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“Building the Humanitarian Imaginary,” unpublished paper (2009)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 State We Are(n’t) In

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

 

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

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

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

 

Statebuilding as (International) ‘Rite of Passage

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

 

Brief Overview of Each of the Memoirs

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

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

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

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

 

The Rite of Passage in the Memoirs of Aid Workers

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

 

Rites of Separation: Leaving ‘Home

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

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

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

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

 

The Liminal Space of the Field

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

(Cain 2004: 37)

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

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

(Cain 2004: 76)

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

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

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

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

(Cain 2004: 133)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rites of Re-Aggregation: Returning to ‘Normal

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

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

(Cain 2004: 286)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

Acknowledgements

 

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

 

References

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

[4] Malae = foreigner (usually white).

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

Doomed to Rewrite?

“Doomed to Rewrite? Aid autobiography as history and practice,” unpublished paper (2011)

This [unfinished – eds.] article looks at the genre of aid workers’ autobiographies from an historical perspective. It makes the case that (a) these types of memoirs constitute an identifiable genre with a respective lineage that can be traced from Dunant’s diaries on Solferino (Rieff, 2002) to de Waal’s blog on Darfur; (b) that these texts are a precious and under-examined resource for development and humanitarian studies.  They document the embodied experiences of the Western tradition of humanitarian intervention and in doing so provide valuable insight into patterns of possibility and constraint and to identify the significance of affect, perspective, and position in constructing our conceptual categories of aid, intervention, and humanitarian assistance.  Finally, (c) the article asks what do recent trends in technologies of publication and dissemination tell us about the role of the individual vs. the collective in contemporary humanitarianism.

1: Life writing, memoir and where it fits in.  Similarities and Difference.

Memoire, life writing, auto-biography

INTRO

Autobiography, life-writing, life-narrative, personal memoire are just a sampling of the terms that are used – often inter-changeably – to refer to the textural representation of one’s personal experience. They differ from in objective from diaries in that they are intended to be read, circulated and discussed by others.  In form, they vary widely – from little more than a descriptive chronology of events – to polished and possibly embellished stories of events and encounters.  According to Epstein, “memoir is a  hybrid form that may draw on the lyric voice of poetry, the narrative drive of the novel, the urgency of eyewitness testimonial, the desultory description of travel writing, the factual comprehensiveness of serious reportage and historiography, and the introspection of the personal essay” {Epstein, 2006}. Arguably as long as there has been writing, there has been memoir: early examples of the genre might include Augustine’s Confessions (357 AD), the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Teresa of Avila and Jean-Jacques Rousseau {Hampl, 1999; Epstein}.  But interest in the individuals’ first person of particular experiences has, in recent years, appeared to increase as reflected by such indicators as presence and position on books sales charts [need cite]. Schaffer and Smith go so far as to refer to a global “memoire boom” in the last decades of the twentieth century {Schaffer, 2004@1} and if blogs and associated textual self-representations of everyday activities such as ‘tweets’ are included, it can be claimed that as a textual form – memoirs are at an all time high.

As an object of  academic study, ‘autobiographical studies’ emerged in the United States in the 1970s {Marcus, 1995} with the ‘biographical turn’ {Roberts, 2010@1} and came into their own as a “critical literary genre” in the 1980s {Moss} when feminist writing in particular became interested in what these unofficial and personal texts revealed about the ‘hidden’ history of women and other sub-altern groups {Jelinek, 1980; Jelinek, 1986; Olney 1980; Olney; Olney; Olney; Jouve}.[1] Represented within the form are an almost limitless array of “memoirists” and types of memoirs: travellers, soldiers, doctors, teachers, call-girls and… humanitarians.  And while some of these forms have received sustained academic attention, becoming considered as sub-genres in their own right, the humanitarian memoir has yet to reach this status.

This article is the first attempt to identify the genre of the ‘humanitarian memoir’ with a respective lineage that can be traced from Dunant’s diaries on Solferino (Rieff, 2002) to de Waal’s blog on Darfur.  As a precious and under-examined resource for development and humanitarian studies, these texts document the embodied experiences of the Western tradition of humanitarian intervention. Doing so both reveals the significance of personal, affective experience in the trajectory of modern day humanitarianism and provides insight into trends and tendencies which are often obscured through more traditional approaches to investigating the topic such as policy reports and official accounts of particular events.  Countering claims that humanitarianism as a project has become more collectivist in its approach {xxx; Keck & Sikkink}, this article also highlights the importance that individual humanitarian agents or subjects have played in the narration and construction of Western understandings of humanitarianism. This is particularly striking when one considers the distinction between the “I” of Western humanitarian donors and agents in contrast with the unidentifiable “they” of the recipient masses.

Literature Review

To date, there has been little to no attention paid to humanitarian memoir as a specific sub-genre. Throughout the twentieth century those select lodestars such as Dunant’s Memoir of Solferino were analysed for the histories they described, rather than as textual artefacts offering insight into the conditions of their production and authorship.  While many other diaries, newspaper serials or pamphlets were produced and even formally published and distributed during nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they have quietly faded into obscurity over the years. More recently, despite the wide-spread awareness of texts such as “Emergency Sex” by academics, they have yet to be scrutinized in their own right rather than used to provide colourful examples for other arguments {cite}. This is particularly surprising given the prominence that the form of the memoir has played in establishing and perpetuating the humanitarian project {Dunant; Barnett; Fox}. Their lack of presence in the academic literature, may be explained by a variety of potential factors.  For example, disciplinary norms which bracket those texts which are considered worthy of scrutiny often exclude texts which are considered to be insufficiently rigorous, empirical or objective [cite from alan o’leary].  But it may also be that until recently, humanitarian memoirs had not achieved the critical mass necessary to be considered as a textual genre in their own right.  This is changing.  The exponential growth of humanitarianism as a field over the last two decades {cite DFID} have seen both the supply and demand of these accounts increase.  As I’ll discuss below, advances in social media have increased the velocity and reach of accounts by humanitarians of their experiences which the demand for such accounts has been fuelled by the overall increase in individuals who [to paraphrase Helen Epstein] want to satisfy their curiosity about how other humanitarians live, contextualize their own experiences and normalize or measure how it was different from the norm {Epstein}.

From an academic perspective, it is possible to identify a range of texts that exhibit similarities to the memoirs in question. It is worth investigating these briefly both to demonstrate how humanitarian memoirs have been hitherto miscast or misidentified, and secondly to identify those themes which are necessarily part of the humanitarian memoir:  authorship, humanitarianism as topic, processual narrative, and setting.  Each of these can be identified in other types of literatures, but it is their co-presence that identified the humanitarian memoir as a distinct and identifiable genre.

First, there are those texts that are authored by individuals who are working in the sphere of humanitarianism, broadly speaking, but where the intent of the text is not about humanitarianism, per se, but about issues of similar concern such as violence, under-development.  Of these, the relationship between life narrative and the concept, instruments and organizations of human rights has received particular attention. Work by Schaffer {2004} and Schaffer and Smith has looked at the role of life narratives and ‘personal witnessing’ in “the formulation of new rights protections”{@4};  in fuelling and sustaining human rights campaigns; and in creating the discursive space for local movements to speak on a global stage {Whitlock [in S&S]; S&S@6}. They consider the degree to which the production of human rights life narratives have contributed to how suffering in understood and institutionalized within the human rights community. In particular, personal narratives of individuals who have experienced a deep trauma or injustice have historically been crucial in alerting ‘the global community’ to both the acts themselves and the impact that these acts have upon their victims.[2] Associated with this are those auto-biographies of individuals who, having worked on particular cases or in specific institutions, decided, at the end of their tenure, to reflect upon their achievements.  Examples here include writings by John Humphrey, the First Director of the UN Division of Human Rights about his role in xxx {see Humphrey; Curle} and the ICTY chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte’s book about her suspicions of organ trafficking during the Kosovo war. As a vital part of the humanitarian memoir is the experience of going to and returning from the so-called field {Smirl, 2011}, such texts more closely resemble the elite memoir as a literary genre.

OUTLINE:

1: Life writing, memoir and where it fits in.  Similarities and Difference.

Memoire, life writing, auto-biography

Similar work:

a) Colonial Officers

b) Travelogues, picturesque travel writing,

c) Human Rights Memoire

d) the Development novel (Lewes)

e) The elite auto-biography (Dallaire; Rose)

f) the autobiographical narrative in war (Woodward)

Why is the humanitarian novel different?  Does it deserve its own sub-genre.

– Yes, because of number

– Yes, because of the object of its attention? Because of its purpose?

– Yes on normative grounds because of what the establishment of such a typology tells us about humanitarianism and brings to the fore the important role that memoire – and with it, personal, embodied, deeply normative element that is humanitarianism

2:  Evolution of the Genre

Typology:

1 – The Witness (Barnett’s de-ontological humanitarians)

Who: – Dunant, Nightingale; MSF (Doctors)

What:

Why:

For who?:

Impact:

2 – The Diarist

– Tells it like it is (Norris)

– Roberts, Jebb?

3 – The Whistle-blower

– Disgruntled employee exposee (Hancock)

– The Tell-all (Emergency Sex)

– aims to shock

4 – The Fly on the Wall

– Ironic (Dangerous Passions, Things ex-pat aid workers like)

– Moralizer (Shotgun Shack; Texas in Africa; View from the Cave)

– “Modest Witness”? – Haraway

– Diarist – p. 7 Redfield

– Political Economy

3. What this tells us about humanitarianism

– particularly important when current trends in humanitarianism are seeking to establish scientific approaches to the management and implementation of aid

– important to recognize how important personal experience in shaping perceptions

– and there is a move (back) towards the individual – also perhaps the anonymous or hidden individual – in shaping (contra Redfield)

– how the books may have an impact in influencing the humanitarian community at large

– tells us a lot about how aid work has changed.

– “Humanitarianism is a creature of the world it aspires to civilize” {Barnett, 2011@9}.

Reveals a series of tensions:

– the balance between fiction/non-fiction

– between remembering/forgetting (the constant reinvention of itself – Easterly)

– between public/private (using information/suffering for the collective gain

– between the individual/collective

[1] Also of interest, was the relationship between autobiography and identity.

[2] See S&S@15 for a full list of different types of subaltern testimonies of suffering.  

Home Away From Home

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

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

In their work on the nation, Jones and Fowler look at the importance of local spaces in the reproduction of the nation. They argue that this (re)production is done in several ways including that ‘localised places’ are used as “‘metonyms’ of the nation” and come to represent, “in a generic and abstract sense” “national messages, symbols, and ideologies.” (2007:  336)  Citing Jackson and Penrose (1994) they “stress the potential for localized places to be key sites for generating ideas and sentiments that can ultimately reproduce the nation.” (p.  336).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

figure 2

Figure 2 – Meulaboh, June 2006

Dynamics of International Relief and Reconstruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Katrina Cottage is a small cottage-like permanent structure that is intended to provide affordable, ‘dignified’ shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina, specifically to replace the ubiquitous FEMA trailer that have been the government standard in emergency shelter.[25] Originally designed by New York architect, Marianne Cusato, the term referred to a 308 sq ft., one floor, downsized “Mississippi-style coastal cottage, complete with an inviting porch.”[26] To ensure elements of local vernacular Coastal style, inputs were solicited from the affected communities and ‘fine tuned’ by local architects.[27]  (Fig. 3 & 4)

figure 3

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

The “KC 308” is 308 sq. ft. (420 sq ft., including porch) house composed of two main rooms arranged in a row:  the living room (13’11” by 8’8”) and, behind it, across the rear of the house, the bedroom (7”0x13”3’).  A small kitchen, lavatory and storage space occupy one side of the house and can be accessed off the living room. According to its website, it can be built with wood or steel framing and “are finished with fiber cement siding and a metal roof.”[28] It is engineered to withstand hurricane force winds.

Key principles of the design include that it is based on local vernacular, that it is easily and quickly erected (estimates of building time range between 7 days and 6 weeks), affordable, and can be easily modified.[29]

figure 4

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

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

While certain elements such as the pre-fabrication, and purported ease of construction, make it potentially good choice for post-disaster housing – other purported benefits such as its affordability and adaptability are relative virtues – dependent upon other variables of the potential occupant such as secure land tenure and  access to credit (costed at between USD 30 000 – 100 000 plus building costs, it is not cheap).

However, its popularity, as a form, has proved sufficiently popular for it to have been picked up by Lowes’, the US building supplier, for distribution.  Follow the unveiling of Katrina Cottage II – a roomier version of the first referred as ‘The Cabin’ – in the Chalmette Louisiana, Walmart parking lot, other models have been developed including the Tiny House, the Thin House and the Double House.[30]  They vary in terms of floor space, number of floors, different layouts and cost.  They are intended to fit a range of budgets and locations.[31]  For example, models which fall into the  Thin House type “are between 500 and 1,600 sq ft., and are 16′ wide or less, measured to the eaves.”[32] Both Katrina Cottage IV, and VI are ‘thin cottages.’

An important part of the promotional material for the cottage is its growth potential. The initial cottage is considered to be a ‘Kernal House’ – which can either be expanded upon, through architectural additions, or converted into a garden shed, or guest cottage at the back of the lot once the real house is built.  Images on the Lowes website include time lapse animation of the cottage being transformed from an isolated structure on the corner of an expansive, leafy, yard dominated by a new, expansive structure, many times larger than the original cottage.

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

In the same way, the advice for “Using the Cottage:  Building for the Future”, found on the CusatoCotages.com website, implies limitless room for expansion, in the new borderland of the post-disaster setting.  What is omitted from these sketches, is one of the most pressing problems associated with reconstructive work – that of property rights and ownership.  In many cases, those people who lost their homes cannot return easily to their original place:  either it has been destroyed, or is being rezoned within the larger scheme of redevelopment.  Significant work has been done to document the uneven swathe of damage caused by Katrina: those who lost the most were exactly those people who could least afford to do so.  With persistent ambiguity over insurance claims, property rights and ownership, the dream of re-establishing oneself on a clean, lot remains exactly that.

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

The Lowes online ‘model cottage gallery’ is careful to present the images of the cottages accompanied by white picket fencing, rocking chairs and bushes.[35] However, the form of the cottage itself bears a striking resemblance to a less bourgeois tradition.  In his 1976 article, John Michael Vlach explores the historical origins of a vernacular Louisiana housing type – the shotgun house.  As described by Fred B. Kniffen, in his paper, “Louisiana Housing Types” , the shotgun house is composed of “one room in width and from one to three or more rooms deep, with frontward-facing gable.” (as quoted in Vlach:  59)  The number of rooms varies, but is usually two or three, with the entrance on the gable end, leading to a front porch.  The roof is pitched, and the construction tends to be of timber frame with a façade of horizontal siding.  While the doors tend to form a straight line, this is not always the case, and examples of the type with one of the door ways offset have been documented.  (Vlach in Upton & Vlach, 1976)

In order to demonstrate the historical linkages between Louisiana’s shotgun house and earlier, African architectural traditions, Vlach traces the genealogy of the house.  In contemporary Louisiana, the shotgun house is most commonly associated with poor, black communities; its presence in visual representations of post-Katrina New Orleans, so ubiquitous as to be unremarkable.[36]  Vlach traces this history to the presence of free Haitian slaves in New Orleans, at the turn of the 19th century and their use of maison basse building techniques.  He shows the similarity between the floor plans of tradition Haitian homes (Fig 5)  and the shotgun house of New Orleans (Fig 6). (Fig 5 & 6) plans in Upton & Vlach:  65 and 66).

figure 5

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

figure 6

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

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

figure 7

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

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

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

If we accept that the Katrina Cottage draws upon a shotgun legacy, Vlach’s observations have relevance in the post-hurricane landscape of the Gulf Coast. While the language and imagery used to market the cottage is one of Rockwellian Americana and a DIY attitude, the form and type of the cottage is one that draws upon the less publicized historical narrative of the US – that of slavery and its legacy of racial inequality. In the context of New Orleans, the spatial dimensions of this legacy were shown by the unequal impact that the hurricane had on its inhabitants with inner city, black populations being disproportionately affected both by the hurricane itself and by their lack of financial insurance against such an eventuality.

“Katrina revealed how topographical gradients were proxies for race and class gradients in New Orleans, with largely white neighborhoods situated on higher, drier ground.  Simple put, white privilege underlay the spatial location and racial composition of communities most vulnerable to flooding.” (Bakker 2005)[38]

It is ironic then, that the solutions offered not only draw upon a local, vernacular architectural form but that they subsume a subaltern architecture beneath a veneer of arch-typical middle class America.

The irony runs deeper still. According to the New Urban Guild’s website, The Katrina Cottage has been designed using the concepts of ‘Living Traditions’ and ‘Most Loved Places’. According to the New Urban Guild website, ‘Most Loved Places’ are “the places in every region which have been valued the highest and loved the longest.”[39] A living tradition is “something that resonates enough with the average citizen that they want to repeat it on their house, on their shop, or in their town.[40] The implication of these concepts is that people will turn to, and value, classic architectural forms, such as the antebellum architecture of the Gulf Coast.  The provision of an architectural form, which arguably embodies a legacy of subjugation, as the solution for the structurally disadvantaged groups hit by the hurricane, contains within it a double message.  Superficially, the ornamentation and presentation of the cottage – the picket fences, the rocking chair, the flower bushes – offers the promise of a better life. The plans showing the growth potential emphasizing the need to work towards embedding the cottage within a larger landscape of success; of using the cottage as the stepping stone to a larger house, and a permanent, grounded, home.  The promise of the ornament, is counterpoised to the threat of the form – the shotgun house – which evokes the memory of slavery,  of structural poverty and entrenched discrimination.  Suggesting that unless the necessary actions are made to improve the cottage, the fate of previous generations of shotgun owners is theirs to repeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

figure 8

Figure 8 – Preserved San Francisco Earthquake Shack

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

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

ii) The case of post-Tsunami Banda Aceh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housing Designs

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

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

figure 9

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

fig 10

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

fig 11

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

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

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

fig 12

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

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

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

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

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

fig 13

Figure 13 – Aceh Barat, Habitat for Humanity

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

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

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

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

SECTION III:  The house in international humanitarian Identity

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

Similarly, within the Western architectural imaginary, the ‘reconstruction site’ has always occupied a prominent place. By virtue of their seeming blank slate quality, their lack of restrictions, the phoenix-like potential – they are perceived as sites of enormous potential for those architects wishing to push the boundaries of architectural practice (viz. Diller & Scofidio).[61]  Over the years, a wide range of super-star architects have put forward their proposals for post-disaster housing. For example, Corbusier’s iconic Maison Dom-ino (1914-15) was originally intended as a “solution for the rapid reconstruction of regions such as Flanders, which had been heavily damaged during WW1.” (Stohr: 36) Between 1939 and 1945, Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto designed a movable temporary emergency shelter, designed to house war refugees that ‘could be trucked to the site and house four families with a shared central heating unit’. (Stohr: 37) “Prouvé also developed a number of prefabricated shelters, including a metal-frame tent, demountable barracks and schools for war refugees that he called ecoles volantes.” (Stohr: 39) And while, not strictly speaking for post-disaster response, during the 1940s, Buckminster Fuller designed the Dymaxion Deployment Unit – a form of ‘emergency accommodation for troops in various locations during WW2.” (Stohr: 38)  More recently, Studio Libeskind has been involved in the design of a Master Plan for Unawatuna – a beach side community in Sri Lanka, devastated by the Tsunami.[62]

Significant theoretical and practical work has been done on the concept of temporary shelter.[63]  In architectural theory there is an almost romantic interest in the concept and manifestations of temporary shelter – from the Mongolian Yurt, to the bivouac. As Witold Rybczynski, says (drawing on Davis), “Architects in the past have proposed a variety of ingenious shelters including prefabs, inflatables, geodesic dome kits, sprayed polyurethane igloos, and temporary housing made of cardboard tubes and plastic beer crates…not only are these often untested ‘universal’ solutions generally prohibitively expensive, their exotic forms are usually ill-suited to local conditions.”[64]

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

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

i) The nostalgia of place

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

Two of the best known New Urbanist developments are the towns of Seaside, California, and Celebration, Florida.  Both Seaside – used as the backdrop for the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, and Celebration – commissioned by the Walt Disney Corporation – perpetuate through their urban layout and architectural choices, a neo-traditional aesthetic of small town America, where, “women call in their kids to do homework and old men sit outside the general store.”[68] New Urbanists have been accused of perpetuating an imaginary idea of the US and their critics have seized upon what they perceive to be an exploitation, of “a yearning for an imaginary small-town America”[69] and the explicit call for a return to so called traditional social relations through urban and architectural design is evidenced by the above quote.[70]

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

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

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

ii) Time

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

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

The issue of mobility is intertwined with how external vs. local’s perceive the reconstruction in terms of time.  Where, for residents of the reconstruction sites – the disaster and the consequent reconstruction are part of a continuum of their lifetime, for external actors, the disaster and the reconstruction represent an event, temporally disengaged from the longer existence of the place. The disaster is privileged as a unique event, and the response as an exception, obscuring the more permanent or entrenched dynamics which make the event into a way of life for certain sectors of the population. There is also the issue that certain actors have the ability to move more or less easily, back and forth, to and from the reconstruction site.[75] Here, Massey’s discussions of the hierarchies/binary of spatial versus temporal considerations come into play – and suggest that different actors – the external versus the local – respectively privilege a spatial versus a temporal approach to reconstruction.  (Massey, 2006)

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

Conclusion:  External vs. Local and the Humanitarian Imaginary 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Interview, February 15th, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[27] Brown

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

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

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

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

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

[37] see KatrinaCottages.com

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

[39] New Urban Guild

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

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

[42] Ibid.: 100.

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

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

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

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

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

[49] Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[74] Perry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves

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

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

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

Internationals and locals are from two different worlds.

– Azwar Hasan, Founder and Chairperson of Forum Bangun Aceh

We created a world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Spaces of Aid

“Spaces of Aid: The spatial turn and humanitarian intervention,” Paper presented at the BISA Conference, December 15, 2009, Leicester

Since the mid-1990s, international, non-governmental and multilateral actors have increased their organizational awareness of physical security concerns in the field (UN Secretary General, 2000). Where humanitarian presence was historically protected through appeals to international legal and moral norms of neutrality and immunity there is an increasing focus on the need to physically protect and control the space of intervention –  from the space of the body, to vehicles and their trajectories, to the living and work environments of both staff and beneficiaries (Van Brabant, 2000; Smirl, 2008). Such considerations have become necessary as humanitarian actors work in increasingly more complex and violent aid environments, leading to the paradoxical outcome that the international aid workers become increasingly enclosed, guarded and cordoned off from the very populations they were mobilized to assist (Stoddard, Harmer et al., 2009).

Current work on humanitarianism is now concerned with the implications that this may have on the politicization of humanitarian space through the built environment. However, this work fails to adequately theorize the mechanisms by which this politicization occurs. This paper seeks to address this by

  • first, examining what a spatial approach to humanitarian intervention might look like;
  • second, how such an approach can contribute to a better understanding of the significance of current trends toward humanitarian enclavism;
  • third, widening the debate out from the specific form of the compound to demonstrate that the tendency towards enclosure is a pervasive feature of humanitarian engagement in the field regardless of securitization.

Methodologically, this paper draws upon interviews with aid workers and security officials and a review of security manuals from ECHO, the IFRC, DFID and the UN.  It is supplemented by photographic and archival research and as a theoretical examination of the spatial turn in humanitarian intervention it is intentionally wide ranging – drawing on a variety of cases from Ache, East Timor, Rwanda, Darfur, and Sarajevo.

Before beginning it is necessary to undertake a few definitions.  In the context of this paper, the term humanitarian refers to the full spectrum of international assistance from relief to development.  The expression “in the field” is used to refer to the site of the humanitarian field mission, or offices of a given humanitarian agency based in a country which is being assisted. While th term ‘the field’ is itself inherently spatial – a phenomena I address elsewhere – I leave it unproblematized in the context of this paper.  Similarly, while acknowledging the inherently spatial nature of terms such as the ‘local’ and the ‘international’ in some cases these are the most clear designation for categories of people for normally reside in what is considered ‘the field’ (in the case of the former) and those that work in the mobile space of international organizations (for the latter).

Part I – The framework:  lessons from other space(s)

In The Production of Space Henri Lefebvre famously lays out a tri-partite framework for examining space (Lefebvre, 1991).  His intent is to demonstrate the role that space and place play in the production of capitalist subjectivities and processes.  However, the impact of this framework has gone far beyond a narrow Marxist analysis and has been used to explain the production and reproduction of identities, subjects and social relations regardless of the initial ontological assumptions.

In The Production of Space and subsequent works, Lefebvre urges the reader to critically interrogate the seemingly unproblematic nature of space as inert place in contemporary epistemology.  By analysing the causal role that space as place in the reproduction of accepted ontological categories, insight is gained into the various functions that space and place play in the establishment and maintenance of power relations more generally.

Lefebvre 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” (Lefebvre, 1991, 38). 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” (Lefebvre, 1991, 38).  Lived space (or representational space) is the space of “the imagination which has been kept alive and accessible by the arts and literature” (Shields, 2004, 210).  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 (Lefebvre, 1991, 39).

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 (Harvey, 2006).[1]  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 with is imagined (analogous to Lefebvre’s conceived and lived spaces); a Third Space which brings together spaces which are both real and imagined (Soja, 1996).

In the context of humanitarian intervention, the use of a similar tri-lectic proves to be of great heuristic value.   Drawing upon insights from Lefebvre, Harvey and Soja, it is possible to identify three distinct spaces of relevance to humanitarian intervention.

The ‘first space’ or espace conçu is identifiable in the abstract spatial constructions of humanitarian assistance.  It can be seen in the neo-liberal, technocratic categorization of countries according to levels of poverty, conflict, volatility.  The way in which poverty and instability are mapped onto geographic locales and conversely how these geographies of humantarianism form the basis of further categories of intervention, assistance and international relations.  The most obvious example of the conceived space of humanitarian intervention is the distinction between first and third world countries.  Although this distinction has become refined and adapted to more nuanced categories such as HIPC, LICUS or LDCs, the spatial logic remains the same.  The underlying categories used to define the problem and need of global humanitarianism are based upon the spatial ontologies of OECD countries.  Nor is conceived space purely restricted to the macro-level.  Within international organizations, the established mode of service delivery is through technocratic tools and approaches which rely upon the conceptual belief that the spaces of assistance are as they are constructed within the humanitarian imaginary.

The perceived space of humanitarianism is how humanitarianism is experienced – the sensory experience of providing aid.  While it is possible to conceive of the sensory experience including a wide range of embodied experiences such as global conferences, meetings with beneficiaries, and so on., the field mission is the exemplar of perceived humanitarian space.  This is because the physical distance between the source of humanitarian assistance – first world capitals – and the place where the assistance is being delivered – the third world field site, or mission – restricts the experience of humanitarianism to the interface between those individuals who physically travel to deliver assistance and those individuals who receive it.

Lived humanitarian space encompasses both perceived space and conceived space – looking at how the representations of humanitarian assistance are represented and woven into histories and  experiences.  In the context of humanitarianism, examples of lived space are the experiences that individuals have with each other through the process of work, projects, social interactions, publicity.  Here, Soja’s idea of Third Space (as well as its subsequent uptake by post-colonial theorists such as Bhabha (Bhabha, 1990), Spivak (Spivak and Harasym, 1990), Khan (Khan, 1998)) points to the role that a hybrid space between so called reality and imagination plays in interrogating, building and contesting conceived as well as perceived spaces.

The next part of the paper will examine this framework in three material contexts of humanitarian intervention:  the humanitarian compound, the SUV or land-rover and the Grand Hotel.  Doing so allows for a better understanding of  the precise way in which the spatiality of humanitarian intervention is significant.

 

Part II – The Humanitarian Compound

Since the early 1990s there has been a consistent tendency toward an increased physical securitization of ‘the field’.  Three specific trends can be identified: the introduction of standardized security regulations and building codes within the UN, the rise of the UN integrated mission, One Office approach and tendency for governments to co-locate humanitarian, development and political field offices, and the increased stress on standardized security protocols for field staff in a wide variety of organizations. Among these tendencies, the built form of the humanitarian compound stands out as a key example of this tendency.

But what exactly is a compound?  As an exemplar, a humanitarian compound is a securitized, walled space which contains buildings for both working and living.  It will be guarded, and entry will be controlled – usually through a system of identification.  It will contain the food and NFIs to be distributed, as well as vehicles.  It will be self-contained – having independent generation, water and food supplies for staff and it will be networked to other parts of its organization through independent communication channels at a velocity that it much higher than the majority of its immediate physical surroundings.  This is not to say all aid agencies work and live in compounds however the trend within aid work is towards increased physical securitization of staff and assets, driven (according to Duffield (Duffield, 2009)) by the need for insurance.  Through the homogenizing and securitized nature of the compound, the person who is the ‘object of development’ can only be permitted into the confines of the compound if they meet the requirements of the ideal beneficiary (Mitchell, 2002). And the more that the compound is securitized and separated from those its supposed to be assisting, the more the ideal beneficiary will become abstracted: in Auge’s terms “a spectacle of the real” (Augé, 1995).

This enclavism exists even when the precise physical conditions of the compound are not present. In the terminology of Tilly and Collins, the institutional conditions in the field effectively create reified social groupings (Tilly, 2005; Collins, 2004).  There will be minimal contact between these groups and local populations. And contact that does take place will be highly codified, taking the form of “fact finding missions”, prearranged meetings or consultations. Consider the ECHO’s advice to staff on “relations with the local population” (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office, 2004a, 21). As part of an effective security strategy, managers and staff should “spend a considerable proportion of their time meeting and talking with a representative variety of local people” including “random visits to homes in a variety of geographical areas…; visiting people living away from major towns and away from major roads….[and] visiting areas inaccessible to vehicles, on foot if necessary” (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office, 2004a, 21).  They admit that “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”.

This tendency is almost inescapable in a context where staff are simultaneously being told and trained to minimize risks, to only walk on “well used roads” (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office, 2004a, 29), to be “suspicious of anything out of the ordinary”, to “walk alone or drive alone” and to always “know where you are going” – all quotes from the same EC manual.  While understandable as a security strategy, the cognitive implications of this advice are significant.  Combined with an intensification of security trainings which emulate car jackings and stress the danger in the everyday, aid workers gravitate towards the same secure housing estates, and familiar bars, restaurants, hotels and gyms. In Goffman’s terms, the “ex-pat” enclave exhibits characteristics of a “total institution” which structures the aid workers existence in the field and mediates their understanding of their local surroundings and the people they are supposed to be assisting (Goffman, 1991).  In Lefebvre’s terms, it will shape their perceived space and inevitably what is considered to be normal, to be safe.  This is supported by lessons from gated communities which seem to suggest that increased physical separation, does contribute to a fear of what lies outside the gates.

Lessons from gated communities

Since the 1960s the defensive architectural technique of the gated communities (GCs) have been studied as an identifiable and prevalent settlement type (Blakely and Snyder, 1997).[2]   Atkinson and Blandy (2005) define GCs as a “housing development that restricts public access” symbolically and/or physically,  “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 and Blandy, 2005, 177).  Most importantly, they represent an attempt by their residents to disengage with the wider social processes in an attempt to increase security, safety and comfort.  They are “residential enclaves [that] 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” (Luymes, 1997, 198).  Work on GCs in the UK reveals startling similarities with international humanitarian compounds.  Acknowledging the immediate difference – that the compound is established with the purpose of accomplishing a particular labour outcome, while the GC is established primarily for residential and associated purposes such as increased social cohesion and quality of life –  comparisons may offer insight both in terms of material form, and in the ways it affects their residents’ understandings of their local environments.

For many internationals, the experience of working in the field will have an effect much like that of Atkinson and Blandy’s description of the inhabitants of so-called GCs in the UK, US, and Canada.  Consider Atkinson and Flint’s description of connected “fortified residential and work spaces” which resemble  “a seam of partition running spatially and temporally through cities” (2004, 877).  Residents of GCs restrict their movement to a small and secure number of places…”elite fractions seamlessly moving between secure residential, workplace, education and leisure destinations” (Atkinson and Blandy, 2005, 180).  Similarly, for many humanitarians in the field, movement is restricted between office, home and target project.  Contact is often limited with the aid recipient, and when it exists it is highly codified interaction – often within humanitarian or government space.

Significant research has been undertaken on the relationship between the form of a GC and the perceptions and behaviours of its inhabitants.  The results raise similar questions for the inhabitants of humanitarian enclaves.  In particular, three findings are applicable to this discussion.  First, Low (2001, 2003) found that the process of living in gated communities may have actually increased residents’ fear, even though fear of crime and personal insecurity are cited as a major reason for moving to a GC (Blakely and Snyder, 1997).  The first way that this would occur was through the general, overall increased attention to security which heightens residents’ awareness of anything that might seem abnormal.  By surrounding themselves with constant reminders of the possibility of crime such as CCTVs, guards, and gates, residents begin to frame their existence in terms of secure versus non–secure situations.  As applied to the case of international humanitarian assistance, a similar impact could be seen from the introduction of system wide, standardized training programmes for staff; the mainstreaming of security concerns into programme design; and the introduction of increased physical security measures.

A second way in which GCs increase their residents’ fear, is through heightening the residents’ distinction between the space of the GC, which is safe, and that which lies outside the gates and is unsafe and threatening.  Residents of GCs expressed the feeling of being threatened “just being out in normal urban areas, unrestricted urban areas” (Low, 2001, 54).  The process of gating a community is by definition about identifying those that belong and those that do not.  The category that is used to define this belonging is spatial.  Those that are outside are against us; those that are within, are with.  Rationally, there is a recognition that not all the people who live outside of the humanitarian enclave are enemies.  However, looking at the impact that gating has on its inhabitants, even within a normal civic setting, raises serious concerns as to the potential impact of humanitarian enclaves on the humanitarians who reside in them.

A security expert in Banda Aceh felt that within expat communities in the field a “siege mentality” can develop, where “you don’t speak the language, don’t read the local press so are completely isolated from what is going on around you.  This can mean that you have the impression that everyone is incredibly nice, or that everyone is out to get you.”[3]  He went on to say that, in an immediate post–disaster situation internationals are particularly isolated; they “really don’t have any contact with the local community.”[4]  In this context, an event that is actually part of the “normal chaos” happens, such as kids throwing stones at a passing car, or a mugging of international staff, it is seen as a huge aberration warranting (and requiring) stringent security measures.  [5] And unlike most other places, where the longer you stay, the more comfortable you become, in an expat situation the situation is “highly charged” and because as a Westerner you are “highly visible” even in a neutral or positive way, you begin to think that everything is about you, and you may interpret things in a skewed way.  [6]

At the time of the above interview, in June 2008, there had been an increase in recorded incidents of crime (World Bank/DSF, 2008) which many expats in Aceh were anecdotally interpreting as proof of increasing anti–foreign sentiment amongst the Acehnese.  However, my informant proposed that this crime increase could actually be seen as evidence of things in Aceh “returning to normal”; that people were no longer in a state of “post–tsunami shock”.  [7] Further, prior to and during the tsunami, crime figures were not published making any statistical increase using an artificially low crime rate for its starting point.  However, within the ‘gated community’ of the ‘expat bubble’, anecdotal experience quickly turns into fact, resulting in increased security measures on the part some international organisations.

A third way in which the spatial arrangement of the gated community affects its residents’ perceptions is through path dependence.  Low observed that once residents started to live within GCs they were unlikely to move out again (2001, 47).  This is supported by Merry (1981) which found that a lack of familiarity with ones’ surroundings is an important contributing factor to residents’ perception of danger.  Again, as applied to trends in humanitarianism, the more that humanitarians tend to enclose themselves, or adopt defensive or deterrent security strategies, the less likely they will be to revert to acceptance strategies.  Even if the fear is not supported by empirical evidence, over long periods of time it my lead “people to unnecessarily secure themselves, remove themselves from social activities, and increase levels of distrust of others” (Wilson-Doenges, 2000, 600).[8]

This reinforcement of shared beliefs among physically proximate communities is supported by those who argue for a geographic basis for culture; for example, Wagner and Mikesell (1962) stress the importance of the “habitual and shared communication [that] is likely to occur only among those who occupy a common area’” in the formation of a cultural identity (as quoted in Cresswell, 2004, 17).  Within this cultural identity are shared models of self and also shared models of the other.  By increasingly using the compound epistemology as the basis for envisaging and understanding the place that they are in, both possibilities of thought and possibilities for action are shut off: dismissed as non–options or worse, simply unimaginable.  If we consider Tuan’s (1977) view that as human subjects we get to know the world through our perception and experience of places, if the perceptions and experiences of humanitarian workers are confined to compounds, then there is little chance for humanitarians to get to know the world that they are assisting.  If the objective of the humanitarian assistance is to better understand, relate to, assist, and capacitate the ‘other’, is this not completely at odds with such practices of enclosure?  If experience of space and place are fundamental to a human’s understanding of the world, what is the impact of humanitarian enclavism on its inhabitants’ fear of what, or who lies outside the gates?

Beneficiaries at the gates

Indeed, over the last ten years, there has been a significant increase in the perceived risk of “the field” so much so that the EC said that “the increased fear of attack can itself be considered a significant challenge in humanitarian agencies’ efforts to maintain the security and well being of personnel” (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office, 2004b, 1).  This fear is amplified by the rapid turnover of these agencies which sees new recruits constantly arriving with little knowledge of their new posting beyond the security manual they’ve just received.  It is further exacerbated by the fact that so much of aid work is now done by short term experts or consultants who fly in and out and rarely venture far beyond conference rooms and the hotel bar.

Whether this fear is well-founded is a matter of debate.  Figures on aid worker fatalities are notoriously incomplete with no comprehensive records kept until approximately 1997.  An analysis of the most comprehensive study of aid worker fatalities found that when controlled for the six outlying contexts of Afghanistan, Darfur, and Somalia aid work has become marginally less dangerous for internationals since 2003 decreasing from 2.7 fatalities per 10,000 to 2.3.  However, it is worth noting that the figures were never that high to begin with. As a comparison – the UK rate of fatal or serious vehicle accidents for 2002 was 5.9 per 10,000.

It is not possible to say whether this decrease is the result of increased securitization.  However, there is no doubt that a security spiral is taking place, where fear leads to increased securitization leads to more fear.  Nor is this necessarily fear vis-à-vis the “other” – it may be fear of being punished for violating security regulations, as was the case for the security officers following the UN bombings in Algiers, Bagdad and now Kabul.  In may also be fear of losing staff – for example, in Darfur, the restrictions on staff mobility have led IOs to improve the quality and security of the compounds to entice staff to stay longer than a typical 6 month tour.  Perhaps most worrying is the implication that this has for  national staff, whose fatality rates have clearly and significantly risen in the last 10 years.  Either, the increased securitization campaign on the part of the international community is working for its internationals, and were it not in place we would be seeing similar increases in the rates of international casualties OR, and more likely, the increased securitization is resulting in increased use of remote management and outsourcing which transfers the risk to the very people that these agencies are supposed to be assisting.  I say more likely, because a closer look at the figures shows that the largest group of humanitarian targets are truck drivers. This would support the argument that the targeting of humanitarians needs to be seen primarily in terms of opportunism and predation.  This is also supported by post-mortem reports of Iraq and Algiers which show that in terms of real security, most humanitarian installations remain soft targets, and could be easily attacked – but aren’t.

More generally, the question needs to be asked as to how this security spiral is being translated into the conceived space of the humanitarian imaginary. In the context of aid policy it is often based upon “lessons learnt” or “best practice” collected from field offices around the world.  However, the previous observation that aid workers are increasingly limited in their lived space of the field raises the question of who’s lessons and what practices these reports are based upon. If they rely primarily on the “non-lieux” of the compound, on the flying visits of the consultants and experts, on the “field work under fire” this implies that the entire way of thinking about the humanitarian “problem” is fundamentally flawed and that our humanitarian imaginary is imaginary indeed.  Further the decline of lived or third space where new imaginaries may be developed,  while there is ,simultaneously, a rapacious demand from headquarters for demonstrable outputs encourages conclusions based on the severely restricted perceived space of the aid workers.

Two possible critiques of these observations of the significance of increased humanitarian enclavism need to be addressed.  First, there is the possibility that this is an extreme case that applies only to a small number of highly securitized environments.  Second that in any situation there will be social boundaries.  That is, even in the context of a geographically proximate location such as a city neighbourhood, there will be spatially distinct social groups.  Their perceived (or relational) spatial relationship to the same geographical area will be radically different dependent upon their unique spatial trajectories, their gender, ages, mode of transport, temporal demands (do they work the night shift, or work from home?), do they have pets or children which mean that they are aware of the local public spaces? What is their religion? Do they use the church or the mosque? Do they shop locally or drive to the superstores? Are they recent immigrants? Do they speak the language? In other words, spatial divisions are not restricted to the context of humanitarian intervention in dangerous places. They will occur in any area where distinct groups use the same space for different ends.

These divisions become problematic when a) the use of this space by one group of users impedes upon other users of the space in a way which is problematic for the second group (for example, the installation of bollards and set back in residential civic areas by the US government to ensure the safety of their embassy staff); b) and/or the perceived spatial experience of one group of users is influenced in a way that falsely or negatively constructs their view of other users of the space.

In the context of humanitarian intervention, this unequal use of space has been a constant feature of most interventions. Given the time frame, I’m not able to include a discussion on the impact of spatial divisions on the host community.  Some excellent work has already been done in the context of the social and economic impacts of peacekeeping missions on their surrounding communities – work that needs to continue. However, in taking this forward, there is the need to move beyond a positivist lens.[9] And while it may be impossible to move beyond the epistemological constraints of perceived space, it is possible to recognize it as a constitutive part of the aid experience not only in the context of increased securitization, but in the context of any humanitarian intervention.

To demonstrate this, I will now turn to two examples of how this has been the case with reference to two dominant tropes of international involvement in ‘the field’:  the SUV and the Grand Hotel.

Part III – Des espaces des autres

Sport utility vehicles

The white sport utility vehicle (SUV) has become a symbol of international humanitarian presence; in many countries better recognised than the symbol of the blue helmet of UN peacekeepers.  To humanitarian workers, it represents physical safety both in terms of its large frame and on–road visibility, and in terms of the protection that has historically been derived from its symbolic values of neutrality, impartiality, and universality.  However, to the Third World it has arguably come to represent the petroleum fueled inequality that has led to a situation where a self appointed few behave in a way which damages their surroundings and others.  More recently, the SUV may also be seen as a symbol of hybridity and the co–option, by local power brokers, of Western elite dominance.

While the white SUV has become a ubiquitous part of aid work, any theorization of how its material form is co-constitutive of the humanitarianism is sorely lacking.  The lack of reflexivity over its use is reflected in the absence of any history of why or how it has become the dominant mode of transport in the majority of humanitarian field operations.

Consider that in the late 1970s, Land Rover held 80 percent of the aid market (Wernle, 2000).  While this translated into merely 40,000 to 70,000 vehicle sales per year, their importance “goes far beyond the numbers” (Wernle, 2000).  As late as

the early 1980s, Land Rover was the vehicle of choice of aid organisations such as the United Nations, Oxfam and the Red Cross.  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).

By 2000, Land Rover’s share had fallen to just over five percent, with new entrants such as Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi taking over Land Rover’s share (Wernle, 2000).

The form and design of the vehicle, however, has remained remarkably unchanged since the introduction of the iconic Defender model in 1948.  It is still a four by four, all terrain vehicle, based on model of a jeep (Campbell, 2005).  It has a  gross vehicle weight of approximately 3,500 kg, a strong, rigid chassis often with an integrated front grill and all terrain tyres.  It sits high off the ground and can pull a load equal to its own weight.[10]  In the context of humanitarian aid it is almost always painted all white, and bears the logo of the agency that owns it.  The jeep itself was developed in response to the requirements of troop movements during the Second World War (Campbell, 2005).  As the jeep’s heir, “[f]rom the outset then, the SUV has been marked by the military” (Campbell, 2005, 956).[11]  Nor has the potential of this history been lost on the marketing teams of Land Rover and its competitors.  Advertising and promotional material continues to emphasise the capacity of the SUV to protect its passengers from the dangers of the passing environment (Campbell, 2005; Glover, 2000; Bradsher, 2003).  In the original 1940s and 1950s development context, Land Rover did present one of the few vehicular options for development agencies to transport staff in areas with poor or sometimes non–existent roads.

Just as the vehicles are associated with safety and refuge (Glover, 2000, 364), they are also intentionally linked in their promotional material with ideas and images of adventure, individualism, and frontierism.  Speaking of SUV names (and therefore of marketing strategies), Glover says that a common theme is “the Western frontier, those most mythologised and culturally laden of times and places” (Glover, 2000, 362).  Likewise, according to Campbell, consumers of SUVs felt that through their purchase they expressed “a rugged individualism” emphasising their connection to untamed nature and the idea of the frontier (Campbell, 2005, 957).

This is significant for the context of humanitarianism in two ways.  First,  with regard to potential viewing audiences in the First World, the image of a brand such as Land Rover or the Toyoto Buffalo being used in humanitarian contexts will add to the appeal of their eventual purchase.  As quoted in Automotive News, a management consultant named Ken Slavin, being interviewed for a report on Land Rover said,

[w]hen you have disasters, you need 4x4s [sic.].  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 whole lot of money to any manufacturer (Wernle, 2000).

This is supported by Koshar’s research which demonstrates that “a car’s notionally unique national qualities depend in part on how motoring nations from other nations regard it as both artifact and image once it travels, literally and figuratively across national borders” (Koshar, 2004, 123).[12]

The second way in which the association of the SUV with frontierism, rugged individualism, and adventure is significant is with regard to the aid workers who use them.  In so far as the aid workers can be seen to be part of the international community, and sharing a habitus of advanced stage capitalism in their countries of origin, they will have common symbols and mythologies.  Particularly with regard to OECD nationals, to step up, into a (white) Land Rover, is to simultaneously step into the myth of the First World aid worker assisting Third World populations in need.  Linking it to the tri-partite framework, to step into the Landrover will also influence the users perceived space of ‘the field’.

The experience of being inside a Land Rover, or inside an automobile more generally, has been the subject of sustained attention in the area of the phenomenology of car use (Sheller, 2004; Dant, 2004; Thrift, 2004).[13] These theorists look at how the experience of being in an automobile – either as a driver or a passenger – has affective, and ultimately epistemological and ontological impacts.  Work by Miller (2001) and Michaels (2001) has proposed the car as social–technical hybrid with driver and vehicle operating as a co–constitutive assemblage.  In line with Sheller (2004) I argue that the experience of being in a car, or in this case a Land Rover, “orient[s] us toward the material affordances of the world around us in particular ways and these orientations generate emotional geographies” (Sheller, 2004, 228).[14]  These emotional geographies (or in Lefebvre’s terms perceived and lived spaces), shape the way in which the aid worker see themselves in a place.

In the most basic of terms, it changes the experience that the aid worker has of the physical environment and climate.  Instead of being exposed to heat, rain, dust, the aid worker can ride along in a climate controlled environment.  Likewise, it changes the noisescapes of a place, enclosing the rider in a sonic envelope (Bull, 2004).  It may allow the passengers to move at a higher velocity than the majority of other people around them, introducing a level of inequality of movement, and possibly making movement for those on foot, bike, motorcycle, horse, or even lower, older cars more dangerous.  This may also introduce an affect of privilege and/or guilt for this inequality.

Work on the social impact of the SUV in America suggests that the rise of the sports utility vehicle parallels a model of citizenship that values safety and inviolability of person above all else (Mitchell, 2005; Campbell, 2005).  Similarly, the material practices 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), reinforcing the observations from local residents that “the objectives of the international community are different from those of the community they are assisting.”[15] Just as the white Land Rover (or SUV) is associated with certain affective and symbolic resonances to the people who use it, it may evoke other, quite different things to those for whom it is meant to assist.

Globally, the SUV’s large petrol–guzzling body has increasingly become a symbol of the excess of the West and the exceptionalism with which the West is seen to regard itself.  The vehicle is also a constant reminder of the underlying economic driver of much global conflict: unequal access to oil.[16]  In El Fasher, Darfur, home to one of the UNAMID ‘supercamps’, the introduction of hundreds of humanitarian Land Cruisers (or Buffalos, in this context) has led to the streets being widened to avoid traffic jams.  The example of Darfur, also points the destabilisation of the myth of the SUV as safe haven.  As of August 2009, “due to a spate of carjackings” all Toyota Land Cruiser (Buffalo) vehicles have been withdrawn from use by UN personnel (UNAMID, 2009).  This phenomenon is not restricted to Darfur, and increasingly SUVs are seen as valuable both for their re–sale price and as fighting vehicles for rebel groups who would cut off the Buffalo’s top and attach a gun.[17]  The increased frequency of carjackings is forcing aid agencies to look to other, less conspicuous modes of travel, such as local taxi drivers and minibuses.  More dramatically, these trends are rendering car travel, as a mode of transport, effectively unusable outside of urban centres, and in Darfur, travel by helicopter between cities and towns, has become the norm for aid staff.  Nor is the co–option of vehicles restricted to SUVs.  In April 2007, the New York Times leaked a UN report that said the Sudanese government had been intentionally painting its planes white with UN insignia in order to ship arms to Darfur (Hoge, 2007).

What it is important to note, is that while carjackings have increased, they have not been associated with an increase in violent attacks against humanitarian workers.  In general, the transaction is a purely monetary operation, with the vehicle being taken away and the passengers returned unharmed.  However, returning to Latour’s idea of hybridity (Latour, 2005) and Miller’s  proposal of the car as an assemblage of worker and vehicle (Miller, 2001), any assault on a SUV is seen as an assault on the aid worker, and ultimately, on the larger humanitarian norms the vehicle has come to represent.  Rather than an assault on the hybrid form of the Land Rover/aid worker, the capture of the vehicle is a bid for what it embodies: wealth, excess, greed, military might.  It is a clear statement that what is wanted from the international humanitarian community is not their assistance, but their material assets and the associated power.  Nor can this desire be interpreted in a simple, linear manner, which sees rebels groups or government militia capturing humanitarian assets in order to replicate Western material modes of existence.  Rather, these actions need to be interpreted as a local response – a ‘making do’ – to the already, existing, structuring material space of humanitarian assistance informing “a new range of strategic military initiatives” (Hoffman, 2004, 212) in contemporary Third World conflict.

However, from within the perceived space of the Land Rover, and the humanitarian enclave these types of encounters tend to be read against the conceived global spaces of the war on terror, and the perceived targeting of aid workers in general.

The Grand Hotel

In the context of aid work, a second ubiquitous humanitarian space is that of the so-called, grand hotel (Denby, 1998; Sandoval-Strausz, 2007).  Technically, the term is used to refer to a large, luxury hotel, usually dating from the nineteenth century and having colonial heritage  (Henderson, 2001; Stewart, 1988).  But in the context of humanitarian work, it will usually refer to one or two large hotels in a given city or town which are used for the majority of diplomatic conferences, summits, press briefings, retreats, and negotiations.  They will often be left over from previous regimes such as British colonialists in Singapore  (Henderson, 2001), or the Portuguese in East Timor.  What makes it architecturally recognisable will be both the grandeur and scale of its physical form and its multi–functionality.  It will usually have bars, restaurants, conference halls, travel agents, shops, swimming pools, and health clubs.  And while these may not be well maintained, at some point they would have been the height of luxury in their respective milieus.  In the context of international humanitarian assistance, the grand hotel may be the only structure with adequate facilities from which to live and work.

The space of the grand hotel provides the setting for a remarkable number of political acts and performances.  Particularly in the context of humanitarian assistance, the space of the grand hotel is central to both formal, high politics, and to the politics of the everyday: the informal meetings, chance encounters, and daily rituals of both local political classes and visiting elites (de Certeau, 1988; Bourdieu, 1990; Vesely, 2004).  Not only is it implicated in local power structures and contestations, but, in the event of social and political collapse, it often provides sanctuary and enclosure for guests and local populations alike.  As a site of perceived inequality and amorality it may equally be the target of outrage, vandalism and violence (Sandoval-Strausz, 2007).  But despite its centrality to international political interactions and events, outside of cultural (Jameson, 1990) or tourism studies (Pritchard and Morgan, 2006) it remains largely unexamined.  Although its iconic or emblematic status is regularly invoked in the context of a particular conflict, with the sole example of Hoffman’s  radical ethnography of the Brookfields Hotel in Sierra Leone (Hoffman, 2005), I have come across no work within international relations or development studies that seriously engages with the object of the hotel and its central role in international humanitarian intervention.[18]  The present study begins this investigation, although it only provides an initial overview of a larger work on the topic, which is currently under preparation.[19]

In the context that aid workers can also be considered to fall into the related category of tourists or travellers, the hotel, as a temporary shelter, is a necessity.  In the literature of tourism and travel studies, this is the way in which the hotel is most commonly considered: as a networked space of flows (Castells, 2000); a transit space (Pritchard and Morgan, 2006); a non–space (Augé, 1995).  The necessity for frequent refurbishment, novelty, and (re)branding meant that high–end hotels also presented the opportunity for famous architects to experiment with ultra- (or post-) modern designs.  This arguably significantly influenced the framing of the object of the hotel in cultural theory (McNeill, 2008; Davis, 2006; Jameson, 1990).

While the 1990s theories on hyper–modernity and globalisation have since been amply critiqued for their hyperbolic claims regarding the ontology of a new age, certain aspects warrant a re–examination.  In particular, the much (ab)used work of Marc Augé deserves a second look.  Augé assigned the term non–lieux to

contemporary topographies characteristic of what he calls ‘supermodernity’ – namely those urban, peri–urban, and interurban spaces associated with transit and communication, designed to be passed through rather than appropriated, and retaining little or no trace of our passage as we negotiate them (O’Beirne, 2006, 38).

These ‘threshold spaces’ made up a significant part of the humanitarian field experience.  For Augé, these are not “just spaces to be analysed but manifestations and above all agents of a contemporary existential crisis, a crisis of relations to the other, and by extension a crisis of individual identity constituted through such relations” (O’Beirne, 2006, 38).[20]

This crisis of relations to others is particularly relevant in the context where the ‘other’ (or in the humanitarian context, the beneficiary) only makes select appearances within the non–space of the hotel: as subservient waiters, porters, maids, or prostitutes.  In the ethos of contemporary hotel management, staff should neither be seen nor heard, melting seamlessly into the décor, effectively erasing themselves from the interior landscape.  Katz claims that, in the context of twentieth century US and European hotel construction, hotels

came to resemble cities in microcosm, vertical cities housing laundries, valet services, barbers, gymnasiums, travel offices, drug stores, libraries [sic.], music rooms, baggage rooms, automobile fleets, libraries, swimming pools, clothing stores, banks, florists, gift shops, screening rooms, medical services, convention halls, newsstands, mail services, roof gardens, and ballrooms – to name only the respectable services that hotels provided.  Like the self–contained superblock, the privatized space of the metropolitan hotel could be said to have turned its back on the city (Katz, 1999, 137).

As claimed by Ibelings, while the 1950s and 1960s saw the global spread of these big, architecturally similar hotels (Ibelings, 1998),[21] many of which are still in use in the Third World capitals under discussion, by inhabiting these non–spaces, the international humanitarian community may be seen as turning its back on its constituents.  However, the nature of the work is such that the beneficiary is at the centre of the imaginary and if the beneficiary is absent, then s/he must be invented.  Inside the non–space, says Augé “[t]here is no room…for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle” (Augé, 1995, 103): into a meeting, conference, or workshop where the problem can be distilled into so–called action points and plotted into a matrix.

The significance of the hotel as metaphoric stage for a wide range of humanitarian gatherings has been vastly under–emphasised.  As a touristic enclave, hotels are “‘purified’ spaces, which are strongly circumscribed and framed, wherein conformity to rules and adherence to centralized regulation hold sway” (Edensor, 2001, 6).[22] Moreover, the rules and regulation are geared towards the international clientele immediately creating a power–imbalance between those that are framing the discussions and those have been invited to attend.  As security becomes more of an issue for the international community and mobility increasingly restricted it is likely that the necessity of the hotel as a venue for conferences will not diminish in the near future.[23] Nor are the ‘performances’ necessarily restricted to official gatherings.

The hotel lobby has long been regarded as a key site of social, cosmopolitan interactions (Berger, 2005; Kracauer and Levin, 1995; Cocks, 2001) and in the context of the field its significance is amplified.  This is the place where local and international businessmen, journalists, politicians, aid workers all come to unwind and to interact (George, 2004; Courtemanche and Claxton, 2003; Minion, 2004).  Information is exchanged, alliances publicized, and rumours spread.  A further examination of the significance of these networks is undertaken elsewhere, but for the purposes of this chapter, I will now turn to how these non–spaces are seen by those outside the hotel.

As Tomlinson rightly points out, these non–spaces are only non–spaces from the perspective of the visiting travellers; for the hotel’s employees and the local residents they are real spaces (Tomlinson, 1999).   From an external perspective – that is, not only from a perspective of someone standing ‘outside’ but also from the perspective of someone who is not a user of these spaces – the grand hotel is important in a number of ways.  First, it may represent a space of opportunity: a place of potential employment; a locale to sell souvenirs;  or from which to offer taxi rides.  Second, it may be seen as a place of safety.  In the context of Hotel Timor, in Dili in 2008, one of the three internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in the city had grown up outside the hotel’s front door.[24] To the IDPs, proximity to the hotel was thought to confer safety.[25]  Similarly in the context of the Serbian siege of Sarajevo, Martin Coward quotes from testimony before the US Congress in which gunners on the hillside overlooking Sarajevo apologized to BBC journalist, Kate Adie, for shelling the Holiday Inn where the foreign correspondents were known to live, “explaining that they had not meant to hit the hotel, but had been aiming at the roof of the National Museum next door” (Coward, 2002, 30).[26] During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Hotel des Milles Collines became a refuge of last resort for internationals and Rwandan civilians alike as they attempted to barricade themselves against the Interhamwe’s machetes (Dallaire and Beardsley, 2003).[27]

The imagined safety of the hotel is the by–product of the association with not only international humanitarian law and humanitarian conventions, declarations, and resolutions but also because of the hotel’s association with inequality and privilege.  These same qualities can also make the hotel a target, as seen most recently with the bombing of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai (Biswas, 2008).  What is being attacked, precisely, is a matter of debate.  While it is sometimes seen as a direct targeting of the symbols of foreign interests (Wharton, 2001), it could just as likely be seen as the targeting of domestic political dealings (Donais, 2002), or in its embodiment of the  “essential common ground of togetherness” (Iveson, 2006, 80).[28]  A hotel may also be seen as the site of immoral or amoral behaviour, which also contributes to it being perceived as a predominantly masculine space.  More mundanely, as a high, often centrally located and well built structure, it may offer a valuable strategic acquisition from the perspective of local military actors.

In summary, the hotel contributes to the shaping of humanitarian relations in the field in myriad ways and deserves additional research attention.  In the context of this thesis, its impact is most noticeable in the way in which it shapes the perceptions and understanding of the local situation for the aid workers it houses.  For the people that pass through it, it is a temporary non–space, but for its host community, it is a part of everyday lived and perceived spaces.  Considered in tandem with the SUV and other material forms of humanitarianism, the hotel creates a material landscape of humanitarian intervention.  From the perspective of the internationals, this landscape is temporary, but from the perspective of local people, it has become the permanent topography of assistance.  The people in the hotel rooms, in the cars, in the offices will change but the built environment stays the same.  If anything is symbolised by the compounds, the cars, the planes, perhaps it is first and foremost the repetition of the ritual of assistance.  While the internationals each experience the field as a new, albeit enclosed, experience of the ‘other’, the material and spatial rituals of the interaction never change.

Conclusion

The preceding paper has looked at how a spatial approach to the field helps to theorize the relationships and identities that are formed through humanitarian intervention in its current material guise.  By looking at the humanitarian compound, the SUV and the grand hotel – all key material spaces of humanitarian intervention – it becomes clear that a crucial aspect of the Spatial Trilectic is being squeezed.  The absence of a mutually constituted ‘third space’ points to the problematic impact of increased securitization upon the way in which humanitarian policy is understood and formulated.  Nor is this restricted to the case of overt securitization.

In all three cases, the spatial modalities restrict or eliminate the possibility for a third or lived space but to differing degrees. While the example of the hotel seems to offer the potential for the most degree of lived space due to its openness and potentiality of hybrid spaces.  However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the hybridity is a limited one, which although open to people beyond the aid community such as national or civic politicians and other local power brokers and stakeholders, remains firmly closed to beneficiaries of aid, who are left to be imagined and represented within its confines in the same way as within the compound and the SUV.   Arguably, it is the increasing elimination of the possibility of lived space that is contributing to a antagonistic spatial relationship at the field level, and ultimately, at the level of international policy.

It is important to point out what this paper is not advocating.  It is not calling for humanitarian workers to fling open their compounds and walk into the far–flung regions of the world to live at one with the ‘other’.  In fact, it implies the opposite.  Highlighting the material constraints, which are necessary for the practical application of contemporary humanitarianism to function, simultaneously identifies why humanitarianism is fundamentally flawed in its conception.  To go to another, to tell them what they need, and to do so from a position of superior material power, can only be a form of domination.  As long as the material power is so much superior as to be unassailable, so great as to be completely overwhelming, humanitarianism may be seen to function.  Those who are overpowered will accept what is being offered without question, without retort.  But as the power differential lessens and the mechanisms of control become visible, those being dominated may begin to exert their own desires, opinions, and approaches.  This implies that the current displays of material force and securitization by humanitarianism cannot be read as extensions of Western power, but rather as its absence.  The need to retreat to the compound – both figuratively and physically – implies that an urgent and fundamental rethink about the objectives and possibilities of humanitarian assistance is required.

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[1] While the first category maps clearly onto Lefebvre’ category of conceived space:  space as abstract, mappable, divisible and static, the other two categories are complements rather than substitutes for Lefebvre’s framework.

[2] There is an extensive literature on gated communities including those 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 regarding 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. Atkinson, Rowland & Sarah Blandy. 2005. Introduction:  International Perspectives on the New Enclavism and the Rise of Gated Communities. Housing Studies, 20(2), March 177-86.

[3] Interview,  June 10, 2008, Banda Aceh.

[4] Interview.

[5] Interview.

[6] Interview.

[7] Interview.

[8] See also Blakely, Edward J. & Mary Gail Snyder. 1997. Fortress America : gated communities in the United States. (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press) ; Taylor, Ralph B. 1988. Human territorial functioning: an empirical, evolutionary perspective on individual and small group territorial cognitions, behaviors, and consequences. Environment and behavior series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) .

[9] The integration of lessons from the spatial turn could lead to a very different aid epistemology – one that moves away from cause and effect and moves toward a recognition of the mutually constitutive nature of humanitarianism.  Instead of thinking about aid as a factor that is introduced into a host nation that produces an outcome, which may be mitigated, there is the need to think about the humanitarian relationship, or condition as “always, already there”.  For example, work by anthropologist Danny Hoffman has looked at the way in which methods of warfare evolved in Liberia following UN intervention in Sierra Leone.  While initially the change in tactics were in response to the UN presence in Sierra Leone, they can no longer be understood within an international or humanitarian frame, but need to be understood in term of local contexts of meaning. They have evolved in ways which do not map onto local-international scales or according to pure humanitarian logics.

[11] See also Shapiro, Michael J. 1997. Violent cartographies: mapping cultures of war. (London: University of Minnesota Press) .

[12] See also Edensor, Tim. 2004. Automobility and National Identity: Representation, Geography and Driving Practice. Theory, Culture & Society, 21(4-5), 101-20.

[13] On ‘automobility’ and the sociology of mobility see Urry, John. 2007. Mobilities. (Cambridge: Polity) ; Featherstone, Mike. 2004. Automobilities: An Introduction. Theory, Culture & Society, 21(4-5), 1-24; Featherstone, Mike, N. J. Thrift & John Urry. 2005. Automobilities. (London: Sage) .

[14] See also work on the sociology of emotion Hochschild, A.R. 1983. The Managed Heart:  Commercialization of Human Feeling. (Berkeley: University of California Press) ; Hochschild, A.R. 1997. The Time Bind:  When Work Comes Home and Home Becomes Work. (New York: Metropolitan Books) ; Hochschild, A.R. 2003. The Commercialization of Intimate Life:  Notes from Home and Work. (Berkeley: University of California Press) ; Bendelow, G. & S. Williams. 1998. Emotions in Social Life:  Critical Themes and Contemporary Issues. (London: Routledge) ; Katz, J. 2000. How Emotions Work. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) ; Goodwin, J, J Jasper & F Polletta. 2001. Passionate Politics:  Emotions and Social Movements. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press) ; Ahmed, S. 2004. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

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

[16] 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.

[17] Interview, August 13, 2009.

[18] Martin Coward deals with it obliquely in the context of his theory of “urbicide” Coward, Martin. 2002. Community as Heterogeneous Ensemble:  Mostar and Multiculturalism. Alternatives, 27(1), 29-38; Coward, Martin. 2009. Urbicide : the politics of urban destruction. (New York: Routledge) ; Coward, Martin Philip. 2001. Urbicide and the question of community in Bosnia-Herzegovina. [electronic resource]. (University of Newcastle upon Tyne).

[19] Smirl, Lisa. (In progress). Do not disturb:  the affective significance of the “grand hotel” in international politics. Journal of Architectural Theory and Practice, (Special Issue on Gated Communities).

[20] See also Augé, Marc. 1998. A sense for the other: the timeliness and relevance of anthropology. Mestizo spaces (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press) ; Augé, Marc. 1994. Pour une anthropologie des mondes contemporains. (Paris: Aubier)   De Certeau also used the term non–space, although with reference to the space of tactics. There is the potential for an interesting comparison between these two authors use of the concept de Certeau, Michel 1988. The practice of everyday life. trans. Steven Rendell (Berkeley: University of California Press)

[21] See also King, Anthony. 2004. Spaces of Global Cultures; Architecture, Urbanism, Identity Architext Series (London: Routledge) ; King, Anthony D. 1990. Urbanism, colonialism, and the world-economy: cultural and spatial foundations of the world urban system. International library of sociology (London: Routledge)  and Wharton, Annabel Jane. 2001. Building the Cold War: Hilton International hotels and modern architecture. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago) .

[22] See also Sibley, D. 1988. Survey 13:  Purification of Space. Environment and Planning D:  Society and Space, 6, 409-21; Schmid, Karl Anthony. 2008. Doing ethnography of tourist enclaves: Boundaries, ironies, and insights. Tourist Studies, 8(1), April 1, 2008, 105-21.

[23] Likewise, the continued use of short-term consultants and experts guarantees their place within auxiliary space.

[24] The other two were outside the main hospital and across from the UN’s Main Base: Obrigado Barracks.

[25] It also potentially offered positive externalities like running water, or leftover food.

[26] Killing Memory:  The Targeting of Bosnia’s Cultural Heritage. 1995,  cited at http://www.h–net.org/people/editors/show.cgi?ID=124286 accessed on August 14, 2009.

[27] See also Harrow, Kenneth W. 2005. ‘Un train peut en cacher un “autre”‘: narrating the Rwandan genocide and Hotel Rwanda. Research in African Literatures, 36(4), 223-32; Hitchcott, Nicki. 2009. Travels in Inhumanity: Veronique Tadjo’s Tourism in Rwanda. French Cultural Studies, 20(2), May, 149-64.

[28] See also Coward. Community as Heterogeneous Ensemble:  Mostar and Multiculturalism. ; Coward. Urbicide : the politics of urban destruction.

Plain Tales from the Reconstruction Site

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

 

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

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

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

A Spatial Genealogy of Response: Locating the Humanitarian Imaginary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Spatial Continuity A: Mobility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spatial Continuity B: Separation

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

 The space of home

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

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

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

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

The space of the vehicle

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

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

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

Implications

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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