Building the Humanitarian Imaginary

“Building the Humanitarian Imaginary,” unpublished paper (2009)

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

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

 

The Appeal of Post-Crisis Reconstruction to Architects and Engineers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THREE CASES:  BUILDING THE HUMANITARIAN IMAGINARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insert Figure 1 about here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Shot-Gun Reconstruction

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

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

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Insert Figures 2 & 3  about here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eco building & the culture of celebrity in New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

Insert Fig. 4 about here

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technological Salvation and the Domes of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS

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

 

Conclusion:

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

 

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

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

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

[5] Interview, April 17, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[19] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[20] Interview, April 17, 2009.

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

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

[24] Interview, April 17, 2009.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[45] As of May 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Political Life of Things

In December 2010, Lisa and Beth Lister, a Sussex student who’d been working with her, gave a talk on “Drive-By Development: Thinking Through the Sports Utility Vehicle in Humanitarian Assistance” at a workshop on “The Political Life of Things” at a workshop at the Imperial War Museum. You can listen to a podcast of the talk here:

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.

Introduction

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.

Mobility

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).

Securitization

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.

Desires

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.

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[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).

Implications

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

COURSE OVERVIEW

SECTION ONE – FOUNDATIONS

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

SECTION TWO – CASE STUDY 1 – HAITI & CHEs

Week 5 – Haiti as complex humanitarian emergency

Week 6 – Haiti before and after

Week 7 – Essay Preparation Week

SECTION THREE – CASE STUDY 2 – DISASTERS & NEW ORLEANS

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

COURSE CONTENT

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

http://reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900sid/EVOD-76JH4V/$file/Full_Report.pdf?openelement

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)

http://ochadms.unog.ch/quickplace/cap/main.nsf/h_Index/CAP_2010_Zimbabwe/$FILE/CAP_2010_Zimbabwe_SCREEN.pdf?OpenElement

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.

Additional

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

http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Smith/.

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]

Introduction

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]

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http://www.rambouillet.com/rambouillet/gb/rambouillet.htm

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.

Drive by Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The structure of the article proceeds in two phases:

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

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

Part 1:  Theorizing the SUV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Being in the car – affect and interiority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Car Aid (1980s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interim Conclusion: Car-jacking the theory

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

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

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

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

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

References

Aeron-Thomas, A,   A. J. Downing,   GD Jacobs,   JP  Fletcher,   T Selby, and DT Silcock. (2002) Review of Road Safety Management Practice Final Report, translated by Translator.

Augé, Marc. (1995) Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso.

Bonneuil, Christophe. (2000) Development as Experiment: Science and State Building in Late Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, 1930-1970. Osiris 15: 258-81.

Bull, M. (2004) Automobility and the Power of Sound. Theory Culture and Society 21: 243-60.

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

Crary, Jonathan. (1990) Techniques of the Observer : On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escobar, Arturo. (1994) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office. (2004) Generic Security Guide, translated by Translator. Brussels.

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

Featherstone, Mike,   N. J. Thrift, and John Urry. (2005) Automobilities. London: Sage.

Flink, James J. (1988) The Automobile Age. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press.

Foucault, Michel, and Colin Gordon. (1980) Power/Knowledge : Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972/1977. Brighton: Harvester Press.

Gilroy, Paul. Driving While Black In Car Cultures, edited by D. Miller, pp. 81-104.

Grant, Kenneth E. (1986) Unicef in the Americas: Fro Teh Children of Three Decades, translated by Translator. UNICEF History Series. Not Given.

Green-Simms, Lindsey. (2009) Postcolonial Automobility: West Africa and the Road to Globalizaion. In Graduate School. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. (1997) Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press.

Higate, Paul, and Marsha Henry. (2009) Insecure Spaces : Peacekeeping, Power and Performance in Haiti, Kosovo and Liberia. London: Zed.

Hogendorn, J.S., and K.M Scott. (1981) The East Africa Groundnut Scheme: Lessons of a Large-Scale Agricultural Failure. African Economic History: 81-115.

Jacobsen, Katja Lindskov. (2010) Making Design Safe for Citizens: A Hidden History of Humanitarian Experimentation. Citizenship Studies 14: 89-103.

Keen, David. (1994) The Benefits of Famine : A Political Economy of Famine and Relief in Southwestern Sudan, 1983-1989. Princeton, N.J. ; Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Kothari, U. (2005) Authority and Expertise:  The Professionalisation and the Ordering of Dissent. Antipode: 425-46.

Lefebvre, Henri, and Sacha Rabinovitch. (1971) Everyday Life in the Modern World. London: Allen Lane.

Lewis, D, and D Mosse. (2007) Development Brokers and Translators: The Ethnography of Aid and Agencies. Development in Practice 17: 307-09.

Merriman, Peter. (2004) Driving Places: Marc Auge, Non-Places and the Geographies of England’s M1 Motorway. Theory Culture and Society 21: 145-67.

Miller, D. (2001) Car Cultures. Oxford: Berg.

Rajan, Sudhir Chella. (2006) Automobility and the Liberal Disposition In Against Automobility, edited by Steffen Böhm, p. 259 p. Oxford: Blackwell.

Sheller, Mimi. (2004) Automotive Emotions: Feeling the Car. Theory Culture Society 21: 221-42.

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

Smirl, Lisa. (2011) The State We Are(N’t) In. In Statebuilding…S. London: Routledge.

Stapelton, Orla,   Alfonso Pedraza Martinez, and Luk N. Van Wassenhove. (2009) Fleet Care: Servicing the Humanitarian World, translated by Translator. Social Innovation Centre. Paris.

Stirrat, R L. (2000) Cultures of Consultancy. Critique of Anthropology 20: 31-46.

Stoddard, Abby,   Adele Harmer, and Katherine Haver. (2009) Providing Aid in Insecure Environments: 2009 Update, translated by Translator. Humanitarian Policy Group.

Taylor, James Oct. (2007) Land Rover : 60 Years of the 4×4 Workhorse. Ramsbury: Crowood Press.

Toy, Barbara. (1956) A Fool in the Desert. Journeys in Libya. [with Plates, Including a Portrait.]. pp. xii. 180. John Murray: London.

———. (1955a) A Fool on Wheels : Tangier to Baghdad by Land-Rover. J.Murray.

———. (1955b) A Fool on Wheels. Tangier to Baghdad by Land-Rover. [with Plates.]. pp. 255. John Murray: London.

———. (1957) A Fool Strikes Oil. Across Saudi Arabia. [with Plates, Including Portraits.]. pp. xii. 207. John Murray: London.

Trentmann, Frank. (2009) Materiality in the Future of History: Things, Practices, Politics. Journal of British Studies 48: 283-307.

, UNAMID. 2009. Information Circular No.2009/042. UNAMID.

Urry, John. (2007) Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity.

Wernle, Bradford. (2000) Land Rover Eyes Aid Market. In Automotive News.


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

[3] Interview, December 2, 2010.

[4] Also, see the Queesland development scheme

[5] Interview, November 27, 2010.

[6] Interview, December 2, 2010

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

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

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

[11] Interview

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

[13] Wikipedia.

[14] Interview, December 2, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Apres le Deluge, Nous

“Apres le Deluge, Nous: The Spatial Turn in Post-Disaster Reconstruction,” unpublished paper, 2007

 

Within modern, Western society, the reconstruction site is an evocative, and recurrent theme. Large scale international intervention transforms the physical landscape of areas affected both through the intended physical changes of the reconstructive process and through the spatial rearrangements that permit the delivery of aid. These physical transformations receive little attention.  What do post-disaster reconstruction sites reveal about relations between the global north and south?  With reference to the built environment and its representations, I argue that the physical production, reproduction and use of space[1] and place in these reconstruction zones, is central to the construction and maintenance of a broader neo-colonial discourse. It is in these spaces that we see the (re)construction of new – and not so new built forms of neo-colonialism. 

 

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’ – or on the part of those that have the wherewithal  – to alleviate the resultant suffering.  (Edkins 2000) While it is possible to point to many instances of critique of political interventions[2] and many others who critique the efficacy or appropriateness of certain modes of disaster relief, there are few authors who problematized the basic premise:  the responsibility of the ‘international community to provide assistance to those affected by a natural disaster’.[3] And yet authors such as Neil Smith (2006), Mike Davis (2000), and many others.[4] stress that while natural hazards exist, the severity of their impact on human settlement (whether or not they are a disaster), is determined by human decisions:  where and how to build, access to preventive measures; the existence and knowledge of escape routes. Further complicating the matter has been the introduction, in development circles, of the term ‘complex humanitarian emergency’[5] which refers to a crisis situation with causes that are both political (man-made) and natural,[6] and, in practice, most disasters include both elements.  Disaster practitioners often stress that a disaster is the interface between a hazard (flood, earthquake, hurricane) and an existing vulnerable condition (badly constructed homes, high levels of poverty).[7] (Davis 1978)

Such nuances fail to stop the idea of a ‘pure’ natural disaster from being held up as an ethical rationale for intervention.  These interventions are not confined to  ‘disaster relief’ but slide all too easily into more pervasive forms of intervention in the target society, forms of intervention that become political and engage in political contest and transformation.  The slippage is not only between ‘hard’ and  ‘soft’ reforms within a target society – i.e. that technical superiority in the area of bridge building implies commensurate progress in such (socially constructed) categories as ‘civil society capacity building’ – but also across geographies. Within development practice, the rhetoric that is used to respond to natural disasters is also used to justify interventions in overtly political struggles elsewhere. It is not uncommon, within official rhetoric or policy documents to group references to the post-Tsunami reconstruction of South East Asia along with the conflict in Darfur.[8] This logical slippage has also had an impact on post-crisis response strategies with the reconstruction strategies and actors being used for post-conflict reconstructive strategies underpinning the approach used after large scale ‘natural’ disasters.

The introduction of a spatial lens not only allows us to view contemporary post-crisis interventions as part of a historical continuum – facilitating the identification of  similarities and disjunctures with the past – but it also reveals unintended, and unobserved dynamics in contemporary interventions. It allows us to see a whole zone of transformation and politics that operates under cover of the ethical injunction to assist those suffering from so called ‘acts of god’.

This chapter proposes a retracing of the history of post-disaster interventions from a spatial perspective allowing us to problematized and re-examine some of the basic premises of humanitarian disaster response. An examination of particular built forms of the international community  illuminates a spatial genealogy of humanitarian intervention that is usually obscured by abstract discussions over the ethics and modalities of international intervention.

 

I – A SPATIAL HISTORY OF POST-DISASTER INTERVENTIONS

The process of reconstruction is fundamentally about the construction and reorganization of space, however, very little analysis is undertaken of these sites from a spatially oriented perspective. While the ‘spatial turn’ in the social sciences led many disciplines to problematize questions of space and geography, it did not have a significant impact on development or humanitarian studies, nor, by extension on post-crisis reconstruction.[9] As geography, urban planning, and other social sciences engaged with more structural questions through the application of the spatial turn, development studies moved away from structural, or even regional questions and increasingly focused on the level of the individual and its aggregate – society.

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.  In particular, Fred Cuny 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. (Cuny 1983)

The high demand of the former colonies – the ‘third world’ – for support in disaster response is also arguably spatial in nature.  It is demonstrable that certain parts of the world, do experience a higher frequency of hazard events[10] – events such as hurricanes, flash floods, volcanoes – and therefore have a higher risk, ceterus paribus, of  experiencing a disaster. According to Ian Davis, “the study of disasters is almost by definition a study of poverty within the developing world, since this is where most of the disasters take place.” (Davis 1978:  11-12) This highlights the explicitly geographic nature of both natural disasters, and subsequent reconstruction sites: concentrated in countries of the Global South. However, those countries that have hitherto experienced a higher number of hazardous events have also been those countries that have the least amount of financial wherewithal to invest in disaster prevention or mitigation – either individually, socially or nationally meaning that they experience an disproportionately increased risk of disaster, as compared to developed (OECD) countries. Even within the Global North, the spatial nature of disasters holds – with those groups which are structurally impoverished, or underprivileged, experiencing a higher vulnerability to disasters, e.g. Hurricane Katrina (Cutter 2006).

According to Craig Calhoun, the idea of an Emergency Imaginary is an important part the Western Social Imaginary (Calhoun 2004, Taylor 2005).  “This notion of ‘emergency’ is produced and reproduced in social imagination, at a level that Charles Taylor (2002) has described as between explicit doctrine and the embodied knowledge of habitus” (Calhoun 2004: 7).  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).  This thesis is further explored by Naomi Klein, in her new book on what she terms ‘disaster capitalism’, where she claims that the global neo-liberal order is perpetuated through the windows of opportunity presented or created by large scale disasters. (Klein 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.[11]  The international emergency, it is implied, both can and should be managed.” (Calhoon 2004: 6)

This view is supported by Bankoff (2001) who traces the evolution of disaster response from the 1960s focus on tropical disease and its potential cures to more contemporary versions of risk management, focused on individual and civic responsibility for both mitigation and response.  This moves the frame of reference away from previous structural and causal interpretations of disaster –  that they were primarily a result of underdevelopment and poverty, or are the result of climate change – towards individual causation and response.[12]  By bringing space back in, we begin to see that an important part of this emergency imaginary is the ability to locate the emergency, the event, in a particular geography or spatial imagination.  The ‘assertion of global power’ that Calhoon 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.  And if, as suggested by Calhoon (2004) and Klein (2007), the importance of the event is that it provides a rationale for intervention, or response, the reconstruction site becomes an integral, albeit under-theorized, part of the Emergency Imaginary.

 

 

 

 

SECTION II – RESPONSE STRATEGIES FROM A SPATIAL PERSPECTIVE

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.  In the contemporary reconstruction site, changes to the physical environment are of two sorts: first, the physical structures that put are in place to assist the victims of the disaster – houses, schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure; and second, those changes which occur as a result of the influx of ‘external’ actors – refurbished or new hotels, offices, neighbourhoods, security, and transportation infrastructure.  The lens of analysis is rarely, if ever, focused on the latter.  While there is widespread acknowledgement amongst development practitioners and theorists alike, that the rapid influx of hundreds, or thousands of foreign workers has feedback effects, they are dramatically underexamined. This is characteristic of a general lack of understanding as to how the physical/material impacts on the social, and outside of a few specialized disciplines such as architecture and urban planning, there is also a general lack of interest.[13]

But the humanitarian imaginary – a correlate to Calhoun’s Emergency Imaginary – and a concept which draws upon contemporary development theorists ideas of a “New Moral Concensus” (Hoogvelt 2006) or “New Humanitarianism” (Fox) ultimately relies upon global (international) geographic categories and understandings for legitimacy and reproduction (Bankoff 2001).[14] If, as Calhoon says, a social imaginary is based upon the ‘embodied knowledge of habitus’, perhaps we should turn our lens towards the material practices of those individuals and groups who intervene in the reconstruction zone.  As mentioned in the previous section, the object of the reconstruction is only half of the picture with as many material changes occurring as a result of the large influx of internationals.  The material practices – the strategies and techniques (de Certeau 1988); or habitus (Bacherlard 1994) – of these groups will not only inform the immediate and long term direction of the reconstruction project, but may, contribute to the larger social imaginary – both in terms of how the West sees themselves, and how the West is viewed by others, as mediated by their spatial forms, the built environment.[15]   It is within reconstruction sites and other humanitarian spaces that particular key relations are crystallized, produced and reproduced in reconstruction sites.  In particular, they are embodied within particular built forms such as the international compound.

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 underexamined properties.[16] 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.  Descriptions of the US Green Zone in Iraq, increasingly points to the implications of conducting a ‘reconstruction’ from within a walled compound.[17] A initial examination of the impact reveals at least two types.  First, the practices, and modes of thinking that occur within such a microcosm of international activity will influence the way that individuals relate to one another, what types of interventions are chosen, and how they are designed and implemented.  Second, the impression that such structures, and spatial arrangements have on the individuals that they are intended to assist. The tropes of the white SUV land rover, the ex-pat hotel, the WFP transport planes have become clichés, but what impact does the persistence of these clichés have on external impressions of humanitarian intervention.

 

SECTION III – THE SITE OF THE INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN COMPOUND

The built form of the international humanitarian compound is a powerful and pervasive part of the humanitarian imaginary.[18] Within the sphere of international politics, it is also taken for granted; (un)seen as the inert and neutral physical hardware that supports the soft goals of humanitarian assistance.[19]

Despite the continual use of ‘compound’ as a descriptive term in both popular and official international discourse, there has been no consistent study of the compound as a built form.  While there is an assumed understanding amongst the international community of what is meant by the term, it remains largely undertheorized – both from a material and rhetorical perspective.[20] And yet its political and symbolic nature is clearly demonstrated in the ongoing targeting of compounds globally, considered by its attackers as the central embodiment of the international community in the developing world.[21] For countries that are recipients of humanitarian assistance, the compound is one of the most obvious signs of international presence. For the international workers it will be their primary experience with the country – the place where they work and/or live, and/or socialize.

The form of the compound is often held in parallel with other seemingly similar types of buildings.  In particular, comparisons are often made with three major typologies of enclave communities:  the fortress, the camp and the gated community.

 

Form and function of the humanitarian compound

Within general architectural terminology, a compound refers to a set of buildings, dedicated to a common purpose, surrounded by a wall or fence. In the context of international humanitarianism, a compound can be described as a walled enclosure containing an assortment of offices, storage, living, medical and possibly leisure facilities. Depending on the size, it will also include vehicles for transport of staff and materials. 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 may have other oversight mechanisms such as security cameras, or barbed wire on top of the walls.[22]  The form will vary in terms of scale and level of securitization, and these variables are determined in part by their function which are threefold: logistic, diplomatic and staff support.[23] The level of required security will determine the degree of physical fortification as well as the degree of mobility and concentration of international spheres of activity.[24]

Security restrictions on a particular compound will be closely tied to the global political concerns of the agency, and may not be directly correlated to the material circumstance of a particular location.  For example, in the case of the US, the iterative security upgrades since the 1983 bombing of their Beirut Embassy have meant, that a series of baseline requirements have been imposed on all embassies, globally, regardless of their particular security situation.[25] What this has meant for many USAID offices – the overseas development arm of the US government – is that they too, by extension, became highly securitized – in some cases, literally barricaded from the populations they are supposed to be assisting.

Similarly, within the United Nations System, there is an institutional trend towards ‘integrated missions’ where UN Peacekeeping missions are physically housed with other UN agencies such as UNICEF and UNDP.  While this makes sense from the perspective of institutional efficiency consideration needs to be given to the potential effects of housing development and humanitarian projects in the same physical space with quasi-military operations.

The increased use of private contractors is also deserving of some attention. They are often contracted to implement programmes in security related areas:  requiring a higher level of securitization, and attracting a certain profile of employee – often ex-military. As they are not directly operating under multilateral mandate, the diplomatic function of their compounds are reduced, replaced instead with a focus on efficiency and limited liability.  While they have been publicly chastised over their activities in Iraq, further investigation is required with regard to a potential lack of visual accountability in humanitarian zones.  To what degree do particular visual tropes evoke colonial legacies?  The form of the compound evokes certain spatial and visual metaphors, and intuitively resonates with other well documented typologies.  In particular it parallels those built forms which segregate one community from another.

i) The Fortress

In popular discourse, the term ‘fortress’ is often used to refer to humanitarian compounds but how the applicable is the analogy?[26]  As an architectural type, the fortress is a near universal form.  At its most basic, it is an enclosed, defensible space which protects one group of people from another.[27] It has the  practical use of defending those on the inside from attacks on the outside.  In a climate where aid workers have become political targets, the built environment of internationals is becoming increasingly securitized – the fortress metaphor apparently more applicable.

In their work on the nation, Jones and Fowler look at the importance of local spaces in the reproduction of larger, geographic categories, such as 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.” (Jones and Fowler 2007:  336)  Citing Jackson and Penrose (1994) they “stress the potential for localized places to be key sites for generating ideas and sentiments that can ultimately reproduce the nation.” (Jones and Fowler 2007:  336).  In the case of the international humanitarian compound, what impact does the locale of the compound have on larger conceptions of the international?

For example, the visual metaphor of the fortress also has a symbolic value, representing in physical form the power of their occupants and owners over their surroundings.  It symbolizes the  rights and legitimacy of its occupants to be present in that place. In the case of international humanitarian assistance, the physical presence of the international community is intended to symbolize the precise opposite:  an international responsibility and accountability to local populations premised on a fundamental equality of human subjects.

In the current humanitarian reading, the physical manifestation of an intervention is considered to be largely neutral.  Some attention is paid to the need to aspects such as equal access to facilities, the spatial layouts of refugee camps, and the geographic distribution of projects and interventions, but considerations such as the symbolic value or physical characteristics of a particular building are considered to be either aesthetic or irrelevant.

Now consider, esteemed political scientists, Peter Katzenstein’s  recent work on the apparent rise of Anti-Americanisms in world politics.  He identified one potential causes of anti-americanism as a cognitive dissonance between what the U.S. says it stands for (equality, freedom) and the way it behaves in the sphere of international politics (ignorance of international law, manipulation of international agreements). (Katzenstein 2007) Applying these finding to the realm of humanitarianism, could there then be a relation between the particular, spatial practices of the international community in the field and the perceived increase in mistrust in multilateral mechanisms?[28]

Is the legitimacy of the international compound, not only derived from what it symbolizes, but what it exemplifies with regard to particular, exceptional practices?  (Hirst 2001, p. 191) Beyond its stated objective, such a form could be a constant reminder to the citizenry of the occupant’s elevated position, and their self-invoked right and potential capacity to see and know all. (Foucault 1995) Such forms could potentially evoke colonial legacies, or have an affectual impact on their host populations. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the buildings of the international community and their material extensions, such as Land Rovers and helicopters, reinforce certain stereotypes among local population including those of Western excess, exclusivity, and neo-colonialism. While these themes can only be mentioned in this passing, they serve to emphasize the need to consider the potential impact of particular, exceptional enclaves on their host communities.

ii) The Camp as a Space of Exception

Post 9-11, the idea of the form of the camp as a ‘space of exception’ has received significant attention across disciplines. Citing Giorgio Agamben (1998), particular geographic locations were cited as examples of spaces where the established juridical order can be arbitrarily suspended by the ‘sovereign.’  More recently, scholars have begun to question the applicability of Agamben to places like Guantamo, and have sought to position these experiences within longer geo-political narratives.[29]  Within the context of American and European imperialism, the existence of particular spaces that are exempt from local laws and conditions can be considered as the norm rather than the exception, replete with their own standardized rituals of enclave.

In the case of the compound, regardless of geographic location, certain norms can be identified.  Clothing is western, the language is usually that of the previous colonial power, the electricity, water and sanitation systems, communications networks are self-contained, and the workday is scheduled according to the needs and demands of headquarters – in London, New York, or Amsterdam.

Certain exceptional behaviour is also permitting within the confine.  These do not only apply only to exceptional cultural practices such as the consumption of alcohol, but also to the categorization of workers into pay scales and privilege according to their place of birth. The distinction between local and international categories of staff goes beyond pay grade. It also dictates status within the organization, and the length of time spent in a place. While such differential practices can be (and are) justified in myriad ways the anecdotal evidence suggests that they may feed an image of the international community that is based on arbitrary, discriminatory and exceptional practices.[30]

iii) Gated Communities

Since the 1960s, defensive architectural techniques have been studied in the built form of the Gated Community (hereafter GCs). Atkinson & Blandy (2005) define GCs as a “housing development that restricts public access”  through physical and symbolic measures.  , usually through the use of gates, booms, walls and fences.  These residential areas may also employ security staff or CCTV systems to monitor access.  In addition, GCs may include a variety of services such as shops or leisure facilities.” (Atkinson & Blandy 2005, p. 177)  Most importantly, it is an “attempt at self-imposed exclusion from the wider neighbourhood, as well as the exclusion of others.” (Atkinson & Blandy 2005, p.178)

The immediate difference between the gated community and the proposed type of the international compound is that the latter is established with the purpose of accomplishing a particular labour outcome, while the former, is established primarily for residential and associated purposes such as increased social cohesion and quality of life.[31] However, research on gated communities may offer insight into the way in which the built form impacts social interaction and practice.

Luymes (1997) says that  “residential enclaves in all times and places share a basic characteristic of setting themselves off from the urban matrix around them, through control of access, and the solidification of their perimeters.” (p. 198).  Work on GCs in the UK reveals startling similarities with international compounds in the ways in which their residents interact with the local community. Atkinson and Flint (2004) detail the phenomena of connected “fortified residential and work spaces” which “resembles a seam of partition running spatially and temporally through cities.”[32]  (p. 877)  Their descriptions of the practices of residents of GCs apply nearly perfectly to the work and life patterns of individuals on humanitarian interventions ‘in the field’.  Movement is restricted between office, home and target project.  Contact is often limited with the recipient, and when it exists it is within highly codified interaction – often within humanitarian or government space.

The result of such practices, is that there is very little interaction between the international community ‘in country’ and the target beneficiaries outside the codified relationships of the donor-recipient. The impact that this has on internationals has an effect much like that of Atkinson and Blandy’s description of the inhabitants of gated communities.  “The process of gating surrounds an attempt, in part, to disengage with wider urban problems and responsibilities, both fiscal and social, in order to create a ‘weightless’ experience of the urban environment with elite fractions seamlessly moving between secure residential, workplace, education and leisure destinations.” (Atkinson & Blandy, 2005, p.180)[33] And while the intentionality is different, the effect is the same – the ability to leave, to come and go at will.[34]  While discussions of alternate modes of involvement of the international community with the public policy of their host countries lies beyond the ability of this paper, they do raise a salient yet largely unasked question:  If the objective of the humanitarian assistance is to better understand, relate to, assist, capacitate the other, is  this not completely at odds with the observed spatial prescriptions of the built environments of the internationals?

Not only do the modes of interaction and built forms described radically limit the spatial interactions of internationals with their broader environment, but evidence from work on American GCs, “suggests that living ‘behind the gates’ actually promotes fear of the unknown quantities of social contact outside them.” (Low 2003; Atkinson & Blandy 2005, p. 181)

Ironically, while the compound ensures a virtual elimination of violent crime within its confines, its diplomatic space of exception may encourage other types of non-violent crime such as graft, theft and fraud in such areas as procurement and contracting – jobs traditionally done by ‘local’ employees. And while, according to one reading, the ‘mobility’ and weightlessness of the internationals confers a power it is also opens up a space for the locals to exert power from below.  With a longer time horizon of employment, local employees may have the knowledge of local personalities, relationship, and affiliations that may help direct a project or funds to the groups or agencies most in need. However, it may also mean that certain local workers are in better positions to exploit loopholes in procurement systems, obscure nepotism and act as informers to the host governments.[35]When applied to the context of international humanitarian assistance how would such perceptions influence how the ideal ‘target beneficiary’ is perceived and understood and ultimately how policy and programme are designed?

 

It is less clear on how the host communities regard to physical presence of international compounds.  Research by Atkinson and Flint (2004) on perceptions by residents living near or around GCs were ambivalent, and tended to reinforce pre-existing socio-economic or cultural divides rather than create new ones.  In the case of international development work, there are similar ambivalences with the international compound both offering the possibility of employment, security, increased demand for certain goods and services (including prostitutes) and also the threat to local authority and custom.

Beyond the floodgates

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, Cuny, Davis)  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 there contributions to the humanitarian imaginary.[36] 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), I suggest that these parallels may be stronger than hitherto suggested and worthy of further sustained analysis.

There is the need, within international practice, to seriously consider the impact of particular spatial practices of the international community, and to foreground decisions regarding the built environment as a key variable in humanitarian intervention. With the increasingly convergence of security and humanitarian agendas, these considerations are becoming more and more pressing, by the day.  As long as the built forms that are being used continue to invoke and reproduce colonial power relations, is it unlikely that reconstruction sites will produce their stated objective of, in the jargon of the day, sustainable, equitable, emancipated communities or individuals.  Rather these sites will continue to service a vital need of the international community – the contribution to the construction of the Humanitarian Imaginary.

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[1] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford:  Basil Blackwell, 1991)

[2] c.f. MAMDANI, M. (2007) The Politics of Naming:  Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency. London Review of Books. London. 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., CHANDLER, D. (2006) Empire in denial : the politics of state-building, London, Pluto.

[3] A notable exception here is BANKOFF, G. (2001) Rendering the World Unsafe:  ‘Vulnerability’ as Western Discourse. Disasters, 25, 19-35.

[4] For the human construction of famine, in particular, see works by 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. EDKINS, J. (2000) Whose hunger? : concepts of famine, practices of aid, Minneapolis, Minn. ; London, University of Minnesota Press., WAAL, A. D. (2000) Democratic political process and the fight against famine, University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies. Davis, DUFFIELD, M. R. (1991) War and famine in Africa, Oxford, Oxfam.

[5] For a discussion of the political nature of this term see EDKINS, J. (2000) Whose hunger? : concepts of famine, practices of aid, Minneapolis, Minn. ; London, University of Minnesota Press.131-132.

[6] Cuny includes a third type of disaster – ‘technological’ to refer to those events such as nuclear explosions, chemical spills, etc.. CUNY, F. C. & ABRAMS, S. (1983) Disasters and development, New York, Oxford University Press.

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

[8] C.f. MORLEY, J. (2005) Tsunami Wipes Darfur Off Priority List. Washington Post. online ed. Washington. or http://www.dec.org.uk/index.cfm/asset_id,892/index.html (last accessed September 11, 2007)

[9] This may have been partly explained by timing:  the peak of the spatial turn in the late 1990s coincided with a renaissance in development assistance, and particularly in the realms of post-conflict intervention and peacekeeping.  With the publication of such agenda setting policy pieces as Boutros Ghali’s Agenda for Peace (1992) and the Brahimi Report (2000) the important questions were not whether the international community should intervene in and after conflict, but what was the most effective method.

[10] For a discussion of the distinction between hazard, vulnerability and disaster see  DAVIS, I. (1978) Shelter After Disaster, Oxford, Oxford Polytechnic Press.

[11]In this way, natural disasters have a similar logic to security threats in blocking off ‘normal politics’ and creating space in which emergency measures can be taken.  C.f. BUZAN, B., WÆVER, O. & WILDE, J. D. (1998) Security : a new framework for analysis, Boulder, Colo. ; London, Lynne Rienner.

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

[13] This logic is further intensified by the notion of an emergency— the ethical imperative for action justifying short-termist or normally inappropriate decisions.

[14] Taylor briefly discusses the “extension of the imaginary in space”, acknowledging both national and supra-national loci (Taylor 2005:  178) but fails to specify what constitutes such a loci.

[15] See also MERLEAU-PONTY, M. (1962) Phenomenology of perception, Routledge & K.Paul. and Heidegger’s iconic piece on ‘Building and Dwelling’ reprinted in LANE, B. M. (2007) Housing and dwelling : perspectives on modern domestic architecture, London, Routledge.

[16] The recent flurry of work on Agamben has introduced a wealth of study on the form of the ‘camp’ however rarely from a primarily spatial or architectural perspective.

[17] See CHANDRASEKARAN, R. (2006) Imperial Life in the Emerald City, New York, Alfred A. Knopt.

[18] This paper, is part of a larger piece, forthcoming, which considers the significance of particular built forms in the humanitarian imaginary.  On the idea of the social and emergency imaginary see CASTORIADIS, C. (1987) The Imaginary Institution of Society, Oxford, Polity in conjunction with Blackwell. 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. TAYLOR, C. (2005) Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham and London, Duke University Press.

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

[20] Some work has been on the environmental aspects of military compounds, and on the effects of UN peacekeeping operations on local socio-economic conditions.  A series of workshops has been done by NATO on the ‘Environmental Aspects of Military Compounds.’ See XXX

[21] Work is being done on improving the security of field missions in the “new terrorist threat environment” but how this may influence the humanitarian mission is not known. C.f. BOONE, J. (2008) Bars lose expats to safety bans. Financial Times. Online ed.

[22] For the purposes of this paper, the term ‘humanitarian’ refers to the full spectrum of relief to development work, from quasi military –  such as UN Peace Keeping Operations and Security Contractors – to relief operations such as the Red Cross or the World Food Programme. All use the form of the compound in their field operations.

[23] Logistically, a compound provides a base where supplies food and NFIs (non food ite ms) may be amassed prior to distribution.  Compounds secure the vehicles 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.  Diplomatically, they provide a location where various types of meetings and information sharing may take place such as emergency or reconstructive planning processes take place.  The compound must also provide bodily security to the aid workers who are increasingly targeted by the elements of the populations they intent to assist. They also provide an environment in which the workers are able to carry out their tasks to a speed and level of efficiency required by their donor governments and agencies.  This means high-speed communications systems and a common working language.In the case of the UN this usually means the official colonial language for that area – English, French, Spanish, Portuguese. It also means that hygiene standards are such that foreign nationals are able to function without being sick – food and water is either flown in or provided to a standard that is acceptable to its occupants. In this way, the international humanitarian compound provides security as comfort. Scale will be determined by the size and the mandate of the organization in question.  The World Food Programme and the UN HCR require space to store the vehicles used for distribution and the items slated for distribution. This requires large warehouses, water and petrol storage facilities and even hangars. Power generation facilities will also be required in most developing contexts.  Programmes that are involved in ‘soft’ projects such as training and capacity building need less space.

[24]. If a country is highly insecure, or is generally lacking in basic amenities, it is more likely that living quarters and offices will be integrated. If a country is determined to be safe, there will be no official restrictions on where internationals live or move. In most countries, the level of security is determined at headquarters based on field level risk assessments.  The UN uses a 6 level security rating system from ‘No Phase’ or completely secure to ‘Phase 5’.The numerical risk rating is highly subjective, influenced by political and institutional factors. In the case of Rwanda, the initial security rating was revised downwards after complaints from the government over the negative image that it projected abroad. The low security rating meant that there was no budget for a highly securitized UN compound. The walls were low, the security low-key.  This was in contrast to the Presidents extensive security cordon around his property.  On some days, all streets within a one block radius of the President’s residence were barricaded with concrete bollards and armed guards.  The symbolic message was clear.  The UN is not a relevant actor in this country. The real power lies with the President.  This is in contrast to post-Tsunami Aceh where the UN security rating was, in the wake of Tsunami in 2004, Phase 5 despite it being simultaneously designated a post-conflict country, and (more tellingly) despite the impressions of local aid workers.  Here, the main international compound was the World Food Programme compound where the offices of the UN Office for Reconstruction and Coordination (UNORC) and other UN agencies were located.  The walls were high, there was a manned security booth and a watch tower, and barbed wire encircled it.  In the context of Banda Aceh, the extreme visual level of security raised questions of the threat.  While the Minimum Operating Security Standards (MOSS) for the UN cover the areas of telecommunications, equipment and security plan, specific guidance has not been given on building types. There are also Minimum Operating Residential Security Standards (MORSS) for staff, but these cover only the most basic of security aspects such as locks and lighting.

[25] Following the August 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi Kenya, the U.S. State Department created the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations.  “In concert with other State Department bureaus, foreign affairs agencies and Congress, OBO sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds.” http://www.state.gov/obo In London, this required the installation of bollards in Upper Brook Street and Upper Grosvenor Street.  No irony can be detected when the US Embassy to the UK website proudly proclaims that the project “aims to enhance security for the Embassy and the surrounding neighborhood by making the Embassy a less attractive target.” USGOVERNMENT (2006) U.S. Embassy Breaks Ground on Perimeter Security Initiative. London, Embassy of the US in London, UK. Where existing embassies could not be upgraded, entirely new compounds were created, in locations that could be more easily secured – in the case of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan only reachable by car.

[26] In a 2003, ABC reporter Jill Colgan referred to the UN compound as the “UN fortress” COLGAN, J. (2003) Bush Talks Tough to UN. The 7:30 Report. Online ed., Australian Broadcasting Corporation. See also Lewis’ reference in LEWIS, I. M. (2001) Why the Warlords Won. Times Literary Supplement.

[27] Significant work has been done on the use of defensive, military architecture in the creation of an Israel (Yacobi, Weizman) in the defense of diplomatic space (Vale) and of spaces of incarceration or detainment. (Kaplan, Reid-Henry)

[28] In addition to its symbolic value, Hirst was interested in the possibility that the form of the fortress could have social significance that went beyond its originating ideas. (Hirst, 166) He seems to imply that the form of the fortress embodied certain values or norms through the effects of particular physical characteristics upon its inhabitants and host communities.

[29] C.f. KAPLAN, A. (2005) Where Is Guantanamo? American Quarterly (American Studies Assn) (Baltimore, MD), 57, 831, REID-HENRY, S. (2007) Exceptional Sovereignty? Guantanamo Bay and the Re-Colonial Present. Antipode, 39, 627-648, GREGORY, D. (2006) The black flag: Guantanamo Bay and the space of exception. Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography, 88, 405-427, ARADAU, C. (2007) Law transformed: Guantanamo and the ‘other’ exception. Third World Quarterly, 28, 489-501. ARADAU, C. (2007) Law transformed: Guantanamo and the ‘other’ exception. Third World Quarterly, 28, 489-501.

[30] This is based on informal discussions with ‘local’ workers in a variety of UN offices between the years 2000 and 2004.

[31] There is an extensive literature on Gated Communities including Gated Communities in the Developing World.  See the Special Issue of Housing Studies 20:2 (2005) and the special issue of Environment and Planning D:  Society and Space.  Within this literature there are well established debates regards whether it is possible to speak of a universal form of gated community, and authors such as Atkinson and Blandy caution against making universalist claims that ignore local history and context.

[32] In the UK and America such “premium network spaces” result in their  users – wealthy individuals who can afford to live and use such spaces – being “increasingly withdrawn from the wider citizenry.” 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. (p. 886)

[33] See also Ibid.

[34] Such differential rights to mobility lie at the heart of international practice.  In the case of the United Nations, “locally recruited staff members may be evacuated from the duty station in only the most exceptional cases in which their security is endangered as a direct consequence of their employment by the organizations of the United Nations. A decision in this regard can only be made by the Secretary-General, as recommended by UNSECOORD, based on a recommendation by the Designated Official.” UNITEDNATIONS (Not specified) Security in the Field:  Information for all staff members of the United Nations system. United Nations.

[35] The use of such weapons of the weak may give the impression that it is in fact the international community that is being directed – that the spaces of humanitarian exception are more tolerated than imposed.  However, it is important to remember that the introduction and establishment of an international humanitarian presence is most often within the context of a weak or failing central government, or where a disaster has overwhelmed the capacity of a government to act.  For example, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami left the governments of several of the affected countries unable to defend themselves against the second Tsunami of aid funds, and international workers who flooded their shores in the days after the actual disaster.

[36] Another spatial consideration are the international networks that are created between what de Waal refers to as the ‘International