusual approach. Normally, reconstruction is done through either cash transfer or concentrates on the temporary or transitional phases of an emergence. The commitment that all earthquake and tsunami-affected families ⁄ households would be entitled to reconstruction or rehabilitation assistance can be traced to the central government directive of January 2005 (Steinberg 2007). In the initial reconstruction strategy of January 2005, the unit of a 36-square meter house was used as a costing estimate, and the reconstruction of houses took up only 12 pages of a nearly 200-page document (AFP 2007). But as the international community experienced increased pressure to show visible results, and tsunami-survivors became increasingly vocal about their need for houses, many NGOs turned to the building of housing as the easy way out.

But the reconstruction of a place proved to be neither as politically nor as technically easy as it was first assumed. Even well-established NGOs were not experienced in the area of construction and had little to no experience designing and implementing full-scale construction projects. In addition to the technical expertise and land right issues, you are dealing with families, with communities.[14] When reports of houses being allocated to ineligible persons began to surface, for example people who had not lost their house in the tsunami, ex-combatants, or people who had more than one house, donors were initially shocked. Interviewees expressed almost a personal sense of betrayal in their descriptions of events. Part of this is due to the way in which the idea of the ‘‘local’’ was imagined by the internals—both in terms of their circumstances and their desires.

Imagining Circumstances

Aceh’s long history as a rich and cosmopolitan place was not visible in the aftermath of the  tsunami. Instead of a multi-ethnic port city that had lain within a vast trade network and that had resisted Dutch colonialism for many years (Siegel 2003), the influx of aid workers knew the province only as a poor, conflict-ridden, and isolated place and consequently, one that should be grateful for what it received. Tsunami survivors were simultaneously constructed as beneficiaries, recipients, victims, and sometimes culprits (Bhabha 2004; Said 1995). Attempts to shift institutional thinking toward a more nuanced, ‘‘client’’ oriented approach were undermined through the continued interpretation by the international aid-workers of a disaster zone as a flat space, and its inhabitants as inherently ‘‘local’’—a term that typical of development circumstances has often been conflated with traditional ways and a vernacular aesthetic (Ferguson 2006).[15]

It was this understanding that led to an overemphasis on the ornamental and stylistic aspects of building. Lengthy discussions were held with beneficiaries on whether the houses should be built in the vernacular style, whether they should have a balcony, where toilets and kitchens should be placed, and what the color of the paint should be. Particular emphasis was placed on involving the communities in the design of their houses; however, the guidelines had already been largely specified by BRR, so changes to the design could only be minor. While many NGOs initially tried to provide larger houses, inflation and other complicating factors such as technical difficulties forced some organizations to scale back their original designs and meant that even the 36-square meter houses were often built to a substandard quality. Some donors were surprised when recipients ultimately seemed most concerned about the overall size of their house compared to their neighbors and whether it was built of concrete or brick.[16]

Within Acehnese society, the role of the house is traditionally complex. According to John Siegel (2003), a typical, traditional Acehnese village ‘‘consists of clusters of houses owned by sisters and aunts (mother’s sisters) with the compounds often sharing a wall and a fence. The size of the clusters depends, of course, on the size of the families and the availability of land’’ (Siegel 2003:52). It is not uncommon for an entire family to live together in one house. Post-tsunami—in the case that the house that was destroyed was a large one, accommodating several generations—there was no provision available within the BRR guidelines for anything except the standard 36-square meter house.


Three years after the Tsunami, the government agency responsible for investigating corruption in the reconstruction of houses had identified 1,000 cases of ‘‘cheating’’ involving 5,000–10,000 houses and as many as 50,000 individuals. According to a BRR official, entire villages colluded to gain extra houses. Such behavior is held up by internationals as a prime example of the corrupt and dishonest nature of Acehnese society, and have subsequently used this as an explanation for slow project delivery and mismanagement. It has also been used as an excuse to increasingly deploy interventionist and un-participatory methods and to terminate projects. Officially, the approach adopted by the international community was one based on local ‘‘ownership’’: where the community that is being assisted invests their own resources in to the process, and is therefore vested in seeing the outcome and maintenance of the project (Kenny 2005). Many NGOs pursued this approach to the reconstruction of housing, but the sheer scale of required coordination across different legal jurisdictions, issues with property rights, coordination with water, sanitation, roads, and in some cases electricity made it inappropriate for many of the smaller and medium sized NGOs which were not able to marshal the necessary commitment from various constituencies.

Ultimately, many NGOs were forced to abandon the approach and bring in large-scale construction companies that were neither participatory, nor particularly concerned with the impressions, needs, and requests of the beneficiary. Some were cited by interviewees as overtly corrupt, adding to the negative impression of the reconstruction experience. The low quality of the houses, and associated problems meant that the beneficiaries were unhappy—some complaining openly to the media, government or directly to donors; others threatening particular agencies; and many others simply refusing to live in the houses. In December 2007, there were reports of recipients storming donor offices demanding houses and of beneficiaries burning down houses that they considered to be unsafe (The Times 2007). This reinforced the impression that recipients are ungrateful, corrupt, and potentially violent. The resultant level of disgust with Acehnese society was expressed by one aid worker, who claimed that Acehnese culture is based exclusively on the principle of exchange, and is lacking in ‘‘western emotions’’ such as gratitude or love.[17] Such a claim sits uneasily against analysis that blames donor practices for the rise of an ‘‘entitlement culture’’ in Aceh (Barron 2007).

Mapping the Reconstruction

The perception of reconstruction space as flat space, empty space, smooth space (Lefebvre 1991) contributes to an approach to reconstruction, seeks to catalog, and report upon the reconstruction site according to the logic of its space of origin (UN-HABITAT 2007; UNORC⁄BRR 2007). As already mentioned, a major and widely recognized difficulty with the reconstruction effort in Aceh, was the lack of coordination between donors. This is a common problem in all humanitarian and development settings and the general solution on the part of donors is to increase the amount and quality of information. Internationally, it has led to the promotion of a ‘‘cluster system’’ to coordinate donor activity which is currently promoted as a ‘‘best practice’’ in humanitarian responses. This means that the reconstruction effort is divided up into different ‘‘sectors’’ with a different ‘‘lead’’ agency heading the relief and reconstruction effort in each one. When viewed from a spatial perspective, one effect of this system is to carve up the effort into functional areas that treat areas such as ‘‘water and sanitation’’ as distinct from ‘‘shelter.’’ Such distinctions are understandably necessary from a programmatic perspective; however, they also reinforce the perspective that it is possible to divide up a reconstruction effort into geographic and functional areas, and inevitably lead to a ‘‘silo’’ mentality where different sectors pursue endeavors which are out of sync with other, necessarily complementary, areas.[18] The response of the international community to coordinate problems is typically the identification, or creation of more or new data about what is essentially a political problem. In the case of Aceh, consultants and financial advisors were brought in to improve oversight mechanisms which included the establishment of a database to record and track all manner of donor activity.[19] An inordinate amount of attention was placed on the mapping of the disaster through Geographic Information System technology, attempts at coordination ultimately relied upon the production of reports, matrices and face-to-face and word-of-mouth contact through working groups.[20] Easterly (2002) has claimed that there is an incentive for aid agencies to spread the risk of failure by engaging in collaborative endeavors. Such collaborative endeavors may also lead to a shared culture of response between donors, who will regularly see each other at meetings. The regular turnover of staff may also mean that any institutional memory is regularly erased, encouraging a constant re-mapping of the situation.

Such a lack of institutional memory, and a tendency toward spatially oriented categories led to a distinction in the allocation of post-tsunami funds between donor funds and mechanisms which could be used to assist victims of the tsunami and those which could be used to assist communities that were affected by the long-running civil conflict (Helmig and Kessler 2007). Until the tsunami, Aceh had been the site of a long running battle between Acehnese pro-Independence supporters and Indonesian forces (Aspinall 2007; Kell 1995; Reid 2006). August 2005 (6 months after the tsunami) marked a peace agreement (the Helsinki Accord) between the GAM and the GoI. Money and resources were allocated with the demobilization and reintegration processes, but nowhere near the amount that had been allocated for post-tsunami reconstruction. The two types of post-crisis assistance were, by and large, kept financially and programmatically apart (Barron 2007). Separate institutions were created to oversee the respective processes, and use of largest pooled fund of post-tsunami money—the ‘‘Multi Donor Fund,’’ worth US$ 673 million—although espousing a conflict sensitive approach, could not be used on post-conflict projects.[21]

Ignoring years of policy analysis on the need to adopt conflict sensitive approaches to development (Burke and Afnan 2005), post-tsunami projects and programs initially adopted a largely ‘‘conflict blind’’ approach. It was considered to be relatively easy to distinguish between tsunami affected areas and conflict afflicted ones, and the two issues were seen to be programmatically separable. However, in some areas, such as Bireuen and Aceh Utara, there was significant overlap, creating tension between two categories of individuals who were receiving different levels and quality of support (World Bank 2008; UNORC⁄BRR 2007). Even in areas where the two categories of beneficiaries are not overlapping or contiguous, people move. The ‘‘search for beneficiaries’’ on behalf of NGOs may have contributed to this, as did their demand for reconstruction materials and labour (International Crisis Group 2007). The appearance of ex-combatants, looking for homes in areas designated for tsunami victims has also caused social problems. While the ex-combatants were unhappy that they were receiving fewer resources than their tsunami-affected compatriots, the tsunami victims, were uncomfortable living beside ex-combatants who have been associated with a rise in robbery and extortion in certain areas (Barron 2007; International Crisis Group 2007).

Contributing to this has been a ‘‘lack of fit between internationally derived assumptions about the aims of reconstruction and the context and needs of post-conflict Aceh’’ (Barron 2007). While occasions were provided to discuss the appropriateness of particular approaches to local conditions, they had no sustained impact. Instead, he observes that the use of individual compensation approaches in the reintegration of ex-combatants may be (re)producing the very conditions that made conflict likely in the first place: decreases in social cohesion, the hardening of conflict-era group identities, the aforementioned development of an entitlement mentality, and the perpetuation of a lack of trust of communities toward the state. Barron attributes the problem of ‘‘lack of fit’’ to a focus by the international community on implementation and modalities of the reintegration program rather than aims. However, his paper suggests that the space of these discussions—the context, delegates, timeframes and constraints— informed the discussions in such a way as to bias the discussions toward outputs that are in keeping with international assumptions about the nature of the ‘‘local.’’ As seen from the discussions of auxiliary space, such ideas of the ‘‘local’’ are strongly shaped by the bounded presence of the international and what the humanitarian imaginary considers to be local, both in country and in the space of origin.

Work by Heathershaw and Lambach (Forthcoming) has identified the tendency to oversimplify in-country relationships and allegiances through the overreliance on categories of ‘‘local’’ and ‘‘international’’—a problem that is observed across reconstruction sites. In Aceh, when the Agency of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for the Region and Community of Aceh and Nias (BRR) was set up in April 2005 by Presidential Decree, it was supported by international donors as a way of ensuring local ownership over the reconstruction process. In practice, it was staffed almost exclusively by Javanese and has been seen by some as a way for the GoI to ensure oversight over the reconstruction of one of its three daerah istimewa or ‘‘special territories.’’ Many of the employees—substantive and administrative staff alike—came to Aceh exclusively to work at the Bureau and when interviewed, expressed a distain for life in Banda Aceh. With the expansion of the Bureau’s mandate in early 2006 from coordination and oversight to include project implementation, conflict of interest issues arose and the Bureau was accused of graft and irregular contracting and procurement procedures which were exacerbated by the often poor quality of houses built (Afrida 2006; Guerin 2006; Sijabat 2006). The resulting BRR antipathy needs to be read through the lens of contemporary Acehnese politics and the push and pull over various government and parastate institutions, both at the local and national levels. A more nuanced reading that takes into consideration the overlapping and possibly competing fields at play in a reconstruction site, allows one to consider the various interpretations and behaviors of individuals who, in one field, may be beneficiaries, but may in other, be operating according to quite different parameters. A final section will examine this in more detail.

Implications and Conclusion

The Emancipatory Space of Reconstruction

This article has so far discussed the unanticipated ways in which the restructuring of space has resulted in negative unanticipated outcomes. However, the analysis also suggests that the new spaces that are created may also exhibit some emancipatory potential. In the discussion of home, we have seen how many of the aid workers may themselves occupy a liminal space with regards to their own countries—simultaneously longing for home, and yet estranged from it. They not only simultaneously benefit from the privilege and insurance that their nationality of origin confers upon them, but also wish to distance themselves from the most mundane elements of static existence. And while they are brought to these spaces through the impetus of their sites of origin, and offered a relative degree of wealth vis-a`-vis their host populations, they are still subjected to the spaces and timings of their temporary homes such as unexpected power cuts and national holidays. While the article has discussed the ways in which two-dimensional ideas of beneficiaries are often embodied within reconstruction strategies, the many aid workers interviewed espouse nuanced and complex attitudes toward their beneficiaries. Many expressed the desire to find a way to engage with the communities in a way that allowed them to live ‘‘not as a colonist, a soldier, or an aid-worker’’ but as the people they actually are (Meek 2008). However, as discussed, the way in which post-crisis space is reconstructed, makes these types of liminal experiences difficult to obtain.

The post-tsunami reconstruction and its ‘‘auxiliary space’’ also presented new and potentially conflicting opportunities and experiences for the beneficiaries. In light of Aceh’s cosmopolitan heritage, the arrival of foreigners was not seen as particularly threatening by the majority of the population, but rather as a source of interest and for some, of opportunity. The movement of delegations, consultants, and in-country staff created a demand for drivers, fixers, translators, local administrators, restaurants. Some of the financial benefit of this apparently filtered down into the wider economy. Particularly in Aceh, there was a visible economic boom—with the number of scooters, and SUVs having increased exponentially in the last 3 years. One government official commented, on the ‘‘current donor-aided construction-driven economic boom’’ (BRR 2007b), ‘‘when you drive through Banda Aceh in the evenings it looks like Paris: people sitting on the sidewalks, in cafes.’’[22]

For Acehnese living, working, and studying abroad, the event of the tsunami drew them back to assist their families, friends, and communities in rebuilding their lives. But the auxiliary space of humanitarian response also provided the opportunities for them to remain working in Aceh by providing salaries and working conditions comparable to what they would experience abroad. Under the circumstances of reconstruction, it also provides a microcosm (or space of exception) in which ‘‘western’’ behavior and attitudes are encouraged. For example, in post-tsunami Aceh, the bar within the World Food Programme (WFP) compound become known as a place which allowed ex-patriot staff and like-minded Acehnese to drink, dance, and relax in the context of an otherwise strict Muslim society. However, to certain elements within Acehnese society, the compound became a site of suspicion, and in June 2006, the compound experienced a nighttime raid where Syari’at police were reported to have shined lights onto sleeping staff within the compound (Deutsch Presse Agentur 2006). It is not clear whether the threat posed by the compound was one of exceptional space—an unregulated space nested within the space of Aceh—or if it was one of subversion—of the corruption that could be carried out upon the Acehnese subjects that came into contact with it. However, it raises the possibility that the binary distinction between ‘‘us’’ and ‘‘them,’’ ‘‘local’’ and ‘‘international’’ is as instrumental to elements within Acehnese society as it is necessary as a strategic framework for the international community. However, it is also possible, that after such a large scale trauma, the new, ‘‘auxiliary space’’ and material practices present an opportunity to dramatically restructure space, to fundamentally reorient  the direction of a particular society, and offer a visible and tangible hope that spurs the ‘‘beneficiaries’’ on to a better life. Such a window of opportunity was frequently cited in post-tsunami Aceh, as the arrival of an ‘‘army’’ of aid workers was considered to be a major contributing force to the resolution of the long running conflict between the pro-Acehnese independence GAM and the GoI. The physical presence of so many internationals and the accompanying media attention was seen by many as the necessary impetus for the resolution of the conflict (Le Billon and Waizenegger 2007; Renner 2006). In this way, ‘‘auxiliary space’’ may have allowed for a reconsideration of options and relationships between the combatants.[23]

While in the case of Aceh, the outcome of increased international presence has so far been positive, it needs to be considered for its wider impact. Arguably, attribution of causal impact to the international community has contributed to a hardening of the Government of Sri Lanka’s post-tsunami policy stance vis-a`-vis international involvement in domestic politics. Likewise, the 2008 post-cyclone Nargis position of Myanmar’s government was structured along geopolitical lines. Initially, they were willing to accept aid but not the aid workers to deliver it (Mydans 2008), and subsequently expressed a willingness to accept assistance only for other South East Asian countries (Mydans and Cowell 2008). Such outcomes offers insight into the degree to which host governments view the bodies and material presence of the international community as political and emphasizes the need to consider the built forms and material practices and in particular, the role of an ‘‘auxiliary space’’ as an integral part of the international humanitarian response. It is only by understanding that the way in which we do things is as important as what is done that we will be able to move beyond the existing categories of north ⁄ south; donor ⁄ beneficiary; savior ⁄ saved that dominate and constrain current international politics.


AFP. (2007) Indonesia Hands over 100,000th Tsunami House in Aceh. Straits Times, December 14.

Afrida, Nani. (2006) Two BRR Officials Named Suspects in Corruption Case. The Jakarta Post September 14.

Agnew, John A. (1997) Political Geography: A Reader. London: Arnold.

Anderson, Mary B. (1999) Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – or War. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Appadurai, Arjun. (1997) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Public Worlds, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Aspinall, Edward. (2007) The Construction of Grievance: Natural Resources and Identity in a Separatist Conflict. Journal of Conflict Resolution 51(6): 950–972.

Atkinson, Rowland, and John Flint. (2004) Fortress UK? Gated Communities, the Spatial Revolt of the Elites and Time-Space Trajectories of Segregation Housing Studies 19(6): 875–892.

Barnett, Michael. (2005) Humanitarianism Transformed. Perspectives on Politics 3(4): 723–740.

Barron, Patrick. (2007) Getting Reintegration Back on Track: Problems in Aceh and Priorities for Moving Forward. Paper prepared for conference, The Peace Process in Aceh: The Remainders of Violence and the Future of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, October 24–27.

Bauman, Zygmunt. (1998) Globalization: The Human Consequences. European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Beck, Ulrich, and Mark Ritter. (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications.

Bhabha, Homi. (2004) The Location of Culture. Oxford: Routledge.

Birch, Eugenie Ladner, and Susan M. Wachter (eds). (2006) Rebuilding Urban Places after Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Boone, Jon. (2008) Bars Lose Expats to Safety Bans. Financial Times February 8.

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity.

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Richard Nice. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

BRR. (2007a) Agency of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for the Region and Community of Aceh and Nias. http://www.e-aceh-nias.org/about_brr/profile.aspx?language=EN. (Accessed July 2, 2008)

BRR. (2007b) Report to CFAN Stakeholders on BRR Economic Development and Livelihoods Activities in Aceh & Nias. http://www.e-aceh-nias.org/cfan/cfan3/summit.htm. (Accessed July 2, 2008)

Burke, Adam, and Afnan. (2005) Aceh: Reconstruction in a Conflict Environment: Views from Civil Society, Donors and N.G.O.S. In Indonesian Social Development Paper DFID.

Cain, Kenneth. (2004) Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury.

Calhoun, Craig. (2004) A World of Emergencies: Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order. The 35th Annual Sorokin Lecture delivered at the University of Saskatchewan on March 4.

Campbell, David. (2005) The Biopolitics of Security: Oil, Empire, and the Sports Utility Vehicle. American Quarterly 57(3): 943–972.

Certeau, Michel de. (1988) The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Steven Rendell. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Chandler, David. (2006) Empire in Denial: The Politics of State-Building. London: Pluto.

Collier, Paul. (2007) The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Fe´lix Guattari. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum.

Deutsch Presse Agentur. (2006) Radical Sharia Police Raid UN Diplomatic Compound in Indonesia. Deutsch Presse Agentur August 23.

Drury, A. Cooper, Richard Stuart Olson, and Douglas A. Van Belle. (2005) The Politics of Humanitarian Aid: U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, 1964–1995. Journal of Politics 67(2): 454–473.

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

Easterly, William. (2002) The Cartel of Good Intentions: The Problem of Bureaucracy in Foreign Aid. Policy Reform 5(2): 223–250.

Edensor, Tim. (2004) Automobility and National Identity: Representation, Geography and Driving Practice. Theory, Culture and Society 21(4–5): 101–120.

Edkins, Jenny. (2000) Whose Hunger: Concepts of Famine, Practices of Aid. Minneapolis, MN⁄ London: University of Minnesota Press.

Eide, Espen Barth, Anja Therese Kaspersen, Randolph C. Kent, and Karen von Hippel. (2005) Report on Integrated Missions: Practical Perspectives and Recommendations, Independent Study for the Expanded UN ECHA Core Group. Oslo: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).

Elden, Stuart. (2005) Missing the Point: Globalization, Deterritorialization and the Space of the World. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30(1): 8–19.

Elden, Stuart. (2006) Spaces of Humanitarian Exception. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 88(4): 477–485.

Ferguson, James. (2006) Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, NC⁄ London: Duke University Press.

Giddens, Anthony. (1999) Runaway World: How Globalisation Is Reshaping Our Lives. London: Profile.

Guerin, Bill. (2006) After the Tsunami, Waves of Corruption. Asia Times September 20.

Heathershaw, John, and Daniel Lambach. (Forthcoming) Introduction: Post-Conflict Spaces in International Relations. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 2: 123–142.

Helmig, Jan, and Oliver Kessler. (2007) Space, Boundaries, and the Problem of Order: A View from Systems Theory. International Political Sociology 1(3): 240–256.

Hodge, Joseph Morgan. (2007) Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Hyndman, Jennifer. (2000) Managing Displacement: Refugees and the Politics of Humanitarianism. Minneapolis, MN⁄ London: University of Minnesota Press.

Hyndman, Jennifer. (2007) The Securitization of Fear in Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97(2): 361–372.

Hyndman, Jennifer. (Forthcoming) How the 2004 Tsunami Is Defining Conflict and Peace in Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia. Norwegian Journal of Geography.

International Crisis Group. (2007) Aceh: Post-Conflict Complications. Asia Report, Report no. 139.

Keen, David. (2008) Complex Emergencies. Cambridge: Polity.

Kell, Tim. (1995) The Roots of Acehnese Rebellion, 1989–1992. Ithica, NY: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University.

Kenny, Sue. (2005) Reconstruction in Aceh: Building Whose Capacity? Community Development Journal 42(2): 206–221.

Kleinfeld, Margo. (2007) Misreading the Post-Tsunami Political Landscape in Sri Lanka: The Myth of Humanitarian Space. Space and Polity 11(2): 169–184.

Le Billon, Philippe, and Arno Waizenegger. (2007) Peace in the Wake of Disaster? Secessionist Conflicts and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32(3): 411–427.

Lefebvre, Henri. (1991) The Production of Space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Lowenheim, Oded. (2007) The Responsibility to Responsibilize: Foreign Offices and the Issuing of Travel Warnings. International Political Sociology 1(3): 203–221.

Marriage, Zoe¨. (2006) Not Breaking the Rules, Not Playing the Game: International Assistance to Countries at War. London: Hurst & Co.

Meek, James. (2008) We Are Now Beginning Our Descent. Edinburgh: Cannongate Books Ltd.

Mitchell, Don. (2005) The S.U.V. Model of Citizenship: Floating Bubbles, Buffer Zones, and the Rise of The ‘‘Purely Atomic’’ Individual. Political Geography 24(1): 77–100.

Moulin, Carolina, and Peter Nyers. (2007) ‘‘We Live in a Country of UNHCR’’ – Refugee Protests and Global Political Society. International Political Sociology 1(4): 357–372.

Mydans, Seth. (2008) Myanmar Seizes U.N. Food for Cyclone Victims and Blocks Foreign Experts. The New York Times May 10.

Mydans, Seth, and Alan Cowell. (2008) Myanmar to Widen Neighbors’ Aid Role. The New York Times May 20.

Newman, David. (2003) Boundaries. In A Companion to Political Geography, edited by John A. Agnew, Mitchell Katharyne, and Gearo´id O´ Tuathail. London: Blackwell, pp. 123–137.

Pandolfi, Mariella. (2002) ‘‘Moral entrepreneurs,’’ souverainete´s mouvantes et barbele´s. Le biopolitique dans les Balkans postcommunistes. Anthropologie et Socie´te´s 26(1): 29–51.

Pandolfi, Mariella. (2003) Contract of Mutual (in)Difference: Governance and the Humanitarian Apparatus in Contemporary Albania and Kosovo. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 10(1): 369–382.

Reid, Anthony. (2006) Verandah of Violence: The Background to the Aceh Problem. Singapore: Singapore University Press in association with University of Washington Press.

Renner, Michael. (2006) Aceh: Peacemaking after the Tsunami, Worldwatch Institute, May 17. Available at http://www.worldwatch.org/node/3930. (Accessed June 2)

Report of the Secretary General. (2000) Scope of Legal Protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, edited by UN General Assembly. New York: United Nations.

Report of the Secretary General. (2003) Safety and Security of Humanitarian Personnel and Protection of United Nations Personnel, edited by UN General Assembly. New York: United Nations.

Said, Edward W. (1995) Orientalism. Penguin History. Repr. with a new afterword. Ed. London: Penguin.

Scott, James C. (1998) Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT ⁄ London: Yale University Press.

Siapno-De Araujo, Jacqueline A. (Forthcoming) The Politics of Reconstruction, Gender, and Re-Integration in Post-Tsunami Aceh. Domains.

Siegel, James T. (2003) The Rope of God. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Sijabat, Ridwan Max. (2006) NGOs Demand Probe into BRR Allegations. The Jakarta Post September 2.

Steinberg, Florian. (2007) Housing Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in Aceh and Nias Indonesia— Rebuilding Lives. Habitat International 31(1): 150–166.

Telford, John, John Cosgrove, and Rachel Houghton. (2006) Joint Evaluation of the International Response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Synthesis Report. London: Tsunami Evaluation Coalition.

The Times. (2007) Hope Rises from the Ruins but Scars Remain on Island That Lost Its Women. Times Online, December 26. Available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article3095467.ece. (Accessed June 2, 2008)

UN-HABITAT. (2007) Anchoring Homes: UN-Habitat’s People’s Process in Aceh and Nias after the Tsunami. Nairobi: UN-HABITAT.

UNORC⁄ BRR. (2007) Tsunami Recovery Indicators Package (Trip): For Aceh and Nias. http://www.e-acehnias.org/donors_partners/project_update.aspx. (Accessed July 2, 2008)

World Bank. (2006) Summary of Needs, Project and Gaps – Aceh and Nias. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/INDONESIAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:

21300193~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:226309,00.html. (Accessed July 2, 2008)

World Bank. (2008) Aceh Poverty Assessment: The Impact of the Conflict, the Tsunami and Reconstruction on Poverty in Aceh. Jakarta/Washington, DC: World Bank.

World Bank ⁄ DSF. (2007) Aceh Conflict Monitoring Update. http://www.conflictanddevelopment.org/

page.php?id=16. (Accessed July 2, 2008)

Yacobi, Haim. (2007) The NGOization of Space: Dilemmas of Social Change, Planning Policy, and the Israeli Public Sphere. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25(4): 745–758.

Yamashita, Hikaru. (2004) Humanitarian Space and International Politics: The Creation of Safe Areas. Aldershot ⁄ Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

[1] The author would like to thank Tarak Barkawi, Josef Ansorge, Alex Anievas, and two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions. Thanks to Mary J. Hunter and Arran Gaunt for their support. Research funds for this article were provided by the Smuts Foundation. The themes explored in this article are part of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge, Centre for International Studies entitled ‘‘Post-Crisis Built Environments of the International Community.’’

[2] Interview, Banda Aceh, 17 December, 2007.

[3] In the context of this article, ‘‘humanitarian intervention’’ is used to refer to the spectrum of international response following a large-scale disaster, as in practice there is significant blurring and overlap between the categories of ‘‘relief’’ and ‘‘development,’’ particularly from the perspective of the beneficiaries.

[4] Statistics provided by BRR.

[5] The requirement of the GoI for aid workers to register with the military or face expulsion if caught outside the main cities of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, compounded the concentration in these areas c.f. BBC. January 11, 2005 Indonesia Restricts Aceh Aid Work BBC.

[6] For work on the impact of military bases see Enloe, Cynthia H. (1989) Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making

Feminist Sense of International Politics. Updated ed. with a new preface. ed. Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of

California Press, 2000; Cooley, Alexander. (2005) Base Politics. Foreign Affairs 84(6): 79–92.

[7] Interview, Banda Aceh, 19 December, 2007.

[8] And as much as the vehicles have become the target of displeasure with the international community, so too are they sought after by government ministries as a requirement of international assistance.

[9] The higher the risk rating, the higher the level of financial compensation and benefits earned by staff, which may incentivise some staff—particularly in peacekeeping missions—to maintain a higher security rating. Interview, Dili, May 23, 2008.

[10] While there is a stress in the programmatic literature on downward accountability, the key stakeholders remain those organizations and individuals who fund the intervention

[11] As one NGO worker cynically quipped. Interview, Dili, 20 May, 2008.

[12] It is worth noting that such complaints ran both directions, and that some donors felt that the GoI’s strict

imposition of reconstruction ‘‘phases’’ was unhelpful to a coherent reconstruction effort.

[13] Interview, Dili, 19 May, 2008.

[14] Interview, Banda Aceh, 13 December, 2007

[15] Interview, Banda Aceh, December 14, 2007 & Dili, 19 May, 2008.

[16] Although the general consensus was that the preference of brick over other materials was based upon social prestige, one interviewee felt that the preference was based, in the context of a long-running civil conflict, on the need for the physical security that brick provided. Interview, Banda Aceh, 13 December, 2007.

[17] Interview, Banda Aceh, 14 December, 2007.

[18] The institutional dynamics of aid are such that each ‘‘sector’’ may quite quickly move from being strictly an implementer of the overall project to having its own institutional incentives to expand into other areas ‘‘outside’’ its sector leading to mandate creep.

[19] Certain donors, such as the World Bank, have continued to collect and process their own data leading to disputes over which reporting figures are accurate.

[20] Certain donors, such as the World Bank, have continued to collect and process their own data leading to disputes over which reporting figures are accurate.

[21] Originally named the ‘‘Multi Donor Trust Fund,’’ the ‘‘Trust’’ was dropped from the title, according to one facetious interviewee, because there was no trust left.

[22] Interview, Banda Aceh, 18 December 2007.

[23] The tsunami itself is also pointed to as an event of religious significance which led to a realization on behalf of all the parties, of the futility of violence.

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).


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.


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.

AGNEW, J. A. (1997) Political geography : a reader, London, Arnold.

ALLEN, C. (2006) Plain tales from the Raj, London, Abacus.

APPADURAI, A. (1997) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

ATKINSON, R. & FLINT, J. (2004) Fortress UK? Gated communities, the spatial revolt of the elites and time-space trajectories of segregation. Housing Studies, 19, 875-892.

BANKOFF, G. (2001) Rendering the World Unsafe: ‘Vulnerability’ as Western Discourse. Disasters, 25, 19-35.

BARNES, T. J. (2003) The place of locational analysis: a selective and interpretive history. Progress in Human Geography, 27, 69-95.

BAUMAN, Z. (1998) Globalization: The Human Consequences, New York, Columbia University Press

BECK, U. & RITTER, M. (1992) Risk Society : Towards a New Modernity, Sage.

BLUNT, A. (1999) Imperial Geographies of Home: British Domesticity in India, 1886-1925. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 24, 421-440.

BLUNT, A. & DOWLING, R. M. (2006) Home, London, Routledge.

BOURDIEU, P. (1990) The logic of practice, Cambridge, Polity.

BOURDIEU, P. & NICE, R. (1977) Outline of a theory of practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

BRADSHER, K. (2003) High and mighty : the dangerous rise of the SUV, New York, Public Affairs ; [Oxford : Oxford Publicity Partnership, distributor].

BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY PAPERS (1886) Report of the Royal Commission of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition. London.

CAIN, K. (2004) Emergency sex (and other desperate measures) : [true stories from a war zone], London, Ebury.

CALHOUN, C. (2004) A World of Emergencies: Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order. 35th Annual Sorokin Lecture. University of Saskatchewan, University of Saskatchewan.

CAMPBELL, D. (2005) The Biopolitics of Security: Oil, Empire, and the Sports Utility Vehicle. American Quarterly, 57, 943-972.

CASTELLS, M. (2000) The rise of the network society, Oxford, Blackwell.

CASTORIADIS, C. (1987) The Imaginary Institution of Society, Oxford, Polity in conjunction with Blackwell.

CERTEAU, M. D. (1988) The practice of everyday life, Berkeley, University of California Press.

CHANDLER, D. (2006) Empire in denial : the politics of state-building, London, Pluto.

CHANDRASEKARAN, R. (2006) Imperial Life in the Emerald City, New York, Alfred A. Knopf

CLOUGH, P. T. & HALLEY, J. O. M. (2007) The affective turn : theorizing the social, Durham, N.C., Duke University Press ; Chesham : Combined Academic [distributor].

COLLIER, P. (2007) The bottom billion : why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

CRANG, M. A. N. T. (2000) Thinking Space, London and New York, Routledge.

CRESSWELL, T. (2004) Place : a short introduction, Oxford, Blackwell.

CUNY, F. C. & ABRAMS, S. (1983) Disasters and development, New York, Oxford University Press.

CUTTER, S. (2006) The Geography of Social Vulnerability: Race, Class and Catastrophe. Social Science Research Council

DALLAIRE, R. O. A. & BEARDSLEY, B. (2003) Shake hands with the devil : the failure of humanity in Rwanda, Toronto, Random House Canada.

DAVIS, I. (1978) Shelter After Disaster, Oxford, Oxford Polytechnic Press.

DAVIS, M. (2000) Late Victorian Holocausts : El Nino famines and the making of the Third World, Verso.

DE WAAL, A. (1997) Famine crimes : politics and the disaster relief industry in Africa, Oxford, James Currey.

DECHAINE, D. R. (2002) Humanitarian Space and the Social Imaginary: Médecins Sans Frontières and the Rhetoric of Global Community. Journal of Communications Inquiry, 26, 364- 369.

DIAMOND, J. M. (2005) Collapse : how societies choose to fail or survive, London, Allen Lane.

DUFFIELD, M. R. (1991) War and famine in Africa, Oxford, Oxfam.

DUFFIELD, M. R. (2007) Development, security and unending war : governing the world of peoples, Cambridge, Polity.

DUNCAN, J. S. & LAMBERT, D. (2004) Landscapes of Home. IN DUNCAN, J. S., JOHNSON, N. C. & SCHEIN, R. H. (Eds.) A companion to cultural geography. Malden, Mass.; Oxford, Blackwell Pub.

EASTERLY, W. (2002) The Cartel of Good Intentions: The Problem of Bureaucracy in Foreign Aid Policy Reform, 5, 223-250.

EDENSOR, T. (2004) Automobility and National Identity: Representation, Geography and Driving Practice. Theory, Culture & Society, 21, 101-120.

EDKINS, J. (2000) Whose hunger? : concepts of famine, practices of aid, Minneapolis, Minn.; London, University of Minnesota Press.

EK, R. (2006) Giogio Agamben and the spatialities of the camp: an introduction. Geografiska Annaler, Series B, 88, 363-386.

ESCOBAR, A. (1994) Encountering development : the making and unmaking of the third world, Princeton, N.J. ; Chichester, Princeton University Press.

FERGUSON, J. (2006) Global shadows : Africa in the neoliberal world order, Durham, N.C. ; London, Duke University Press

GIROUX, H. A. (2006) Stormy weather : Katrina and the politics of disposability, Boulder, Colo. ; London, Paradigm.

GOWANS, G. (2006) Travelling home: British women sailing from India, 1940-1947. Women’s Studies International Forum, 29, 81-95.

GRAHAM, S. & MARVIN, S. (2001) Splintering urbanism : networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition, London, Routledge.

GREWAL, I. (1996) Home and harem : nation, gender, empire, and the cultures of travel, Durham, N.C. ; London, Duke University Press.

HARVEY, D. (2001) Spaces of capital : towards a critical geography, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

HEWITT, K. (1995) Sustainable Disasters? Perspectives and powers in the discourse of calamities. IN CRUSH, J. (Ed.) Power of development. London, Routledge.

HIRST, P. Q. & THOMPSON, G. (1999) Globalization in question : the international economy and the possibilities of governance, Cambridge, Polity Press.

HOOGVELT, A. (2006) Globalization and Post-modern Imperialism. Globalizations, 3, 159- 174.

HUBBARD, P., KITCHIN, R. & VALENTINE, G. (2004) Key thinkers on space and place, London, Sage.

INAYATULLAH, N. A. D. L. B. (2004) International Relations and the Problem of Difference, New York, Routledge.

JONES, R., CARWYN FOLWER (2007) Placing and scaling the nation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 25, 332-354.

KEARNS, G. (1997) The Imperial Subject: Geography and Travel in the Work of Mary Kingsley and Halford Mackinder. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

KEEN, D. (1994) The benefits of famine : a political economy of famine and relief in southwestern Sudan, 1983-1989, Princeton, N.J. ; Chichester, Princeton University Press.

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

KENT, R. C. (1987) Anatomy of disaster relief : the international network in action, Pinter.

KING, A. D. (1990) Urbanism, colonialism, and the world-economy : cultural and spatial foundations of the world urban system, London, Routledge.

KLEIN, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Allen Lane.

LANDES, D. S. (1998) The wealth and poverty of nations : why some are so rich and some so poor, London, Little, Brown and Company.

LEFEBVRE, H. (1991) The production of space, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

MAMDANI, M. (2007) The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency. London Review of Books. London.

MASSEY, D. (2006) For Space, London, Sage.

MASSUMI, B. (2002) Parables for the virtual : movement, affect, sensation, Durham, NC, Duke University Press.

MERLEAU-PONTY, M. (1962) Phenomenology of perception, Routledge & K.Paul.

MITCHELL, D. (2005) The S.U.V. model of citizenship: floating bubbles, buffer zones, and the rise of the “purely atomic” individual. Political Geography, 24, 77-100.

Ó TUATHAIL, G. (1996) Critical geopolitics : the politics of writing global space, London, Routledge.

O’KEEFE, P., KEN WESTGATE AND BEN WISNER (1976) Taking the naturalness out of natural disasters. Nature, 260.

PARIS, R. (2006) At War’s End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

PENROSE, J. & JACKSON, P. (1994) Constructions of race, place and nation, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

PRATT, M. L. (1992) Imperial eyes : travel writing and transculturation, London, Routledge.

PUGH, M. (2005) Peacekeeping and Critical Theory IN BELLAMY, A. J. A. P. W. (Ed.) Peace Operations and Global Order. London and Oxford, Frank Cass and Routledge.

PUPUVAC, V. (2005) Human Security and the rise of global therapeutic governance Conflict, Security & Development, 5, 161-181.

SAID, E. W. (1995) Orientalism, London, Penguin.

SASSEN, S. (2000) Cities in a world economy, Thousand Oaks ; London, Pine Forge Press.

SCOTT, J. C. (1998) Seeing like a state : how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed, New Haven ; London, Yale University Press.

SLATER, D. (1997) Geopolitical imaginations across the North-South divide: issues of difference, development and power. Political Geography, 16, 631-653.

SMITH, N. (2006) There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster. Social Science Research Council

SUDJIC, D. (2005) The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, London, Allen Lane – Penguin Group.

TAYLOR, C. (2002) Modern Social Imaginaries. Public Culture, 14, 91-124.

TAYLOR, C. (2005) Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham and London, Duke University Press.

TELFORD, J. A. J. C. (2006) Joint Evaluation of the international response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Synthesis Report. London, Tsunami Evaluation Coalition.

VALE, L. J. (1992) Architecture, Power and National Identity, Yale U.P.

VIRILIO, P. (1991) The aesthetics of disappearance, New York, Semiotext(e).

WRONG, M. (2000) In the footsteps of Mr Kurtz : living on the brink of disaster in the Congo, London, Fourth Estate.

[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).

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

“Complex Humanitarian Emergencies” – MA option taught at the University of Sussex

This course looks at the emergence and development of the phenomena known as “complex humanitarian emergencies” and their role in North-South relations. While this is a contemporary term, the course looks at it in historical perspective. Using two in-depth case studies and small group exercises, it critically examines the following themes: the origins, evolution, and foundational principles of humanitarianism; distinctions between key concepts (catastrophe; natural vs. manmade disaster) key actors (governments, the UN, NGOs, private sector, military); key historical events; technologies of response (camps, food-drops); the role of the media; cultures of aid.

It incorporates the following themes and approaches:

  • Challenging established frames of references and concepts (what is a CHE? Is it a North/South phenomena?)
  • Providing both a strong empirical focus through case studies, and up to date policy approaches with critical theoretical approaches.
  • Focus on the lived and embodied experience of complex emergencies: how camps experienced by the beneficiary? What is it like to ride in a white Landrover? And how have these experiences shaped the way in which big ideas such as humanitarianism have been shaped, understood and transmitted.
  • Uses a wide range of source material: from aid worker biographies and blogs, to novels such as David Eggers’ Zeitoun to maps and objects both in terms of what they represent and how they are used.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course a successful student should be able to:

Describe, understand and evaluate the concept of complex humanitarian emergencies both in contemporary terms and in historical perspective

Have a knowledge of the actors, institutions, legal frameworks, funding mechanisms and procedures relating to a complex humanitarian response

Understand and evaluate the competing theoretical claims and perspectives relating to complex humanitarian emergencies

Advance academically formulated ideas about the utility of the concept and the process as a mode of international political interaction.

Be able to conceptualise the idea of CHE beyond conventional North-South frameworks and to problematise its continued use within international humanitarian discourse.



Week 1 – Background Reading

Week 2 – The origins and evolution of humanitarianism

Week 3 – Principles, Professionalization and Organization

Week 4 – Humanitarian Space, Securitization, Remote Management, Logistics


Week 5 – Haiti as complex humanitarian emergency

Week 6 – Haiti before and after

Week 7 – Essay Preparation Week


Week 8 – New Orleans as state of exception

Week 9 – The picturesque and the disaster imaginary – Rebuilding New Orleans

Week 10 – Cultures of Aid – Codes of Conduct


Week One – Background Reading (no class)

Try to read one of these prior to starting the course.

Keen, D. (2008). Complex emergencies. Cambridge, Polity.

Higate, P. and M. Henry (2009). Insecure spaces : peacekeeping, power and performance in Haiti, Kosovo and Liberia. London, Zed.

Samantha Power (2008). Chasing the Flame New York, Penguin.


Week Two: The origins and evolution of humanitarianism

This week looks at the emergence of a humanitarian ethic from Henri Dunant‟s revelation on the battle field at Solferino through to the creation and use of legal instruments.

Guiding Questions:

 What are the philosophical and guiding principles and ethics that underpin humanitarianism? How have they evolved?

 What are the key moments, documents and decisions?

Weiss, T. G. and C. Collins (2000). Chapters 1 Main Actors, Humanitarian challenges and intervention. Boulder, Colo.; Oxford, Westview Press.

Calhoun – The idea of emergency (2010) in Fassin and Pandolfi (eds) Contemporary States of Emergency (New York: Zone)

Rieff, David “The Hazards of Charity” in (2002) A Bed for the Night New York: Simon & Schuster.

Ranciere, Jacques (2004) “Who is the subject of the rights of Man?” South Atlantic Quarterly 103(2/3):297-310.

Slim, Hugo “Not Philanthropy But Rights” – on rights based humanitarianism http://www.odi.org.uk/events/2001/02/01/2103-rights-based-humanitarianism-proper-politicisation-humanitarian-philosophy-hugo-slim-revised-may-2001.pdf

Please have a look at online

1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter http://www.un.org

2. Geneva Conventions http://www.icrc.org

3. Refugee Convention http://www.unhcr.ch

Additional sources

Curti, M. (1957). “The History of American Philanthropy as a Field of Research.” The American Historical Review 62(2): 352-363.

Bass, G. J. (2008). Freedom‟s battle : the origins of humanitarian intervention. New York, Alfred A. Knopf.

Crossland, James (2010) “Expansion, Suspicion and the Development of the ICRC: 1939-45” Australian Journal of Politics and History 56(3): 381-392.

Cowan, J. K. (2007). “The Supervised State “ Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 14(5): 545 – 578.

Edkins, J. (2003). “Humanitarianism, humanity, human.” Journal of Human Rights 2(2): 253-258.

Weiss, S. S., Hans-Joachim, and van Meurs, Wim, Ed. (2009). Diplomacy, Development and Defense: A Paradigm for Coherence, Bertelsmann Stiftung. (not yet available, awaiting delivery)

Rozario, K. (2003). “”Delicious horrors”: Mass culture, the red cross, and the appeal of modern American humanitarianism.” American Quarterly 55(3): 417-455.

Davis, M. (2000). Late Victorian Holocausts : El Nino famines and the making of the Third World, Verso.

Hutchinson, J. F. (1996). Chapters 1 Champions of charity: war and the rise of the Red Cross. Oxford, Westview.

Lester, A. (2002). “Obtaining the „due observance of justice‟: the geographies of colonial humanitarianism.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20: 277-293.

Skran, C. M. (1995). Chapter 3 in Refugees in inter-war Europe : the emergence of a regime. Oxford, Clarendon Press.


Week Three: Principles, Pragmatism and Organization

This week looks at the development of pragmatic humanitarianism in response to the Goma crisis. It examine the various systems of coordination, accountability and resources mobilization that have been developed.

Guiding Questions:

 Who are the main actors? What are the conflicts between them? How do they coordinate?

 How is funding obtained?

 Has development become a profession; has it become more principled?

 How does a pragmatic approach compare to last week‟s approaches?

Linda Polman – Chapter 1 in (2010) The Crisis Caravan. New York: Metropolitan

The Humanitarian Charter: http://www.sphereproject.org/content/view/24/84/lang,english/

and The Sphere handbook: http://www.sphereproject.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=27&Itemid=84

Darcy, James (2004) “Locating Responsibility: The Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Rationale” Disasters 28(2): 112-123 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0361-3666.2004.00247.x/pdf

Collins and Weiss – Chapter 2

Barnett – Humanitarianism Transformed

UN General Assembly Resolution on the creation of UN OCHA http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/46/a46r182.htm

IASC standing committee on Clusters


On Funding: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900SID/AMMF-75MGSC/$FILE/Tufts-July2007.pdf

Codes of Conduct

IFRC code of conduct: http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/conduct/code.asp

The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership http://www.hapinternational.org/

An example of a CAP/Cluster approach in action (not in pack)


Additional Reading:

Brauman, Rony (2004) “From Philanthropy to Humanitarianism: Remarks and an Interview” The South Atlantic Quarterly 102(2/3): 397-417.

Brauman, Rony (2006) “Global Media and the Myths of Humanitarian Relief The case of the 2004 Tsunami” CRASH Papers

Clements, Ashley and Edwina Thompson (2009) “Making Tough Calls: decision making in complex humanitarian environments” Humanitarian Exchange Magazine Issue 44 http://www.odihpn.org/report.asp?id=3025

ODI working paper on complexity http://www.odi.org.uk/resources/download/583.pdf 10

HPG Principles in Practice http://www.odi.org.uk/work/projects/details.asp?id=1206&title=humanitarian-principles-practice

Kent, R. C. (1987). Anatomy of disaster relief: the international network in action. London, Pinter.

MSF grey archive on Rwanda Refugee Camps in Zaire (available in Global Resource Centre)

Failure of Humanitarian Action in Rwanda Panorama http://www.spokenword.ac.uk/record_view.php?pbd=gcu-a0a7e0-a


Week 4: Humanitarian Space, Securitization, Remote Management, Logistics

The week examines the emerging concept of „humanitarian space‟. What it means, how it‟s been constructed – legally, figuratively and materially.

Guiding Questions:

 What is humanitarian space?

 Who is it for?

 How is it constructed?

 What are the implications for humanitarianism?

Inter-Agency Standing Committee (2008). Background Document: Preserving Humanitarian Space, Protection and Security. New York, UNICEF. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/48da506c2.html

Abild, E. (2009). Creating Humanitarian Space: A case Study of Somalia. New Issues in Refugee Research. Oxford, UNHCR.

Fast, Larissa – “Mind the Gap” (2010) in EJIR

Van Wassenhove, LN (2006) “Humanitarian Aid Logistics: Supply Chain Management in High Gear” The Journal of Operational Research Society 57(5):475-489.

Agier, Michel (2008) Chapter 3 in On the Margins of the World Cambridge: Polity.

Additional sources

Hyndman, Jennifer.

Garro, H. (2008). Does humanitarian space exist in Chad? Humanitarian Exchange Magazine. London, ODI. http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900sid/EGUA-7NPSWS/$file/odi_dec2008.pdf?openelement (pp. 39-41)

Wagner, J. G. (2005). An IHL/ICRC perspective on „humanitarian space‟. Humanitarian Exchange Magazine. London, ODI. http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900sid/AMMF-6RLDKP/$file/odihpn-gen-dec05.pdf?openelement (pp. 24-26

Lischer, S. K. (2005). Dangerous sanctuaries : refugee camps, civil war, and the dilemmas of humanitarian aid. Ithaca, N.Y. ; London, Cornell University Press.

Debrix, François. (1998) “Deterritorialised Territories, Borderless Borders: The New Geography of International Medical Assistance” Third World Quarterly, 19(5):827-846

Principles pragmatism: NGO engagement with armed actors http://www.worldvision.org.uk/upload/pdf/Principled_pragmatism.pdf

Gibson, T. (2006). “New Orleans and the Wisdom of Lived Space.” Space and Culture 9(1): 45-47.

Burkle, F. (2009). “Sovereignty, Endurance, and the Elusive Search for Humanitarian Space in North Korea ” Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 24(3): 161-165.

Yamashita, H. (2004). Humanitarian space and international politics: the creation of safe areas. Burlington, VT, Ashgate.

Tomaszewski, B and L Czárán, Geographically Visualizing Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) Information

Click to access 152_Geographically%20Visualizing%20Consolidated%20Appeal_Tomaszewski2009.pdf

Thurer, D. (2007). “Dunant’s Pyramid: thoughts on the “humanitarian space”.” International Review of the Red Cross 89: 47-61.

Week 5 – Haiti as complex humanitarian emergency: What happened up to 30 days after the event. This week is devoted to understanding what happened when the quake hit. Who did what, what was the sequencing? We will work together as a class to develop an up-to-date bibliography and a timeline of events.

MSF archive http://www.dwb.org/news/allcontent.cfm?id=208

See http://www.noula.ht/ for events (in French!)


Week 6 – Haiti 2 – Before and After

This week continues the case study looking at the context of Haiti that informs current and continuing events. It will be used to pick out key humanitarian themes such as clusters, logistics, responsibility, camps, media to coordinate, distribution, infrastructure. We will continue developing the case study.

Muggah, Robert (2010) “The effects of stabilisation on humanitarian action in Hait” Disasters 34(S3):S444-S463

Zanotti, Laura (2010) Cacophonies of Aid

Additional Resources

Lucchi, Elena (2010) “Between war and peace: humanitarian assistance in violent urban settings” in Disasters 34(4): 973-995

Week 7 – Essay Week

This week should be used for you to pick the object that you want to investigate for your final essay, identify primary material, decide upon a theoretical framework, and establish an initial bibliography and outline. You are encouraged to come to my office hours to discuss your proposed outline.

Week 8 – New Orleans as state of exception

This week looks at the concept of ”natural disasters” as distinct from CHEs and ask whether the distinction holds. It will look at how one of the highest profile disasters unfolded and how its exceptional nature translated into the way in which it was managed. Through this, the symbolic, metaphoric and actually existing space of the “camp” will be examined. Again, as a class will exploring time line of events, and the response.

Eggers, David – Zeitoun

Hayley – on Camps

Klein, Naomi – Chapter from the Shock Doctrine

Possible Presentations: – timeline of response (who did what, when)

– What is a “disaster”? – legal definitions.


Brinkley, Douglas The Great Deluge

Dyson, Michael Eric (2006) Come Hell or High Water . New York: Basic Civitas

Piazza, Tom City of Refuge ( a novel)

Williams, Stewart (2008) “Rethinking the Nature of Disaster: From Failed Instruments of Learning to a post-Social Understanding” Social Forces 87(2):1115-1139.

Oliver-Smith, A. (1996). “Anthropological research on hazards and disasters.” Annual Review of Anthropology 25(1): 303-328.

Harada, T. (2000). “Space, materials, and the “social”: in the aftermath of a disaster.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18(2): 205-212. 13

Smith, N. (2006). “There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster.” From


Spike Lee’s documentaries: When the Levees Broke and If God is willing and the Creek don’t rise

Trouble the Water (another documentary)

Week 9 – The picturesque and the disaster imaginary – Rebuilding New Orleans

This week looks at the way that disaster (and CHEs) are imagined and how this influences the response. It will continue with our case study of New Orleans to examine the ways in which “outsiders” contributed to the rebuilding of the city, and the resulting implications. Through this we will access the wider discussion of the place and role of „disaster‟ in society at large.

Ophir, Adi “The Politics of Catastrophization: Emergency and Exception” in Fassin and Pandolfi (2010) Contemporary States of Emergency (New York: Zone)

Solnit chapter (to be distributed)

Kingsley, Karen “Rebuilding New Orleans” http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/94.3/kingsley.html

Presentation – “Representing Katrina”.

Additional Reading

Lots of articles by Demond Shondell Miller

A special issue of Space and Culture here: http://www.spaceandculture.org/2005/12/30/disastrous-social-theory-lessons-from-new-orleans/

Bianchini, Stefano et al. (2005) Partitions: Reshaping Hearts and Minds London: Routledge.

Brusma (2007) Katrina: The sociology of disaster

Rozario, K. (2007). Introduction in The culture of calamity : disaster and the making of modern America. Chicago ; London, University of Chicago Press.

Campbell, D. (2007). “Geopolitics and visuality: Sighting the Darfur conflict “ Political Geography 26: 357-382.

Simpson, Edward (2005) “The Gujurat Earthquake and the political economy of nostalgia” Contributions to Indian Sociology 39(2):219-249.

Week 10 – Cultures of Aid – Codes of Conduct

This week will look at the cultures that spring up around aid workers and how they represent and understand themselves. It will look at the idea of the “memoire” (bringing us back to week 1 and H. Dunant’s memoire) and how this has been instrumental in self understandings of humanitarianism. How does the memoire in question square with the standards and principles examined in previous weeks? Whither local populations?

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures

Dawes, James (2007) chapter on “Storytelling” in That the World May Know (Cambridge: HUP)

Presentation: The role of Aid Blogs in contemporary aid work

Additional Readings:

Huggan, Graham (2009) Extreme Pursuits: Travel Writing in an Age of Globalization Ann Arbor: U of Mich Press.

Lewis, et al. “The Fiction of Development” (2008) Journal of Development Studies 44(2):198-216.

Gigliotti, Simone (2007) “Genocide yet again” Australian Journal of Politics and History 53(1):84-95.

Kay Schaffer & Sidonie Smith (2004) “Conjunctions: Life Narratives in the Field of Human Rights” Biography Vol. 27

Pandolfi, M. (2003). “Contract of Mutual (In)Difference: Governance and the Humanitarian Apparatus in Contemporary Albania and Kosovo.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 10: 369-382.

Pouligny, B. (2006). Peace operations seen from below: UN missions and local people. London, Hurst & Co.

Edkins, J. (2000). Whose hunger?: concepts of famine, practices of aid. London, University of Minnesota Press.

Debrix, F. and C. Weber (2003). Rituals of mediation : international politics and social meaning. Minneapolis ; London, University of Minnesota Press. (See chapters by Campbell, Dillon and Weber).

Richmond, O. P. (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 – 344. 15

Rajaram, P. K. and C. Grundy-Warr (2007). Borderscapes : hidden geographies and politics at territory’s edge. Minneapolis, Minn., University of Minnesota Press ; [Bristol : University Presses Marketing, distributor].

Heathershaw, J. (2007). “Peacebuilding as Practice: Discourses from Post-conflict Tajikistan.” International Peacekeeping 14(2): 219-236.

Special issue on spaces of post-conflict state-building in the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 2(3) 2008

Eggers, D. (2008). What is the what : the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng : a novel. London, Penguin.

Malkki, L. H. (1995). Purity and exile : violence, memory, and national cosmology among Hutu refugees in Tanzania. Chicago ; London, University of Chicago Press.

Malkki, L. H. (1996). “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization.” Cultural Anthropology 11(3): 377-404.

Ek, R. (2006). “Giogio Agamben and the spatialities of the camp: an introduction.” Geografiska Annaler, Series B 88(4): 363-386.

Salter, M. B. (2003). Rights of passage : the passport in international relations. Boulder, Colo; London, Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 22(1) 2004 is a special issue on complexity and networks.

Coward, M. (2006). “Against anthropocentrism: the destruction of the built environment as a distinct form of political violence” Review of International Studies 32: 419-437.

Hansen, T. B. and F. Stepputat (2005). Sovereign bodies : citizens, migrants, and states in the postcolonial world. Princeton, N.J. ; Oxford, Princeton University Press.

Spatializing Communicative Ethics

“Spatializing Communicative Ethics: Politics and Legitimacy in Peace Negotiations,” unpublished paper (2010), co-authored with Naomi Head (Aberystwyth); for presentation at ISA conference, New Orleans

This working paper draws attention to the significance of the “space” of peace negotiations.  It argues that the material and spatial circumstances surrounding peace negotiations add an additional dimension to theories of communicative legitimacy.  This raises two issues: first, should spatial and material factors be considered as potentially decisive mitigating factors in the outcome of negotiations? Second, what would a theory that incorporated spatial and material considerations and communication look like and how would it contribute to our current understandings of power within international relations?  The paper will consider three instances during the Kosovo negotiations prior to the use of force by NATO in 1999 to demonstrate the influential role that these factors played in shaping both the interactions between parties and the outcome of the various talks.  The paper suggests the need for spatial, material and communicative factors to be recognised as central to both the analysis and outcome of peace talks and calls for the development of a new model which does so.[1]


This is a working paper in the very early stages.  It is a first attempt at mapping out a new research agenda bringing together theories of spatiality, materiality and communicative ethics.  We believe that this is an underexplored area in International Relations as a discipline and in related spheres such as peacekeeping, peace negotiations, humanitarian intervention and international development.

Drawing on the case of Kosovo we identify three key moments in the peace negotiations which took place at different points prior to NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999.  These three moments reveal different uses of space and allow us to identify elements for further research.  While it may seem evident that space has been used for symbolic and political purposes, by analysing the material and spatial conditions surrounding the negotiations which have largely been under-theorised, we can explore its impact on formal and informal negotiations which take place within the international sphere by state and non-state actors.

1) Communicative Ethics and the Case of Kosovo

Kosovo is an appropriate case study because negotiations failed to prevent the use of force for humanitarian purposes by NATO in 1999 which took place without the authorisation of the Security Council.  It was, therefore, a highly contested intervention and one which was identified as ‘illegal but legitimate’ by the Independent International Commission on Kosovo.[2]  Whilst NATO did not justify its actions in the language of humanitarian intervention per se, it was argued that the use of force was indeed the last resort due to the failure of negotiations.  Although justifications are usually offered in deliberative forums such as the UN Security Council, the presence of power and interests, and the concerns over the legitimacy of the decisions taken mean that we need to be able to challenge these claims.  Moral reasons dominated the justifications offered for the intervention in Kosovo, but there were problems with the consensus that the interveners claimed existed.  This suggests that it is worth subjecting the nature of the communication which took place to closer analysis.  In order to critically analyse the dialogue which took place within the United Nations Security Council and during the negotiations at Rambouillet in February 1999 prior to NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo and Serbia, we need to be able to adequately theorise concepts of communication and legitimacy.

Communicative ethics draws on the critical theory of Jürgen Habermas to develop a framework which can be applied to particular moments of dialogue. [3]  It builds on the ‘linguistic turn’ in social and political theory which has been taken up by theorists in critical international theory.[4]  For Habermas, as indeed for other critical thinkers, including some post-structuralists, the politics of speech is preferable to the politics of force.[5]  Embedded in the critical theoretical project of the Frankfurt School and its later adherents is a belief in the emancipatory purpose of critique.  Habermas’ account of discourse ethics requires that moral agents should challenge the boundaries drawn by accounts of the sovereign state which are given moral significance in terms of our responsibilities towards others through the requirement to include all those who may be affected.  Habermas’ work, particularly his discourse ethics, has been understood to offer a way in which to turn a critical eye on the problem of justification in contemporary international politics.  By conceiving of communicative ethics as a principle of legitimacy rather than as a means for institutional design, we can thus avoid some of the difficulties raised by critics of constructing a Habermasian politics.  The ‘ideal speech situation’, which is central to discourse ethics (although not intended to be a concrete reality) offers a position from which we can evaluate social practices and assess the legitimacy of norms.  The ideal of complete participation permits us not only to examine the legitimacy of real moments of participation, but also operates as an emancipatory device.[6]

Drawing on Habermas’s concept of discourse ethics and in the spirit of critical theory, communicative ethics it is intended, inter alia, to reveal empirical moments of exclusion, coercion, misrecognition, reflexivity (or lack of) on the part of actors, and the degree of coherence within the justifications offered and between words and actions.  By doing so, it not only challenges claims to legitimacy which actors attach to their moral and legal justifications concerning the use of force for humanitarian purposes, but offers a framework with an emancipatory aim.  Whilst legitimacy is most commonly conceived of through a moral or legal lens, communicative ethics is intended to offer a deliberative dimension to legitimacy.  Communicative ethics, therefore, is able to highlight the nature of communicative distortion present within decision-making processes in the Security Council and during peace negotiations.  In terms of Kosovo, it is able to challenge traditional interpretations of the intervention through its focus on the quality of communication and the consequent implications for legitimacy.  It challenges the justifications of last resort and it highlights key moments of illegitimate dialogue (contra the claims of the respective actors) which directly led to the use of force.

For the purposes of this analysis, humanitarian intervention is taken to mean the use of force by states across another state’s borders without their consent for humanitarian purposes.  However, we recognise that the variety of practices which fall within the rubric of humanitarianism are far wider than this and many do not involve the use of military force.

2) Space as an analytical and theoretical tool

An examination of the quality and nature of communication in peace-negotiations lends itself to emerging work in the area of humanitarianism[7]and critical peacekeeping[8] which looks at how the material circumstances and underpinnings of interventions and responses are inseparable from the overall intervention.  The infrastructure, modes of service delivery, daily work and life rituals of national and international officials, and the movements and patterns that take place are all part of the spatial practice of humanitarian action. This both shapes the perceptions of those who are doing the intervention and those that are being performed upon.  Similar considerations can be raised in the context of peace negotiations.

Work on the spatial turn in social theory[9]stressed the significance of considering space and spatiality as integral to any social science analysis.  Most notably, within sociology, the need to recognise the mutual constitution of the material world and social relations was brought into mainstream discourse. The impact was twofold. First, the idea of materiality structuring perceptions and dispositions was recovered from Marxism and revised within neo-marxist frameworks. Theorists such as Giddens and Bourdieu agreed that consciousness was structured by material circumstances but wanted to simultaneously explore the possibilities of individual agency and non-determinism.[10]   Second, it drew attention to the degree to which space and spatiality is determined by the practices, patterns and movements of its users and “creators”. Theorists such as Lefebvre, and later Harvey, were interested in elucidating the multiple, overlapping and unclear terrain upon which discussions about space had taken place. For example, in The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre famously lays out a tri-partite framework for examining space.[11] He lays out a model of conceived, perceived and lived spaces. Conceived space (or representations of space) is “conceptualised space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers…all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived.”[12] Perceived space (or spatial practice) is the space of everydayness.  It is how a place is commonly used in routine existence and contains the “routes and networks which link up the places set aside for work, ‘private’ life and leisure.”[13]  Lived space (or representational space) is the space of “the imagination which has been kept alive and accessible by the arts and literature.”[14]  It is space as lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’…This is the dominated – and hence passively experienced – space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate.  It overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects.[15]

This tri-partite model (or triple dialectic) has proved useful for subsequent theoretical explorations of the nature of space.  For example, David Harvey lays out the categories of space as absolute, relative and relational.[16]  A third spatial theorist who is well known for his work on spatial trilectics is Ed Soja who translates Lefebvre’s framework into a First Space which is known, mappable (analogous, according to Soja, to Lefebvre’s perceived space); a Second Space which is imagined (analogous to Lefebvre’s conceived and lived spaces), and a Third Space which brings together spaces which are both real and imagined.[17]

Soja’s work was well received within the realm of post-structural/post-colonial studies both of which were interested in the ways in which space – and the related categories of identity – were malleable and constructed.  Work on hybrid or ‘third spaces’ became commonplace as normative frameworks by the likes of Bhabba, Appadurai and Spivak who advocated their potential as emancipatory locales/conditions.

At the same time, work by Thrift, Latour, and Miller expressed interest in the potential of a re-examination of the constraints and possibilities for social theory offered by an object centred approach.[18]  In contrast to the idealist, or subjectivist position of post-structural/post-colonial theorists, non-representational theorists were interested in the limiting e/affect or structural influence that the material world has on individual action.  Evoking the work of Bourdieu and Giddens, there is the recognition of cognition of a co-constitution of the material/structural world and the subjective experience of it.

Returning to our initial observation, however, by and large these debates and theoretical expositions have largely passed by the realm of humanitarian and development studies and by extension, peace negotiations.  In fact, the area of enquiry which takes the material and spatial conditions most seriously with regard to their impact upon social relations is the study of diplomatic relations, although, generally, they are approached from an under-theorized position.[19]  This paper begins to rectify this omission by concentrating on the application of a spatial approach to the realm of peace-negotiations and in particular to examining how such an approach may contribute to an improved understanding of the quality, and ultimately legitimacy, of communication therein.  In the context of this paper, both spatial and material theoretical approaches are considered.  This consciously broad brush approach allows us to begin to identify which approaches are worthy of further enquiry.

Now we turn to the three examples whereby illegitimacy has been identified within the negotiations and explore the relationship between illegitimate communicative practices and the possible effects of particular spatial practices.  This will enable us to identify factors which bear closer investigation in terms of their impact on peace negotiations.

a) London Conference, 1992

Having declared independence in October 1991, Kosovo struggled to achieve recognition from the international community.  Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the dominant political party in Kosovo, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and soon to be the elected President of the Republic of Kosova, was not invited to the July 1991 European Community Conference on Yugoslavia (ECCY) which ended the fighting in Slovenia and marked the beginning of Europe’s efforts to broaden the search for a Yugoslav settlement.  According to the Brioni Joint Declaration, the Kosovo Albanians had no choice but to remain within Serbia, given that it established that the principle of the right to self-determination was limited to Yugoslav “peoples”.[20]  A request for recognition by the ECCY in 1991 was refused, as were requests to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to be allowed to express their views.[21]  At the same conference the European Community (EC) chief negotiator excluded the issue of Kosovo altogether in his attempt to keep Milošević on board.  Despite Kosovo’s status as a constitutional entity under the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution, it was not invited to participate in the peace process.[22]  In a move which firmly established the exclusion of Kosovo from the international agenda, the ECCY defined Kosovo as an ‘internal’ problem for Yugoslavia, thus preventing it from facing further international scrutiny and involvement.[23]

The exclusion from the international community of states that Kosovo was experiencing in the context of international negotiations was played out in more than metaphorical terms. At the London Conference of August 1992 which was set up to address the ongoing conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the Kosovars were only semi-invited by the chair, Lord Carrington, who wrote a few days prior to the start of the conference to say that ‘If you are planning to be in London at the time of the conference’, then it would be possible to have some meetings, but it would not ‘for practical and other reasons, be possible to grant your delegation access to the Conference chamber.’[24]  The Kosovar delegation, therefore, was not permitted to physically enter the chamber or to represent themselves through oral participation.[25]  Instead, they were put in a salle d’écoute – a small side room with a live video link.  It also seems that the delegation was not officially hosted by the Conference.

In addition to the spatial restrictions, there were also linguistic factors as the official languages of the conference were English, French and Serbo-Croat – Albanian was not included.  Whilst this is perhaps not surprising given the political situation and the subordinate position of Kosovo on the international agenda, when considered in the context of the repression of the Albanian language experienced in Kosovo by Serbia, it reinforces the convergence of nation and language central to notions of sovereignty and territory.[26]  Language remained an important divide within Kosovo – between Albanian and Serbian – and was used or repressed for political purposes on many occasions.  Kosovo’s main Albanian–language daily newspaper, Rilindja, was closed down in 1990 and many other institutions, cultural and otherwise, were closed down or merged with their Serbian counterparts.  Education and the right to teach in Albanian and shape the local curriculum was also a highly politicised issue, with Albanian teachers and lecturers being sacked and the Serbian curriculum imposed on schools. This was compounded by the closing down in 1991 of companies that published textbooks and teaching resources in Albanian.[27]

Ironically, in the letter of invitation that also described the expected spatial restrictions, Carrington remarks that ‘We are thus making strenuous efforts to ensure that the views of the Kosovo Albanians are heard’.[28] However, while mentioned in the overall picture concerning ethnic minorities within the former Yugoslavia, the concerns of the Kosovars were not seriously discussed at the conference.  A working group on Kosovo was established, but at Milošević’s insistence, it was only to deal with issues on minority rights.  The group produced a ‘joint Serb-Albanian statement aimed at normalising the divided Kosovo educational system, but the agreement collapsed after the Serbs arrested the rector of the Albanian underground university.’[29]   According to Weller, ‘[w]orse than the lack of progress on the education issue may have been that the mere existence of the Special Group gave the impression that the Kosovo problem was now being addressed in some way by an international forum’.  No agreement was actually reached until 1996 and nothing concrete ever emerged afterwards.[30]  Mertus concurs that despite overwhelming evidence presented over a number of years from reliable sources that conflict in Kosovo was looming, international policymakers failed to treat Kosovo seriously.[31]  The price of the working group on minority rights was the dismissal of the issue of Kosovo’s legal status and any hope of inclusion for the Kosovo Albanians in the peace process.[32]  The de facto failure of the conference raises the possibility that a different approach, which took spatial and communicative considerations into account would have altered the outcome of the conference for the Kosovars.[33]

If we accept that spatial and material factors are potentially decisive mitigating factors in the outcome of negotiations, then it is possible to argue that the communicative and spatial exclusion enacted upon Rugova was co-constitutive. Most obvious was the issue of Rugova’s physical separation from the core proceedings.  His inability to participate, and by extension, the inability for the Kosovars to participate has a series of implications.  The first, concerns the physical distancing it imposed. The direct implication of this was that the Kosovar position was not represented during the talks. This ensured that the Kosovars had to watch the fate of almost everyone else in the former Yugoslavia being discussed, except their own. Of course, as already mentioned, the exclusion of Rugova also needs to be read in the context of accommodating Milosovic; there is no question that the need to negotiate with Milošević was far higher on the agenda of the international community than Kosovo was.

On a metaphorical level, Rugova’s absence echoed both Milosovic’s attempts to cleanse the Serbian space of Kosovar Albanians, and the ‘invisible’ status that Kosovo held within the community of international sovereign states.  According to Dovey, such an organisation of space mediates social interactions, “particularly the visibility and invisibility of others [and] becomes crucial to effective practices of coercion”.[34]  Unlike naked force, coercion may operate “under the cover of voluntarism” and has long been closely linked to spatial forms of organization.[35] At its most effective such an exercise of power is concealed from the subject who, “‘framed’ in a situation that may resemble free choice,” does not consider that there is any need to resist.[36] Such observations provide a possible explanation for Rugova’s subsequent reference to his ‘inclusion’ in the talks to indicate that diplomatic progress was being made and that the Kosovars were better represented at international summits than previously.[37]

Crary discusses how the rise of 19th century filmic technologies created a novel form of subjectivity that was governed through the act of observing, rather than being observed.[38] Rugova’s position of viewer rather than participant of the conference, likewise implies an inversion of a traditional Foucauldian perspective. Instead of a situation where the viewing of the conference participants by Rugova might have constrained their behaviours or pronouncements, Rugova’s position as passive viewer eliminated any possibility of his altering or changing events.  The effect of this was to disempower the Kosovars still further.  Moreover, these power relations would have been made more acute by Milošević’s awareness of the relative impotence of the Kosovars within the international community. Understanding that international attention was focused on the ongoing conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia, and aware of his own centrality to any peace negotiation, he used this to influence the exclusion of Kosovo from the agenda.[39]

In conclusion, in terms of the legitimacy and long-term success of the conference, the spatial factor is highly relevant, not least in terms of its psychological impact on Rugova, but also in terms of providing clear signals as to the way in which Kosovo was viewed by more powerful Western states.  Thus, the spatial element allows us to do two things:  first, it enables us to develop narratives of representation, of ‘self’ and ‘other’ in relation to Kosovo and the West; and second, it allows us to reflect upon material and affective constraints on participants.

b) Heathrow Airport, 8 October 1998

On 8 October 1998, a key meeting took place in a VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport.  The meeting brought together former British Foreign Secretary, the late Robin Cook, Hubert Védrine, his French counterpart, Klaus Kinkel, the German foreign minister, Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, Richard Holbrooke, Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, as well as representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Austrians in their capacity as current EU chairmen, and other ministers and aides. The question was the use of force and the need – or not – for a Security Council mandate.

As it was not a public meeting, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what was said. However, it is known that the decision was taken to reduce the number of people present from approximately 50 people crammed in the VIP lounge to include only the foreign ministers and a few other key actors as named above.  Reports of the meeting indicate that the Russians threatened to veto the use of force if it was put to a resolution in the Security Council (as wished for by the French and British) whereas if the Security Council was boycotted, then they would simply make a lot of noise but would not prevent NATO from acting. [40]  Given that one of the most controversial factors of the intervention was the fact that military force was used by NATO (a regional defense organisation) without a Security Council mandate, this meeting clearly represents a significant step in the process which allowed the Security Council to be bypassed.

This meeting raises concerns when considered in context of communicative inclusion.  It was a deliberately exclusionary meeting as it only consulted key (Western/Contact Group) figures which firmly closed the door to other interested parties and located control over the decision-making procedures and the agenda firmly in the hands of the powerful few.  In addition, neither the interests of the Albanians or Serbs were directly represented and there is little indication of reflexivity concerning whether or not this was an appropriate forum in which to decide such a crucial question. Similar to the situation at the 1992 Conference, the physical inclusion of Kosovar representatives was not deemed necessary.  Even if the decision to exclude relevant parties had been justified in terms of efficiency (and such justifications were not offered), this indicates a strategic and manipulative attitude both to dialogue and the need for inclusion and fair deliberation to achieve legitimacy.   It successfully prevents further public dialogue and allows strategic action to dominate while remaining unacknowledged and unjustified in a public forum such as the UN Security Council or General Assembly. Politically, it served to enable the argument to be made for the use of force without being subjected to a public process. It is worth, therefore, considering the physical context in which the meeting occurred:  Heathrow Airport.

An emerging literature on airports highlights their particular spatial and material (architectural) characteristics.[41]  Salter divides contemporary theories about airports into two broad categories – those concerned with airports as spaces of governmentality[42] and those, drawing on work by Latour, and/or Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari which approach them as assemblages or networks.[43] Both groups consider the space of the airport to be significant in its own right. As a space, its primary function is to move individuals and objects from one place to another.[44]   And while it serves as a node, or bridge between different places, it is simultaneously separate from all of them.  The space of the airport operates according to its own temporal logic – that of flights, of destinations, of simultaneous time zones.  There is no “night” in an airport – it is always open, always available for the movements of its users and operators.  It is heterotopic in its makeup – the site of multiple languages, currencies, dress and customs.  As such it is potentially dislocating and destabilizing for its users who must operate according to the logic of the airport or miss their flights, be deported or expelled.[45]

Since its inception, the airport was a site of privilege as only the wealthy had the wherewithal to travel:  “the history of flight has, of course, been a history of difference and class inequality.”[46]  The rituals of the airport were geared to providing a luxurious aesthetic experience with a range of departure lounges, ‘clubs’ and memberships. While the ability to access air travel has now been extended to a wide range of individuals, the pleasurable, luxurious, sensuous possibilities promised for those who can afford it continues to be an integral part of airlines’ marketing campaigns.  The airport’s historical legacy is also one of patriarchy – with gender roles being written into the rituals and performances of passengers and employees alike, the most obvious being the clichéd interaction between the solo, predatory, male business traveller and the attractive, highly sexualised female flight attendant.  Similarly, as a consumption space, it is marked by a focus on luxury items, and historically on exorbitant gifts to be given by the male business traveller to his waiting spouse: perfume, whisky, watches and sunglasses. Obviously in the context of our discussions, Global War On Terror concerns had not imposed themselves onto the architecture of airports to the degree which they have today. However terrorism was always a concern as evidenced in the architectural plans of airports: one-way mirrors, controlled zones, concealed holding cells.

What is significant for our purposes, it that the space of the airport is a historically unequal space.  Divisions between types of individuals are written into its functionality.  According to Adey, “the metaphor of the filter achieved material form in the shape of the airport terminal itself”:  sorting locals from globals, legitimate passengers from potential terrorists, business class from economy.[47]  Not only is such filtering justified based on security concerns, but, within the space of the airport, it is considered to be beyond question.  Consider that many of the barriers or sorting devices that are used to move people through the various areas are permeable, termporary:  cordons, movable walls, tape marks on the floor.[48]  Yet the majority of individuals conform to the expected spatial practice without question.

Turning back to the example in question, it is worth asking how such an important meeting was deemed to be legitimate when held in such a forum.  Whilst the reason for the meeting of foreign ministers and diplomats in the airport was no more sinister than because their schedules made it a matter of convenience to do so, there is some importance in the fact that the decision taken here was done so in a forum that was unaccountable and lacked transparency.  The decision taken was a crucial step towards permitting the use of force by NATO without the authority of the Security Council and the question that is raised by its location is reinforced by the lack of criticism that it has received in the literature.  While Judah offers a narrative description of the proceedings, little attention is paid to this elsewhere.  This poses the question as to whether there is something about the nature of the airport that mirrors the kind of private ‘conversations in the corridors’ where the real decisions are often made in contemporary politics.  Whilst we cannot know whether this move would have received more criticism had it been made in a bar or a café, this raises a fascinating counterfactual which places an emphasis on the need to recognise the significance of space.  It also raises questions as to how the physical space may shape expectations of what is considered to be acceptable practice in particular places, and by extension, contribute to the shaping of parameters and expectations of communication.

c) Rambouillet negotiations

The last negotiations prior to NATO’s intervention took place at Rambouillet, a château outside Paris, beginning 6 February 1999.  Whilst the negotiations at Rambouillet were the most substantive of those held over Kosovo there were significant differences in the attitudes of the parties towards engaging in dialogue conducive to compromise.  The negotiations at Rambouillet were comprised of two parts.  The diplomatic part was based on the basis of draft proposals for Kosovo’s future already worked out by the international community’s negotiators (Christopher Hill (USA); Wolfgang Petritsch (EU); Boris Mayorski (Russia) ).  The other half was the credible threat of force provided by NATO who had issued a statement to this effect on the 30 January 1999.  It was believed by the international community that, on the one hand, the threat of force would be enough to persuade the Serbs to sign an agreement, while on the other, the threat of the withdrawal of political and military support would force the Kosovars to sign.

While the Kosovo delegation submitted detailed comments on the formal documents presented to it at Rambouillet, eleven days passed before the Serb/Yugoslav delegation submitted any written comments, during which time they remained at the château.  During this time, Kosovo’s submissions had not received any feedback.  What triggered participation by the Serbs in the form of a written response to the documents was a trip by Christopher Hill (the US negotiator) to speak to Milošević in Belgrade.  Following the Yugoslav/Serb submission on Milošević’s instructions, a revised draft was produced by the international negotiators, which not only reintroduced the issue of the legal status of Kosovo (a key condition of the Kosovar agreement to come to Rambouillet was that Kosovo’s legal status would not be determined), but also introduced a number of proposals responding to Milošević’s demands, including a second parliamentary chamber which further entrenched the concept of national communities and a veto mechanism for all national communities which would have effectively paralysed legislative action in Kosovo.[49]  In the attempt to ensure that the Serbs would sign, some argue that significant compromises and attention were granted the Serb delegation, thus skewing the effective opportunity of the Kosovo Albanians to guide the development of the settlement.[50]  The Kosovo delegation questioned the fairness of a process which rewarded the Serbs for their obstruction of the talks:[51]

“If the consent of the delegation of Kosova is sought, the unilateral changes imposed, apparently as a result of talks outside of the Conference, must be reversed.  There cannot be a process of obtaining concessions from the Kosova delegation first, through the process of regular proximity talks which this delegation has constructively supported from the first day of the conference, and of then imposing a second set of unacceptable concessions as a result of separate negotiations between the Contact Group and Belgrade in which the Kosova delegation has no involvement [bold added].”[52]

The above quotation helps to identify some of the ways in which spatiality shaped communication in the context of the negotiations.  First, we need to consider what the significance, symbolic, historical and political, is of using this château.  Rambouillet has a long history linked to French politics, having been the haunt of kings, emperors and politicians for many centuries.  It was initially established in 1367 as a fortified manor and still retains its pentagonal bastioned footprint.[53] In 1783 it was purchased by Louis the XVI who built a decorative dairy – ‘la laitiere de la reine’ – for his wife, Marie Antoinette. With the French revolution (1789) it became a public good, and remained so until Napolean I included it in his liste civile (government owned properties at the disposal of the heads of state).  It was the last place that he visited on his way into exile in 1815.  In 1896, President Felix Faure used it as his summer residence and it has since been reserved as such for all subsequent Presidents of the French Republic.  In the 20th century it has also played host to heads of state, government and international conferences. It was here that the first G6 conference was held in 1975, hosted by Valerie Giscard D’Estaigne.[54]



So within the French psyche, the place of the chateau has been equated with the power of the sovereign – both monarchs and presidents – and can be seen as drawing on the continuity of France not only as a recent republic but as an ancien regime. The significance of the château is also closely linked to European politics more broadly including state formation and culture.  Robin Cook, then British Foreign Secretary, observed:

“This château has not always been so peaceful.  The castle which stood at this site has been attacked three times by the English.  However, today Britain and France preside jointly over these talks – a symbol of the strong partnership which we have forged.”[55]

While on one hand, this observation may seem ominous – evoking the violent history of site – it may also be read as hopeful, as England and France, once enemies, are now diplomatic partners.  In that sense it was seen as an appropriate and symbolic venue to try and enable the Kosovars and Serbs to cease fighting and work out a settlement.

We now need to explore the spatial and communicative practices which took place during the negotiations themselves; that is how the delegates used the space and how it may have contributed to shaping their actions, and ultimately to the outcome of negotiations.[56]

A venue such as Rambouillet is conceived within diplomatic spheres as being an ideal venue for high level, sensitive negotiations as it provides the opportunity for delegates to address sensitive issues in privacy and without fear of being observed or reported upon (by the media, by other parties). Such a removed context also forces the delegates to interact with one another in informal ways, in order to foster mutual understanding and recognition that will carry over into the formal negotiations.[57]  As such, the space of the chateau was intended as an effectively closed sphere, where the attentions of the delegates were turned inward, to focus on one another, to improve their communication with, and understanding of one another.  In fact, the practices that were enacted succeeded in retaining a spatial partition that both replicated and reinforced the political divisions which characterized their respective positions.

Although the conference was intended to be segregated with the outcome based on those people physically present, there are a number of factors which indicate that ongoing lines of external communication were vital to both parties: Hill’s trip to Belgrade to see Milošević, despite the supposed competence of the Yugoslav delegation; the external Western advisors brought in for the Kosovar delegation due to their lack of expertise in legal and diplomatic matters; the link with the KLA fund-raisers in the USA who put pressure on the Kosovar delegation by telephone to sign the agreement, and the Kosovar insistence that they would sign the agreement but needed to consult with people at home more fully. In particular, the use of mobile phones by the delegates is worth noting.  Although mobile phones were technically not allowed, they were used by both delegations and other key figures and served to shape the delegations’ decisions and enabled communication with key actors who were not physically present at the château (such as Milošević on the Serbian side, Adem Demaçi, a senior Kosovar figure, and members of the KLA Homeland Calling Fund diaspora in Germany and the USA on the Albanian side). The initial idea had been to segregate the delegates and indeed ‘their passes were marked in such a way that the chateau guards would block their way if they tried to leave.  In fact, such seclusion proved impossible, thanks to mobile phones’[58].

Accordingly, although the space of the chateau was intended to evoke a diplomatic heritage of a safe, secluded, bounded space, in which participants could interact as equal elite power brokers to shape their joint and respective futures, the reality was rather different.  The seclusion of the space was shot through with uncertainties introduced by the intrusion of external voices and presences.  Further, the status of the ‘elite’ participants within the guests was far from equal.  The Kosovars, did not all have passports and, following problems with their departure from Kosovo as a result of Serbian intervention, had to be issued travel documents by the French.  The movement and placement of the participants within the château itself was similarly unequal.  One lawyer commented that:

“the Albanians found themselves lodged in small rooms, under the eaves, ‘without en suite facilities.’  Meanwhile everyone was furious when Italian diplomats, there as part of the Contact Group, the EU and the OSCE delegations locked up shower rooms and toilets for themselves and kept the keys. […] Both delegations were given formal conference rooms.  The Albanians were given ‘a fabulous marbled salon,’ while the Serb room right above, ‘was not so splendid.”[59]

Nor was this grievance allowed any opportunity to be resolved through informal means:

“Although they had sat next to each other during the opening speeches, neither would have to endure this painful ordeal again, apart from the odd ceremonial appearance.  The large dining area was divided into two inter-connecting rooms with two buffets so the Serbs and Albanians neither had to eat nor queue together. […] It is of course a cliché that the real work in international conferences is actually done in the corridors rather than around the negotiating table.  Rambouillet proved the exception to the rule.”[60]

Another exception was in the overt lack of privacy of the negations.  As mentioned, a key premise of such high level negotiations, is that delegates have privacy. At Rambouillet, this was not the case:

“Each room was equipped with a very obvious video camera and outside the chateau was a large lorry with blacked-out windows and cables trailing from it.  Not unreasonably, the delegates assumed that nothing they said was private.”[61]

These spatial and material conditions contributed to a dynamic of increased physical separation, and importantly, the symbolic enactment or performance of this separation:

“Members of both delegations ignored each other when they passed in the corridors. […] To the irritation of the Albanians and others, they [the Yugoslav delegation] tended to congregate in carious public parts of the chateau and gossip, a fact which earned them the nickname of the ‘tea club’.  Even more irritating was the fact that they would keep much of the rest of the chateau awake by late-night carousing and the singing of Serbian songs which induced the negotiators to complain.”[62]

It is worth considering the role that the use of shuttle diplomacy played in shaping the outcome of the negotiations.  Shuttle diplomacy, as opposed to face to face dialogue, was the method adopted throughout the negotiations and its spatial aspect informed the nature of the communication and, arguably, helped to influence the failure to come to an agreement.  The use of proximity talks, or shuttle diplomacy, at Rambouillet instead of direct talks may have been a more likely means through which to arrive at an agreement, but not necessarily a more effective means of achieving peace as it does not offer the parties a chance to understand the legitimacy behind the actions of the other. Consequently, the enforcement of the settlement is likely to be more difficult as the agreement is founded on a threat of force and coercion rather than reflecting genuine persuasion, empathy and understanding.

4)  Conclusion

The three factors which we have identified as being relevant to an analysis of the impact of spatial and material factors on communicative actions are:

1. Space sets the parameters for what is considered to be acceptable communicative behaviour

2. Space needs to be taken into consideration in terms of potential coercive power

3. Space needs to be investigated further in terms of how it conditions and shapes expectations and responses.

The attempt to map out a new research agenda serves to broaden the understanding of communicative legitimacy to incorporate spatial and material practice.  Such a research agenda would have practical and theoretical implications.  Practically, it lends itself to the developing an awareness of the need to take into account a wider range of factors which impact upon peace negotiations.  Theoretically, it contributes to work by Bourdieu and Giddens which recognizes the interplay between structural and subjective concerns.  In addition, it makes a theoretical contribution to work on communicative ethics and deliberative legitimacy in International Relations, indicating that they would benefit from an increased awareness of spatial and material practices.  While it might not be possible to claim that they are decisive in determining communicative legitimacy, there are clearly embedded spatial and material practices within the sphere of dialogic interaction which need to be taken into consideration.

Finally, it also raises theoretical questions concerning whether linguistic (representational) and material/spatial (non-representational) approaches are compatible.  While the preliminary analysis presented here suggests that they offer complementary critical approaches, it is also clear that they need to be carefully balanced.  This is an area which requires further research – going beyond the scope of this paper, but fitting into a wider research agenda.  This approach also contributes to the emerging work on ‘practice’ in international relations and to developing a kind of critical diplomatic theory given that the questions of space and communicative practice tend not to be questioned in the diplomatic literature.

[1] This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [PTA-026-27-1979].

[2] Independent International Commission on Kosovo, 2000, The Kosovo Report, Oxford, Oxford University Press

[3] Jürgen Habermas, 1984, The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society (Vol.1), London, Heineman Educational Books; 1987, The Theory of Communicative Action: The Critique of Functionalist Reason (Vol. 2), Cambridge, Polity Press; 1990, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, (Trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen), Cambridge, Polity Press;  Naomi Head, 2008, ‘Critical Theory and its Practices: Habermas, Kosovo and International Relations’, Politics, 28(3), p.150-9; Richard Shapcott, 2001, Justice, Community and Dialogue in International Relations? Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; Kimberley Hutchings, 2005, ‘Speaking and hearing: Habermasian discourse ethics, feminism and IR’, Review of International Studies, 31

[4] Andrew Linklater, 1998, The Transformation of Political Community: Ethical Foundations of the Post-Westphalia Era, Cambridge, Polity Press

[5] Andrew Linklater, 2007, ‘Distant Suffering and Cosmopolitan Obligations’, International Politics, 44

[6] Head, 2008

[7] Duffield, Mark, 2009, Architectures of Aid Lecture, University of Cambridge; Smirl, Lisa, 2008, ‘Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves: Spatial Dimensions of International Humanitarian Response’ International Political Sociology, 2(3), September, 236-53

[8] Richmond, O. P. (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 – 344; Higate, P. and M. Henry (2009). Insecure spaces : peacekeeping, power and performance in Haiti, Kosovo and Liberia. London, Zed.

[9] Thrift, N. J. 2008. Non-representational theory: space, politics, affect. International library of sociology, (London: Routledge); Crang, Mike and Nigel Thrift. 2000. Thinking Space. Critical Geographies, (London and New York: Routledge); Soja, Edward W. 1996. Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. (Oxford: Blackwell).

[10] Giddens, Anthony. 1984. The constitution of society: introduction of the theory of structuration. (Berkeley: University of California Press); Bourdieu, Pierre & Richard Nice. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge studies in social anthropology vol. 16, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

[11] Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The production of space. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).

[12] Lefebvre, 1991, p. 38.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Shields, Rob. 2004. Henri Lefebvre, in Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin & Gill Valentine (eds.) Key thinkers on space and place (London: Sage), p. 210.

[15] Lefebvre, 1991, p. 39.

[16] Harvey, David. 2006. Space as a key word, in Spaces of Global Capitalism:  Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development (London: Verso).

[17] Soja, 1996.

[18] Thrift, 2008; Latour, Bruno. 1993. We have never been modern. (New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf); Miller, Daniel. 2005. Materiality:  An Introduction, in Daniel Miller (ed.) Materiality (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press).

[19] Berridge, Geoff. 2005. Diplomacy : theory and practice. 3rd ed. edn., (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

[20] The main reason for Kosovo’s lack of republic status was the Yugoslav constitutional distinction which determined that nations, not nationalities, should have republic status. This was a distinction which the EC and the international community used to its advantage to enable it to draw the line between legitimate statehood and secession.

[21] Letter from Dr. Rugova to Lord Carrington, Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, 22 December 1991 where he requests that ‘the Republic of Kosova be recognised as a sovereign and independent state.’ Marc Weller, 1999a, The Crisis in Kosovo 1989-1999, Vol.1, Cambridge, Documents & Analysis Publishing Ltd. p.347.

[22] Alex Bellamy, 2002, Kosovo and International Society, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, p.22-4.

[23] The Kosovo Report, p.57.  The London Conference on Former Yugoslavia of August 1992 transformed the European Community Conference on Former Yugoslavia into the ICFY (International Conference on Former Yugoslavia), with co-chairs from the UN and the EC (David Owen and Cyrus Vance).

[24] Tim Judah, 2002, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2nd edition, p.92-3.

[25] Louis Sell, 2002,  Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, USA, Duke University Press, p.108.

[26] Rules of Procedure, London Conference: http://sca.lib.liv.ac.uk/collections/owen/boda/lcrule.pdf, accessed 21 January 2010.

[27] Denisa Kostovičová, 2005, Kosovo: the politics of identity and space, London, Routledge.

[28] Letter from Lord Carrington to Rugova, emphasis added. Weller, 1999a, p.86.

[29] Sell, 2002, p.109.

[30] St Egidio Education Agreement, 1 September 1996, Weller, 1999, p.93

[31] Julie Mertus, 2000, ‘Reconsidering the Legality of Humanitarian Intervention: Lessons from Kosovo’, William and Mary Law Review, 41, p.1743-4

[32] Bellamy, 2002, p.31

[33] Certainly the conference cannot be considered a success for the Kosovars and neither was it for the wider situation in the former Yugoslavia which was the actual focus of the conference (notably the conflict in Bosnia).  However, we are not making claims concerning the spatial and communicative practices of the other delegations at the conference.

[34] Dovey, Kim. 1999. Framing places: mediating power in built form. Architext series, (London: Routledge), p.13.

[35] Dovey, 1999, p. 12; In latin, the root of coerce is ‘coercere’ meaning ‘to surround’, Dovey, 1999;   See also Weinstein, M. 1972. Coercion, Space, and the Modes of Human Domination, in J.  Pennock & J. Chapman (eds.) Coercion (Aldine: Atherton).

[36] Dovey, 1999, p.13; See also Wrong, Dennis Hume. 1995. Power : its forms, bases, and uses. (New Brunswick, N.J. ; London: Transaction Publishers).

[37] Letter from Lord Carrington, Chairman, Conference on Yugoslavia to Dr I. Rugova, 17 August, 1992, Weller, 1999a, p.86; Interview with Rugova, from La Question du Kosovo, Entretiens realisés par Marie-Françoise Allain et Xavier Galmiche, Paris, Fayard, 1994, p.170-71.  .

[38] Crary, Jonathan. 1990. Techniques of the observer : on vision and modernity in the nineteenth century. (Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press).

[39] It is worth noting that there is a substantial literature on the use of CCTV in surveillance in society, in courtrooms and its impact on juries and witnesses.  However, there is much less on its impact in IR and conflict resolution.

[40] Judah, 2002, p.183

[41] Augé, Marc. 1995. Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. (London: Verso); Gordon, Alastair. 2008. Naked airport : a cultural history of the world’s most revolutionary structure. University of Chicago Press pbk. ed. / with a new epilogue. edn., (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press ; Bristol : University Presses Marketing [distributor]); Salter, Mark B. 2008. Politics at the airport. (Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press); Tomlinson, John. 1999. Globalization and culture. (Chichester: Polity Press); Pearman, Hugh. 2004. Airports : a century of architecture. (London: Laurence King); de Botton, Alain. 2009. A Week at the Airport:  A Heathrow Diary. (London: Profile Books ).

[42] Salter, Mark B. 2008. Politics at the airport. (Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press).

[43] Latour, 1993; Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari. 2004. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. (London: Continuum). For more on this approaches see select chapters in Salter, Mark B. 2008. Politics at the airport. (Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press).

[44] For more on the distinction between place and space see Cresswell, Tim. 2004. Place: a short introduction. Short introductions to geography, (Oxford: Blackwell).

[45] For an argument which considers the opportunities for power to be mediated rather than exerted in the context of airports see Lisle in Debrix, François & Cynthia Weber. 2003. Rituals of mediation : international politics and social meaning. (Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press).

[46] Peter Adey, “Mobilities and Modulations: The Airport As A Difference Machine,” in Salter, 2008, p. 154.

[47] Adey in Salter, 2008, p. 156.

[48] Adey in Salter, 2008, p. 150.

[49] Weller, 1999a, p.403.  See Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo, 2nd Draft, 18 February, 1999, Weller, 1999a, p.434-441.

[50] Marc Weller, 1999b, ‘The Rambouillet conference on Kosovo’, International Affairs, 72(2), p.250.

[51] Letter from Delegation of Kosova to Contact Group Negotiators, Rambouillet, 17 February 1999, Weller, 1999a, p.433.

[52] Kosova Delegation Statement on New Proposal for a Settlement, 18 February 1999, Weller, 1999a, p.444-5.

[53] On Rambouillet see Blecon, J. 1994. Cailleteau, Pierre Known as Lassurance, Architect at the Chateau of Rambouillet (Yvelines). Bulletin monumental, 152(3), 366-67; Boutterin, J.M. 1942. Les pieces d’eau et le rondau du domaine de Rambouillet. Revue des beaux-arts de France, 1942-1943, 1, 303-06; Boyer, Marie-France. 2008. The Princess’ Folly. World of interiors, 28(3), 170-77; Constant, M. 1988. The ‘Palais du Roi de Rome’ at Rambouillet. Monuments Historiques, 156, April-May, 105-05; Dauphinee, Elizabeth Allen. Rambouillet:  A Critical (Re)Assessment, in Florian and Zidas Daskalovski Bieber (ed.) Understanding the War in Kosovo; Gosselin, Louis Le on The odore. 1930. Le chateau de Rambouillet : six siecles d’histoire. (Paris: Calmann-Le301vy); Hamon, Francoise. 2005. Le palais du Roi de Rome: Napoleon II a Rambouillet [by] Jean Blecon. Bulletin monumental, 163(3), 276; Hamon, F. 2005. The Palace of the King of Rome. Napolean II in Rambouillet. Bulletin monumental, 163(3), 276-76; Heitzmann, Annick. 1990. Laiteries royales, laiteries imperiales:  Trianon et Rambouillet. Histoire de l’art, 11, Oct, 37-45; Liot, Thierry. 1998. Des communs peu communs. Vielles maisons francaises, (172), April 84-85; Stated, Not. 1954. Le chateau de Rambouillet rajeuni pour ses hotes d’honneur. Plaisir de France, (188), March, 24-31; Waltisperger, Chantal. 1992. Famin a Rambouillet:  ‘l’architectrue toscane’ en pratique? Bulletin monumental, 150(1), 7-20.

[54] See Gosselin, Louis Le on The odore. 1930. Le chateau de Rambouillet : six siecles d’histoire. (Paris: Calmann-Levy).

[55] Judah, 2002, p.203.

[56] It is worth considering the members of each delegation from the perspective of equality: the Albanian delegation contained the most important Kosovar politicians of the last ten years.  It included Ibrahim Rugova, Bujar Bukoshi and Fehmi Agani for the LDK and the government-in-exile, Hashim Thaçi and Xhavit Haliti, two of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Rexhep Qosja, a respected nationalist writer and leader of the United Democratic Party, Veton Surroi, the highly respected editor of Koha Ditore, and Blerim Shala from Zëri.  Thaçi, not Rugova, was elected as the formal leader of the delegation, indicating the dominance of the KLA over the LDK (Judah, 2002, p.200).  There was a decided contrast with the Serbian delegation which contained no ranking politician or diplomats, because the one man who made the decisions, Milošević, had remained in Belgrade.  It was led by Ratko Marković, and included Nikola Šainović, a Yugoslav deputy premier, Vladen Kutlešić, a constitutional lawyer and a Serbian deputy premier, Vladimir Štambuk, a lawyer, and a number of politically inconsequential unknowns sent by Milošević to support his claim that he wanted a multinational Kosovo – he sent representatives of the Roma, Turks, Slav Muslims and an Albanian who belonged to a tiny pro-Serb party.

[57] Berridge, 2002.

[58] Judah, 2002, p.203-6

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.