The Political Life of Things

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

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.

The object(s) of humanitarianism

“The object(s) of humanitarianism: object based learning in taught post-graduate courses,” paper presented at the International Studies Association Conference; Montreal, Canada, March 2011

Abstract

International Relations (IR) tends to focus its  research on representational forms of knowledge: historical accounts of events as told through archives, news media, interviews.   While these approaches are well established within UK higher education, emerging pedagogy stresses the significant contribution that objects can make to students’ intellectual development. Based on a graduate course at Sussex University the paper suggests that object based learning has unique contributions to make to teaching complex humanitarian emergencies and the related disciplines of conflict, security and development and international relations.

How does one teach ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’ to graduate students, who have little to no experience with the phenomena beyond what they see on television? How does one do this in a way which is both ethically sensitive to the concepts and events under examination and conveys the realities involved (death, injury, destruction, corruption).  Is it possible to both offer a philosophical critique of the concept and processes while imparting students with the ‘skills base’ that is increasingly in demand at the post-graduate taught (PGT) level in England?  It is these questions that I began to wrestle with when asked to develop a course on ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’ in the context of our new taught Masters programme on Conflict, Security and Development.  With a research background in the spatial and material aspects of humanitarianism, I decided to mobilize new techniques in student engagement such as “inquiry-based learning” to introduce the students to an “object oriented approach” to the subject.  The rationale for this was based on the following two hypotheses:

  1. The current composition of UK PGT classes requires modification of typical text based seminar approach

An increasing proportion of university level education in the United Kingdom is delivered through taught post-graduate courses (PGT). In International Relations these courses are typically one year long and are taught through a two or three hour seminar format which typically includes a combination of lecture/discussion/small group work.  The size of the classes varies between 10 to 25 students however increased student demand in the past few years and attempts to reduce costs has seen a trend towards the higher end of this spectrum.  [need stats]  In addition to larger class size, other pedagogic challenges include a wide variety of class composition:  students come from all over the world (representing all continents); wide variety of ages (from students who have just graduated from under-graduate courses to mature students); an fairly even split between genders; and an increased recognition of the pervasiveness of learning challenged students such as those with dyspraxia, dyslexia and autism.

2.       The study of complex emergencies (narrowly) and international relations (broadly) would benefit from an introduction of this pedagogic approach by challenging existing narratives of causality and agency.  The introduction of objects also allows highlights the affective and ethical issues which are often obscured in traditional text based teaching methods.

International Relations, like many humanities and social science subjects has typically been taught through representational methods include the use of abstract models and historical narratives.  The established PGT format, described above, relies heavily on texts which tend to be circulated in advance to students in order that they form the basis of discussion during the seminar.  While the discipline’s traditional perspectives  – i.e. realism, liberalism and even marxism –  are concerned with the material aspects of statecraft – for example economic resources; populations; borders; weapons arsenals; government institutions the pedagogic approaches have focused on the representational and epi-phenomenal aspects such as power; ideas and norms.  This tendency towards representation was amplified from the 1990s onwards when interest in discursive and constructivist approaches gained new prominence.  Recently, interest in materiality has seen a small but influence group of scholars foregrounding issues around objects and things (Debrix and Weber 2003; Higate and Henry 2009; Salter 2008; Venturi et al. 2007).  Another group of scholars has been interested in matters of ‘practice’ in International Relations (Pouliot 2008; Richmond 2009).  But these theoretical approaches have not translated into changed pedagogic approaches, and in the main they are still defined and discussed largely through representational means. This is not to say that all approaches to International Relations Pedagogy are the same – the papers on this panel attest to this. In various sectors of the discipline there have been attempts to incorporate more experiential and active learning techniques.  But approaches such as simulations, field trips and problem or case based learning approaches are still generally seen as supplements to the established text based techniques rather than the centerpiece.[1]

This paper is an analysis of recent experiment in using object based approaches to teaching and learning in a PGT environment.  It argues that while an incorporation of object-based learning seems to have pedagogic benefits based on student feedback, further research is needed.  It is also unclear whether a partial incorporation of an OBL approach may be confusing for some students who are used to a textually based approach.

1 – Best Practice in Learning

Contemporary pedagogy stresses the need to ensure that students reflect upon the material in a way that ensures absorption and comprehension of the material (Cowan 2006).  Approaches to reflective learning, also stress the importance of presenting materials in ways which allow students to reconsider and challenge their pre-existing assumptions and frameworks regarding the material (Moon 2004). While it is more than possible for reflexive methods to be deployed using texts (Cowan 2006) educators will still encounter the challenges which derive from a reliance on texts in a PGT environment namely:

  • Students will different cultural backgrounds will struggle more or less with texts which tend to reflect the Eurocentric nature of the discipline.
  • Students with different learning needs (autistic, dyslexic) may find themselves relatively disadvantaged in a learning environment which privileges textual pedagogies.
  • Students who do not have English as their first language and often find the traditionally dense academic articles which are assigned as PGT reading difficult to comprehend. As ESL students are an increasing proportion of our PGT student cohorts this consideration needs to be taken seriously. Personal experience suggests that ESL students will often ignore or skim read those articles they find inaccessible, resulting in in-class discussion being dominated by those students who are most comfortable with the texts.

Current best practice in pedagogic approaches stresses the role that multi-dimensional learning approaches can have in improving comprehension and retention (Moon 2004).  In particular, the need to distinguish between verbal and tacit knowledge highlights the different ways in which students learn.  Say Phillips and Tinning quoting Hooper-Greenhill, “verbal knowledge is primarily textual and is characterized as ‘knowledge through the written, spoken or heard text’” (Phillips and Tinning 2011: 57). In other words, the type of knowledge that forms the nucleus of PGT teaching in the social sciences and humanities in the UK.  Tacit knowledge on the other hand, “is experiential and involves encounters through the senses and the body producing ‘powerful “gut reactions”, mobilizing feelings and emotions” (Phillips and Tinning 2011: 57). The mobilization of emotion can itself be an important aspect of comprehension and retention (Moon 2004) in two different ways. First, a students personal emotional state during the teaching experience will influence whether they are comfortable and able to absorb information. Students who are frightened are less able to learn and less likely to retain information.   Secondly, it will have an effect on the level of comprehension itself by involving a range of senses – vision, touch, hearing, kinesthetic – not only eyes (Phillips and Tinning 2011; Rodaway 1994).

Particularly in the area of international relations, the core disciplinary concepts contain a strong affective element. Consider the study of conflict. While some branches of conflict studies approach the subject from a largely empirical perspective – measuring number of casualties, frequency of events (Collier and Sambanis 2005; Gleditsch et al. 2002) an equally influential perspective stresses the need to engage with our basic conceptualizations of violence, civil war, conflict in order to not only measure and observe but comprehend the motivations, experience and dynamics of ‘conflict’ (Kalyvas 2004; Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois 2004). For example, Thomas (Thomas 2010) says that within IR our conceptions of violence lack in nuance and specificity – instead using the term to stand in for any act of bodily aggression that is considered to be non-legitimate.

It is strange, too, that so many of the concepts that occupy the discipline are essentially affective in nature. While, concepts such as security and power occupy the pages of our journals, the embodied and affective aspects of these terms remains under-examined. Even in the theoretical spheres of bio-politics – the concern with the body qua its visceral embodiment – our teaching methods and engagement with the terms remains squarely verbal, determinedly textual.  I argue that not only would a change in teaching methods to a more tacit approach improve student learning with regards to these abstract and multivalent concepts; but that this approach may force a reconsideration of the anemic manner in which these terms are traditionally deployed within the discipline.  By considering the tacit, visceral, embodied meaning and aspects of conflict, security, power, development one may find their interpretations of given events being challenged; possibilities for action opening up or shutting down; and even the focus of study shifting.  For example, the famous study of trench warfare during WW1 found that the majority of soldiers were physically unable to shoot their targets (Collins 2008). The horror of the situation overwhelmed their rational brain and their automatic bodily functions took over. Many urinated or defecated in their trousers; others fired over-head; still more ran.  Recognizing the visceral, embodied experience of conflict raises questions over the accuracy to capture the central issues through an abstract or quantitative approach.

A sustained engagement with the human element of conflict also raises ethical issues with regard to the way in which the subject is studied.  In my own experience of PGT courses on Conflict, Security and Development and Complex Humanitarian Emergencies it is far to easy to slip into a discourse which obviates the recognition that the events under consideration involve human casualties – death, trauma, suffering.  A purely textually or verbally based engagement arguably facilitates an approach which see ‘conflict’, ‘insecurity’, ‘emergency’, ‘under-development’ as abstract concepts to be critiqued, hypothesized, proven or rejected without a tacit recognition of the constituent human elements.

In order to address these concerns, in Spring 2010, I designed and taught a class which adopted an ‘object based approach’ to the topic of complex humanitarian emergencies. The course, was designed around four ‘object oriented’ aspects:  overall theoretical orientation, the object lesson, in class presentation and end of term paper.  The next section will review each of these approaches in turn.  Following the course, two forms of student feedback were elicited. First, the official university anonymized feedback through the online system (Annex x); second, using Study Direct, Sussex University’s virtual learning environment I established an online anonymous short answer survey that allowed me to solicit more targeted answers than the generic university feedback forms (Annex x).  The final part of the article will describe how I modified the course for my Spring 2011 session and present my initial thoughts on the these modifications.

2. The Course

The course ran for nine weeks between January and March 2011.  The class was comprised of 24 students:  10 male and 14 female students of ranging between early twenties and mid forties in age, and from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. As this was an elective, the students can be identified with reference to their programme of origin – which included the MA in Conflict, Security and Development, the MA in Anthropology of Violence; MA Human Rights; MA International Relations; and MA anthropology of Development and Social Transformation.   As described in the syllabus:

This course interrogates the concept of “complex humanitarian emergencies” (CHEs) as a modern form of humanitarian response.  As such, it is interested in what CHEs reveal about the underlying tensions in the stated objectives of humanitarian intervention.  To examine these questions, it applies an often neglected theoretical lens to the study of CHEs – that of spatial and material theory. The two main questions are:

1.  What does attention to the material and spatial practices of humanitarian response reveal about the underlying tensions in the stated aims of humanitarian intervention?

2.  How do the material and spatial practices influence the way in which subjectivities and power relations are constructed both locally and in global terms?

It will use a wide range of historical examples and media to problematize the idea that CHE is a purely modern concept.

It did this both by investigating material and spatial approaches, i.e. those approaches attentive to objects, and by adopting ‘object oriented’ learning approached. Each will be examined in turn.

i) Overall Theoretical Approach

The overall theoretical approach was one which introduced the students to a variety of theorists who adopt a variety of spatial and material approaches including:

  • Lefebvre (1991) and Harvey (2006) as applied to ideas of ‘humanitarian space’
  • Bourdieu (1990), de Certeau (1988) and Butler (1993) on ‘performance, practice & the everyday ‘ in international response
  • Low (2003), Brown (Venturi et al. 2007), Weizman (2007) and Hyndman (2000) on ‘spaces of enclosure, spaces of separation: the camp, the border’
  • Latour (2005), Dant (2004) & Auge (1995) on ‘moving in the field: assemblage and networks’
  • Coward (2005), Pandolfi (2003) on ‘state of emergency?’ how the material culture and built environment of humanitarian response may be considered as a quasi state.

Each of the weeks brought together the theory with material aspect of complex emergencies:  camps, tarpaulins, food drops, SUVs, categories of people, organization logos, ration cards.  The students read the readings, so visual knowledge was still a key learning modality, but with this knowledge as background, the seminars – 1h50 minutes per session – foregrounded the objects of aid in the following three ways.

 ii) The Object Lesson in Historical Perspective

‘Objects lessons’ were a well established pedagogic approach within the nineteenth century practice of using objects in teaching. Usually attributed to the pedagogic philosophy of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi,[2] the approach involved using objects to engage students’ full range of senses in the process of learning. According to Carter, “[i]n his teaching and writing he [Pestalozzi] emphasized the concept of Anschauung, which may be understood as ‘sense training.’ In Pestalozzi’s model, children were first to develop sensation, then perception, notion and finally volition, learning and how to act morally based on an individual view of the world” (Carter 2010: 8).  Associated with Anschauung was the implication that knowledge was not absorbed in a linear or ‘brick wall’ fashion (Moon 2004) but rather holistically and through a variety of sensory channels including affect and emotion.

Pestalozzi’s approach proved to be very attractive to certain educators particularly in the U.S. and England who after visiting Pestalozzi’s school in Yverdon, Switzerland, “adopted his basic notion that children should learn from experience and observation as opposed to memorization and recitation. They employed these notions to develop entire curricula or to solve specific pedagogical problems in the teaching of subjects like music, mathematics, or drawing” (Carter 2010: 8).  Pestalozzi’s approach focused on educating the whole person; treating his students as people not subjects (Pestalozzi 1801).  This was very much part of what has become known as ‘progressive education’ – a trend that began in Europe, Great Britain and America during the late  nineteenth century and persists in various guises to the present day. Progressive education stresses the value of experiential knowledge over rote memorization and became associated in the late nineteenth century with such names as Francis Parker and John Dewey (Reese 2001).  It also stressed the need to foster a loving and kind relationship with the student.

Pestalozzi and his acolytes such as Elizabeth Mayo in England promoted the ‘object lesson’ as a key part of progressive education (Reese 2001: 13; Schultz 1995).[3] By focusing on ‘things’ rather than words, students were thought to be able to approach learning in a more organic and intuitive fashion.  The object lesson was “typically organized around specific everyday objects and substances, listed and detailed at length in the many object lesson manuals published throughout the century.”[4] For example, Mayo’s Promethean Lessons on Objects: Graduated Series designed for Children between the ages of Six and Fourteen Years offers a series of graduated series – one to five; each cumulative series intended for more advanced pupils  (Mayo 1863) Series one contains such objects as glass, Indian rubber, milk, rice and chalk.  Series Two contained Ïan uncut Lead PencilÓ, ÏA Wax CandleÓ, and ÏA KeyÓ; Series Three ÏA QuillÓ, ÏA Piece of Honey CombÓ and ÏA Laurel LeafÓ. By the Fourth Series students the ‘objects’ included the senses such as ÏSmellÓ and ÏTasteÓ as well as Spices such as ÏClovesÓ and ÏNutmegÓ and Liquids such as ÏInkÓ and ÏForeign White WineÓ.  By the Fifth Series a wide range of household items were represented – including some that had been used in previous lessons such as ÏHornÓ and ÏGlassÓ.  The Fifth Series also included groups of objects entitled ÏOn The MetalsÓ and ÏOn EarthsÓ.  In this way, more abstract concepts such as location, chemical composition, distinctions such as ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ and political and economic inter-relationships (such as empire) could be explored through accessible concepts.

Nor was Mayo alone in her documentation of the process of Object Teaching.   Dozens of similar manuals sprang up throughout the nineteenth century in both Europe and America.  The approaches were broadly similar, and differed in the degree of direction with regard to the employment of the technique.  For example, Calkins’ (Calkins 1882) provides minute instructions to teaching on how to use the technique with student’s including questions that they should ask for different ‘objects’.  Consider this suggested approach for examining a cat.

What does the cat do when she is happy?

Children. She  purrs.

Teacher. How does the cat show that she is angry?

C. She wags her tail, and makes a noise.

T. How does the cat tell you that she is hungry ?

C. She mews.

T. How does she tell you that she wants you to open the door for her to come in or to go out ? […] (Calkins 1882: 184).

Pestalozzi’s approach borrowed from two major and overlapping philosophical trends of the nineteenth century: naturalism (or romanticism) and empiricism. On one hand, Pestalozzi’s approach emphasized careful empirical observation of the objects in question. Through the application of one senses, a variety of information and data could be identified and comprehended that was not possible in the context of textual approaches. While it focused on ‘everyday objects’ – salt peter, India rubber, sage – these objects did not themselves appear to have been imbued with any type of enchanted or extra-material quality (Bennett, 2001).  Says Professor S. S. Greene in his ‘Report on Object Teaching’ for the meeting of the National Teachers Association of 1865, knowledge is not “in the object, but in the mind. The object neither embodies nor in any way expresses them. It merely serves as the occasion to call them into consciousness” (Greene 1865: 5). Unlike the early to mid-twentieth century focus on everyday objects for their phenomenological impact (Adorno and Jephcott 1974; de Certeau 1988; Kracauer 1995; Lee 2002; Simmel et al. 1997), the use of objects in the Pestalozzian sense was primarily as pedagogical instruments or tools which could engage and direct a students senses to have a more complete understanding of the thing and through the thing, to a more complete understanding of nature. While it is possible that those adherents with more naturalists or transcendentalist tendencies may have spoken of particularly natural objects with an almost agential reverence, in the main, the object was seen as a tool to clarify thoughts which originate only in the mind and therefore feel squarely within Cartesian mind-body thinking.

An understanding of nature was in turn thought to organically foster moral recognition within the students of what constitutes right and wrong, and ultimately would bring them closer to God. There was also a clear association both in Pestalozzi’s own work and in his adherents in the explicit connection between object teaching and religious and moral training (Greene 1865). Interwoven with romantic, humanitarian notions of the child and childhood, there was also an implication that children through their privileged epistemological position were somehow closer to God and that an object based approach to learning was a better fit with their pedagogical level.  Reese argues that “American advocates of the new [progressive] education drew as they pleased from a large corpus of romantic writings, domestic and foreign” including Emerson, Rousseau, Thoreau, as well as Pestalozzi and his German student Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) (Reese 2001: 10).

As evidenced from the Object Lesson manuals, it was rarely the objects themselves that were used in teaching although educators were encouraged, where possible to bring the actual ‘object’ into class.  One common tool were Object-Lesson Cards, first published in the early 1860s by Oliver and Boyd of Edinburgh (Carter 2010: 9). Describing a set from the 1880s, Carter says

“[e]ach of the lesson cards measures roughly twenty by thirteen inches and includes actual specimens of ‘raw and manufactured materials’ along with a short essay detailing the chosen plant and is connections to the commodities displayed. A boll [sic.] of cotton resides next to brightly colored calico; oak park connects to a square of tanned leather; a cypress leaf is displayed beside a pencil…by redefining cookies, straw, or macaroni as the subject of a classroom exercise, as part of a network of meaning, these pedagogical tools attempted to transform children’s daily experiences into learning opportunities” (2010: 8)

But according to some this was not object teaching: “But what is object teaching? Not that so-called object teaching which is confined to a few blocks and cards to be taken from the teacher’s desk” (Greene 1865: 10).  Such an approach only “exchange[d] an unknown term for another equally unknown” (Greene 1865: 10). Instead, it is an approach that “works from the well known to the obscurely known, and so onward and upward till the learner can enter the fields of science or abstract thought” (Greene 1865: 11). Pestalozzi and Froebel’s methods and pedagogic influence had long lasting effects on contemporary Anglo-American education, most notably in the spread of Froebellian kindergartens (Tarr 1989: 117).

While the ‘object lesson’ tended to be primarily geared towards younger learners, in 1889 Emerson E. White told a local graduating class that “The theories and methods of methods of Pestalozzi and Froebel have permeated elementary schools and science and other modern knowledges, have entered the universities and are working their way downward through secondary education” (White as quoted in Reese 2001: 10). Although the influence of object learning is generally no longer an explicit aspect of secondary or university education, its pedagogic inspiration can be found in a variety of approaches that fall under the object based approach.  For example, inquiry based learning “is an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, and that leads to asking questions, making discoveries, and rigorously testing those discoveries in the search for new understanding” (Foundations 2000).  A variety of scholars are also interested in the value of the museum and the objects it houses in teaching and learning (Hooper-Greenhill 1999; Leinhardt 2002; Paris 2002; Phillips and Tinning 2011; Schwartz 2008).

iii) The Object Lesson in 2010

The object lesson for this class took place from 11:00-12:50 on February 4th, 2010 in the Mass Observation Archive of the University of Sussex Library.  The MOA “specializes in material about everyday life in Britain. It contains papers generated by the original Mass Observation social research organization (1937 to early 1950s), and newer material collected continuously since 1981. The Archive is in the care of the University of Sussex and is housed in the Library in Special Collections.”[5] It is particularly concerned with the opinions of everyday people – their experiences and observations.  The Mass Observation project was concerned with collecting ephemera: “paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles.”[6] In conjunction with Fiona Courage, the Curator of the Mass Observation Archive, students were introduced to the idea of using objects to do research, particularly in the context of an archive, as many of them were unfamiliar with the concept.  As Fiona expressed it in her introduction, “the aim, the objective of today is that you will leave with some idea of how you can go about researching an object.”[7]  Myself and Fiona had previously gone through the archive for objects which we felt had relevance to the topics under consideration in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies.  As the archive is only concerned with Britain, we were reliant upon objects from and relating to the Second World War and the year following it.  While the majority of them were paper based, Fiona succinctly explained to the students that “what I want you to get the feeling for is that the document is an object, its not just the information that’s contained within it that’s important, it’s the object itself: it’s what it’s written on, it’s how it’s written, it’s what it smells of, it’s what the marks are…coffee stains…what does that tell you about that item?”

She illustrated what this means, by showing them, first, a transcribed copy of a poem by Rudyard Kipling[8] called “Ballad of the King’s Jest”.  You contrasted a verbal approach to knowledge with a tacit approach by first, demonstrating how, on strictly verbal grounds, the first version of the poem would be interpreted based on the language, the prose, the linguistic meaning of the poem. She then took out the original manuscript and put it on the overhead projector (Figure 1).  Based on the manuscript she asked the students what he was feeling when he wrote the poem.  Based on the fluidity and erratic placement of the text on the page students suggested that Kipling was ‘inspired’ when he wrote the poem, that the text came easily and quickly to him. Fiona also pointed out that the prose started out quite calmly on the page, but towards the end is crammed tightly in order to fit on the page. She also remarked that while people consider him to be a genius, the crossed out words and moved others around indicate that “he made mistakes too…he changed his mind too.” It offers insight into the writer and the writing process that the printed page can’t.  Similarly, a coffee stain on the page may give insight into how the manuscript was treated over the years and indicates that the manuscript was possibly not considered to be a terribly important document at certain points in its history.

Students had been assigned randomly to groups through seating arrangements – tables with pairs of chairs had been distributed around the room, and students had sat down at them as they came in. We then distributed one or two pieces of ephemera and/or objects to the tables. Students were then asked to begin by asking themselves two questions:  1) what is it? 2) where is it from? Students were encouraged to look beyond the text and to consider the thing as an object.

One group had been given a gas mask.  They asked themselves questions about how it was made; what materials had been used; the design. They tried it on, smelled it, looked at the wear marks.  Doing this led them to question the age of the mask.  A second group had been given a poster from a charity ball in 1885 for ‘needy and necessitous upholsterers and upholsteresses’ in London. This discussion around the poster raised issues of class, social literacy, spatial location of upholsterers in London, and most importantly for the course, issues relating to nineteenth century notions of charity.  A third group had been given a charity appeal for Belgium refugees in London, from a religious organization in 1916. This highlighted a variety of issues from the significance of charity appeals as early as 1916. Something that may have been seen by students on the course as a relatively recent way of conducting humanitarian affairs was given history depth. The brochure also gave insight into the geopolitical relations between Belgium and London during this time, and the plight of refugees. That European refugees were a significant problem in England during the first World War problematized the students framing of refugees as primarily a contemporary and North-South issue. Another group had a hand-written letter dated 1940 which describes the everyday lives of ambulance drivers for a religious charity, located in Buckhurst Hill, Essex.  The letter describes how they were accommodating refugees from East London. The discussion revolved around the issue that unlike the previous piece of ephemera – the charity appeal – the hand written artifact provided an intimate sense of the everydayness of accommodation and treating refugees.  Returning to the gas-mask, Fiona revealed that it had actually been purchased at a museum, emphasizing the point that in the context of object based research it is essential to carefully consider the object, and not jump to conclusions regarding its origins or intended use.

After all groups had a chance to present and discuss their objects, we then asked them to consider how they would go about finding more information about them. This was intended to prepare them for their final research paper. “How would you build your research project up from the information that you have.”  Several of the groups suggested looking at national and local archives; unions or guilds such as the upholsterers. Another suggested going through the Charity Commission to find records of historical charities. Others suggested interviews.

iv) In Class Presentation

All students were also asks to give in-class, not contributory presentations on respective weeks.  The way in which the seminars were structured, was that I would introduce the theoretical frameworks under consideration for that week.  This ensured that all students were comfortable with the main theoretical points under discuss. Groups would then present on that week’s theme in a way that applied that week’s theory to aspect of complex humanitarian emergencies under discussion.

For weeks five, eight, nine and ten you have been assigned to a group through Study Direct.  As a group you will be assigned an object or theme, which will be sent to the respective groups via Study Direct.  As a group have the choice to develop a short presentation on how that’s week readings do (or do not) apply to the object in question.  If, as a group, you decide that would prefer to use a different object that is more appropriate for that week’s readings, you are encouraged to do so.  However, there needs to be a clear link between the object and that week’s reading, and you will need to clear your choice with the tutor in advance.

You will need to meet in advance of the seminar to develop a presentation of between 15 and 20 minutes on the object in question. You may use Study Direct to have virtual discussions if it is difficult to meet, and I am happy to add other electronic tools such as a group wiki.  Please let me know if this is desirable.

The presentation should include a power point presentation, ideally with visuals, and all members of the group should be involved in some way.  Roles should be detailed on a slide at the end of the presentation (e.g. Power Point:  Jane Doe; Archival Research:  Dogs Body; Presenter #1 Austin Karl; etc.).  At the end of the presentation, the group should reserve 2-3 minutes to present their reflections on the exercise itself:  how they found the material, what difficulties they encountered, what surprised them. The presentation will be posted on Study Direct after the seminar.

This exercise is intended to not only develop critical analytic skills, by actively bringing together theoretical frameworks with empirical objects, but serves as a preparatory exercise for the final essay.

So, for example, the group in Week Eight presented on the issue of Women’s Safety in Camps, choosing the object of ‘camp’ and relating it to the theoretical perspectives on borders, bordering and enclosure as discussed by Garry Marx, Jennifer Hyndman and Charlie Hailey. Week Five’s group looked at how performativity and considerations of ‘audience’ help us to understand violent or ‘inappropriate’ behaviour of peacekeepers (with reference to Somalia).

v) End of Term Paper

Both the ‘object lesson’ and the presentation were intended to prepare students for their final contributory assignment: a 5000 word essay. Students were asked to:

identify an object or artefact that you would like to investigate as central to complex humanitarian emergencies. This might include the object of the Kalashnikov gun, the UN laissez-passez (passport), the food drop, the field hospital.  Other possibilities are listed at the back end of the syllabus.  You may investigate this object with reference to a variety of media and methods.  The essay should investigate how the object is involved in humanitarian emergencies (broadly speaking) and what it tells us about some aspect of complex emergencies. This could include historical, symbolism, or political economy approaches.  The paper may use the object to reveal some hitherto under-investigated aspect of humanitarianism and/or to develop theories presented in the course. You may want to include diagrams or other visual aids such as pictures, photographs.  These do not add to the word count.[9]

In order to ensure they were adequately prepared for the assignment and they understood what was being asked of them, an entire week (Week 7) was set aside to have an essay writing workshop. In addition to a presentation that I gave on common mistakes and how to avoid them (Annex x), students were asked to prepare and bring to class a one page outline of your essay comprised of a research question, basic outline and short bibliography by Thursday, February 25th.  Students were assigned to pairs and asked to assess each others’ outlines according the following criteria.

  • Is the research question well formulated?
  • Is there a clear argument?
  • Is the structure logical and does it work to support the argument?
  • Is the bibliography appropriate?
  • Is the project viable in a 5000 word essay format?
  • What elements/issues need to be included for a well supported argument?
  • What pitfalls do you anticipate?

Based on these criteria they were asked to assign a mark to the outline.  Marking sheets were distributed in class (Annex x).  Students were asked to include a short paragraph, prior to the essay’s main body which describes how the feedback you received influenced your work (see sample attachments). The essays as completed ranged in quality along a normal spectrum. Several outstanding essays were identifiable including an examination of tunnels as spaces of resistance; and the social life of blue tarpaulins.

3. The student response and observations

Student feedback was solicited through two different methods. The first method was via the online feedback system as carried out through the university.  The course received very positive feedback on average with the overall experience receiving a mean rating of 4.1 out of 5.0.[10] On the overall approach of the course students commented positively:

“Good discussions, engaged and conscientious teaching, introduced me to intellectual field to which I was previously unknown [sic.].”

[on things s/he liked about the course] “Combine theory and practice.”

“…providing useful, career-applicable skills to disaster and conflict.”

“the course was both relevant and interesting to current affairs.”

“Fascinating subject.”

“Very new and exciting material to which I had not been exposed. It caused me to rethink and research areas that are now becoming more and more important to me…”

“The professor conducted the class seminar well, enabling students to express themselves, yet also making them see other aspects to the discussion. The class group works actually are meaningful.”

But they also had some complaints…

“We can understand more the meaning of space and non-spaces by more practical approach than philosophical.”

“Perhaps not all students followed the material and spatial approach as much as was required to obtain full learning experience, hence the stress on these approaches should perhaps be lessened.”

“…relevance of readings unclear and felt like being taught a rigid obscure methodology on CHE…”

“I thought the course would be much more ‘hands on’ but it turned out to be way to [sic.] abstract and way too theoretical.”

“At times, I got lost in the theory…and how it related to what we were talking about.”

A not insignificant contributing factor to the negative responses, may have resulted from the unavoidable truncation of the course.  Due to snow, the university was shut and the course started later than intended.   As a result, the first week – where the basic conceptual and historical apparati of ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’ was explained – but rushed through and meant that students might have been lacking in the basic concepts before exploring more abstract concepts.

In order to gain a more focused understanding of students’ responses to ‘object based learning’, I also conducted my own online survey after the course was done, but while students still had access to the VLE. The full survey is available as an Annex however it is worth considering these responses in some depth with regards to how students related to the approach.  Eight out of 24 students responded: 5 men, 3 women; all under the age of 35 and from a range of nationalities and disciplinary backgrounds.

When asked how they would define an ‘object based approach to learning’ all eight chose “foregrounding the material aspects of a particular issue (for example, focusing on camps when studying refugees.” The majority (5/8) felt that focusing on objects and materiality was “a little bit different” than the approach to learning adopted in their other courses.  Said one anthropology student,

“anthropology has a strong thread on materiality, and so there were definitely theoretical similarities between my other classes and this one, for example Auge was not new. However, CHE certainly had a greater focus on objects – be them, as noted above, refugee camps, spatial zones, automobiles etc, and it used video/multimedia such as powerpoint than my other classes which, very often, were dominated by discussion of anthropological theory and ethnographic accounts.”

Another said, “it greatly brought out an emphasis on structure over agency. To some extent, conventional IR seems to place greater emphasis on agency.” And a third, “Studying objects placed the perspective of the interpreter/student on a more or less equal footing with that of the object’s constructors or original users – laying the ground for a critical examination of both perspectives from a third or more position(s).”

One student eloquently explained the benefit offered by an object centred approach by contrasting it with more orthodox approaches to social science and humanities pedagogy:

“Although it is important to note that many courses eventually focuses on objects (i.e. History -> Discovery of America -> Gold as the most important material which resulted in the indiscriminate actions against native Americans), the main innovation brought by is related to the process of learning: instead of going from the concept to the object, the course focused on the object before explaining the particular concept.  According to me, this approach gives you more time to form your own idea so that as soon as the final concept emerges in class you have already unconsciously built your opinion about the matter.”

Students were of mixed opinions as to whether focusing on objects changed the way that they thought about the issues addressed in the course such as disasters, complex emergencies, and humanitarian response. One student felt that the approach was very similar to anthropology where “objects and the relations that actors have to and around objects are a core area of analysis which provides a tangible way to untangle otherwise complex power relations.” However another said it “opened my eyes for how strong a material focus emergency interventions take.”

They found the best (or most useful) part of focusing on objects to be rendering “the theory more tangible” – an aspect that was highlighted by two students.  Said one respondent, “as someone rather averse to high-level, abstract theory, focusing on objects seemed to me to provide a way of understanding in more ‘real’ terms issues, such as considering places/spaces as central to understanding experiences – so, thinking about the camp and then, from that, thinking about what it means to be inside/outside the space.” Another commented that “it brought to light some unconscious taken-for-granted manifestations of power relations” and another felt that the course “offered a most informative and practically a new way of looking at developmental issues. The abstract nature of the course also made it quite challenging and interesting.”

My observations

Overall, I thought the course went well and this was reflected in the high scores that the students gave it in the official assessment.  However, the course as it was formulated was perceived to have been deficient in two main ways.

1. The weighting of the course did not sufficiently engage with ‘first principles’ of humanitarianism – at least in a way which was graspable by non-specialists in such a short period of time. Says one respondent, “There is plenty of  “orthodox” critique of CHEs that students weren’t exposed to at all; things like mandate conflicts, organizational structure, the nature of  “crisis”, funding imperatives, professionalism, government-NGO-public relationships, agency coordination – these would have been good practical areas for them to think about that would significantly contribute to the humanitarian field for those who would eventually go in this direction.”

2. Perhaps there was a need to manage expectations. Although the course description clearly laid out the parameters that would be adopted in the course (and according to feedback the majority of students agreed that it had delivered what it promised), one or two students felt that what they were taught would be “cast aside if they did go into humanitarian fields.” Part of this, I believe, is the result of a changing PGT landscape in Britain where students want to leave with clearly identifiable and transferable skills.  The ability to engage critically with a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives is not seen as one such skill.

It is clear from the feedback and from observing individual participation in class that students with an anthropological background were familiar with related concepts such as material culture, ethnomethodology and were therefore much more comfortable exploring humanitarianism using spatial and material culture. I think that their expectations are also quite different. Unlike International Relations or Development Studies students, there is less of expectation that course content be ‘policy relevant’.

With regards to my starting assumption that such an approach might help students from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, I am not sure this was the case. As part of my VLE survey, I asked my respondents whether English was their first language.  2 out of 8 of them were non-native speakers.  Of these two, one of them felt that the use of objects to complement textually based approaches did make them think about the concepts of the course in a different way while the other was not sure. On engaging students from a variety of backgrounds, one student said, “From a sociological point of view you could see how different our backgrounds were: ranging from the person already used to the field to the scholar sitting in the library, everyone brought something in class, either academic or practical. As a result, our discussions were always interesting.”

I do think that perhaps a stronger focus on the object qua object would have helped solidify the methodology. As it stood, the objects under consideration where still considered from a primarily visual and text based perspective. Ideally, the various theories would have been tacitly matched to environments or objects which they could directly engage with. Interestingly, even the object lessons as described in the nineteenth century still relied on textually based, visual knowledge.   Overall, it seems to have been a love-it-or-hate-it course (a ‘marmite’ course in object terms!). At least one student was very vocal about his dislike of the approach and feeling that overall the course was “a fairly useless experience.” Whereas others said that there was no part that they considered to be deficient. Asked what was wrong with the course one student responded: “un, dunno – I really liked the approach.”

4. Resultant modifications

The course was an interesting experience. On one hand it was a truly rewarding experience. The students who did ‘get’ the approach really ran with it and produced outstanding work.  The discussions were dynamic and animated. However, the comments from students regarding the need to make the course more attentive to mainstream approaches to and concerns in humanitarianism, as well as the absence of any similar course in the department led me to significantly modify the course for the Spring 2011 session.  In the new course, issues of space and materiality are now only brought up as selective complimentary readings (for example, in the study of Humanitarian Space).[11] This issue of the ethics of researching CHE is dealt with in the week on ‘Representing Disasters’. I have retained the essay workshop as the uniform feedback from students is that it is worthwhile and useful. However, I have modified it slightly so that students now have two rounds of peer review in order to ensure that they are not putting too much weight on one other student’s opinion.

The course is still in progress, however it will be completed and feedback available for comparison by Summer 2011.  My sense based on comments from students is that I may have gone too far the other direction and that the course may now be much too mainstream and atheoretical.

5. Conclusion and Reflection on the place of object based learning in IR

Based on my experience designing and teaching the CHE course both in Spring 2010 and again in spring 2011, I feel that the integration of an object based approach has tremendous potential value both for CHE specifically and IR more generally.  Through this evaluative paper I have found support for some of my initial hypotheses and a lack for others.  My hypothesis that an object centered approach would help me reach those students who are less comfortable with the traditional PGT format is inconclusive.  It is clear however, there is the feeling amongst students that there is a need for more engaged and directed teaching of PGT classes: “in contrast to other course in this so called ‘taught’ MA, I felt properly engaged.” Because students are so un-used to an object centered approach, it seems unlikely that they will grasp such an approach immediately unless they have been previously exposed to it.  This can be seen in the way in which those students with anthropology backgrounds quickly grasped the conceptual approach.  This is not to say that the approach is not useful, only that teaching it as a single week module at the post-graduate level may have difficult reaching all students.

Another consideration in that, as discussed, although the attention was placed on ‘the object’ and the built environment, the techniques used were still quite visually oriented.  The inclusion of even more radical approaches of object teaching including field trips and role-playing might have made the approach more easily accessible to those students unfamiliar with it.

It is, however, worth recognizing, that in the current higher education context of fee increases and the widespread perception of rampant job insecurity, students are increasingly demanding courses that deliver what they perceive to be transferable skills.  While critical enquiry does obviously fall into this category, students taking my complex humanitarian emergencies course are preoccupied by the concern that the knowledge that they receive and develop in their PGT courses will be clearly recognized as valuable by potential employers. As instructors, we shouldn’t shy away from engaging with radical methodologies or theories based on student demand, but do need to find a way to manage student expectations of an increasingly skills based curriculum, with the value of challenging them and encouraging them to question their basic assumptions regarding ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’ and international relations more generally.

For those students who are open to exploring a broader approach to knowledge, an object-based approach is undoubtedly a useful and positive complement to more orthodox curriculum.  Not only does it problematize established narratives of humanitarianism and international politics but it also calls into question more fundamental assumptions regarding epistemology, ontological and causation. Instead of seeing complex humanitarian emergencies as a problem to be solved, is allows for an intimate and enchanted engagement with people, places and issues under examination.[12]

References

Adorno, Theodor W. and E. F. N. Jephcott. (1974). Minima moralia. Reflections from damaged life. Translated … by E. F. N. Jephcott: London: NLB.

Augé, Marc. (1995). Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. London: Verso.

Barnard, Henry. (1874). Pestalozzi and His Educational System. Syracuse C.W. Bardeen.

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant matter : a political ecology of things. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Bennett, Jane. (2001). The enchantment of modern life : attachments, crossings, and ethics. Princeton, N.J. ; Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Bennett, Tony. (1995). The birth of the museum : history, theory, politics. London: Routledge.

Biber, Edward. (1831). Henry Pestalozzi and His Plan of Education. London: John Sauter

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity.

Butler, Judith. (1993). Bodies that matter : on the discursive limits of “sex”: Routledge.

Calkins, N.A. (1882). Manual of Object-Teaching. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Carter, Sarah Anne. (2010). On an Object Lesson, or Don’t Eat the Evidence. The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 3(1):7-12.

Collier, Paul and Nicholas Sambanis. (2005). Understanding civil war : evidence and analysis. Washington, D.C.: World Bank ; [London : Eurospan, distributor].

Collins, Randall. (2008). Violence : a micro-sociological theory. Princeton, N.J. ; Woodstock: Princeton University Press.

Cowan, John. (2006). On becoming an innovative university teacher : reflection in action. 2nd ed. Edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Coward, Martin. (2005). The Globalisation of Enclosure: interrogating the geopolitics of empire. Third World Quarterly 26(6):855-871.

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de Certeau, Michel (1988). The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Debrix, François and Cynthia Weber. (2003). Rituals of mediation : international politics and social meaning. Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press.

Down, Robert. (1975). Heinrich Pestalozzi. Boston: G.K Hall.

Foundations. (2000). Inquiry

Gleditsch, Nils, Peter Wallensteen, Mikael Eriksson, Margareta Sollenberg and Havard Strand. (2002). Armed Conflict 1946-2001: A New Dataset. Journal of Peace Research 39(5):615-637.

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Holman, Henry. (1908). Pestalozzi. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. .

Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. (1999). The Educational Role of the Museum. London: Routledge.

Hyndman, Jennifer. (2000). Managing displacement: refugees and the politics of humanitarianism. London: University of Minnesota Press.

Kalyvas, Stathis N. (2004). The Urban Bias in Research on Civil Wars. Security Studies 13(3):160-190.

Kracauer, Siegfried. (1995). The Mass Ornament: Weimar essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Krusi, Hermann. (1875). Pestalozzi: His Life, Work, and Influence. Cincinnati: Wilson, Hinkle & Co.

Latour, Bruno. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Leinhardt, G. (2002). Learning conversations in museums. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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Macleod. (1891). Talks about Common Things. New York: Teachers Publishing Company.

Mayo, Elizabeth. (1863). Lessons on Objects: Graduated Series designed for Children between the ages of Six and Fourteen Years. New York: Charles Scribner.

Monroe, Will. (1907). History of the Pestalozzian Movement in the United States. Syracuse: C.W. Bardeen

Moon, Jennifer A. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning : theory and practice. London: Routledge Falmer.

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

Paris, Scott ed. (2002). Perspectives on object-centered learning in museums: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pestalozzi, Johann Heinrich. (1801). How Gertrude Teaches her Children

Phillips, Murray and Richard Tinning. (2011). Not just ‘a book on the wall’: pedagogical work, museums and representing the sporting past. Sport, Education and Society 16(1):51-65.

Pouliot, Vincent. (2008). The Logic of Practicality: A Theory of Practice of Security Communities. International Organization 62(2):257-288.

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Ricks, George. (1893). Object Lessons and How to Give Them. Boston: D.C.Heath & Co. Publishers

Rodaway, Paul. (1994). Sensuous geographies : body, sense, and place. London: Routledge.

Salmon, D. (1891). Longmans’ Object Lessons. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

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

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy and Philippe I. Bourgois. (2004). Violence in war and peace : edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois. Oxford: Blackwell.

Schultz, Lucille M. . (1995). Pestalozzi’s Mark on the Nineteenth-Century Composition Instruction:  Ideas Not in Words, But in Things. Rhetoric Review 14(1).

Schwartz, J. P. (2008). Object lessons: Teaching multiliteracies through the museum. College English 71(1):27-47.

Sheldon, E.A. (1862). A Manual of Elementary Instruction for the Use of Public and Private Schools and Normal Classes; Contains a Graduated Course of Object Lessons for Training the Senses and Developing the Faculties of Children. New York: Charles Scribner.

Silber, Kate. (1965). Pestalozzi: The Man and His Work. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.

Simmel, Georg, David Frisby and Mike Featherstone. (1997). Simmel on culture : selected writings. London: SAGE.

Tarr, Patricia. (1989). Pestalozzian and Froebellian Influences on Contemporary Elementary School Art. Studies in Art Education 30(2):115-121.

Thomas, Danielle. (2010). Why don’t we talk about ‘violence’ in International Relations? Review of International Studies.

Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, Kester Rattenbury and Samantha Hardingham. (2007). Learning from Las Vegas. Abingdon: Routledge.

Weizman, Eyal. (2007). Hollow Land:  Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London: Verso.

Willson, Marcius. (1864). A Manual of Information and Suggestions for Object Lessons in a course of Elementary Instruction. New York: Harper & Brothers


[1] For a discussion of the use of museums as learning objects see Bennett, Tony. (1995). The birth of the museum : history, theory, politics. London: Routledge..

[2] For more information on Pestalozzi see Barnard, Henry. (1874). Pestalozzi and His Educational System. Syracuse C.W. Bardeen, Biber, Edward. (1831). Henry Pestalozzi and His Plan of Education. London: John Sauter , Down, Robert. (1975). Heinrich Pestalozzi. Boston: G.K Hall, Holman, Henry. (1908). Pestalozzi. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. , Krusi, Hermann. (1875). Pestalozzi: His Life, Work, and Influence. Cincinnati: Wilson, Hinkle & Co, Monroe, Will. (1907). History of the Pestalozzian Movement in the United States. Syracuse: C.W. Bardeen , Silber, Kate. (1965). Pestalozzi: The Man and His Work. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.

[3] It is possible, of course to go further back than Pestalozzi for the use of natural objects in teaching. Schultz points to John Amos Comenius as “one of the first educational theorists to argue that…a child’s education was most profitably begun not with general principles but with concrete objects and/or illustrations, that is, with the senses” Schultz, Lucille M. . (1995). Pestalozzi’s Mark on the Nineteenth-Century Composition Instruction:  Ideas Not in Words, But in Things. Rhetoric Review 14(1)..

[4] For a sample of these object manuals see Calkins, N.A. (1882). Manual of Object-Teaching. New York: Harper & Brothers, Macleod. (1891). Talks about Common Things. New York: Teachers Publishing Company, Ricks, George. (1893). Object Lessons and How to Give Them. Boston: D.C.Heath & Co. Publishers , Salmon, D. (1891). Longmans’ Object Lessons. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, Sheldon, E.A. (1862). A Manual of Elementary Instruction for the Use of Public and Private Schools and Normal Classes; Contains a Graduated Course of Object Lessons for Training the Senses and Developing the Faculties of Children. New York: Charles Scribner, Willson, Marcius. (1864). A Manual of Information and Suggestions for Object Lessons in a course of Elementary Instruction. New York: Harper & Brothers

[5] http://www.massobs.org.uk/index.htm (accessed March 3, 2011).

[6] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ephemera (accessed March 4, 2011).

[7] The session was recorded and posted on the VLE environment.

[8] I had not been aware that she was going to use Kipling as an example, and the use of Kipling in a course which stressed the interdependencies and historical legacies of North-South relations was not lost on one of the students who, when asks if they’d ever read any Kipling responded, “Yes, White Man’s Burden”

[9] Those students who were uncomfortable by an object focussed essay, or who felt this might disadvantage them in some way were given a second option of taking a more traditional approach and identify a research question that they would like to investigate.  For example:  Is the history of humanitarianism inextricable from the military?  What are the origins of the refugee camp?  Is humanitarian space a useful concept?  The questions that will be raised in the seminars should help you formulate your questions.

[10] The response rate was 83.3% (20 / 24 students).

[11] I have included a week on the “the Ethics of Researching Conflict” in my MA course on Conflict, Security and Development.

[12] In the future, it is possible that I will run two different courses – one on materiality and spatiality in the context of international relations broadly, and one on complex emergencies from a more orthodox perspective.

Spatializing Communicative Ethics

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

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

Introduction

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

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

1) Communicative Ethics and the Case of Kosovo

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

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

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

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

2) Space as an analytical and theoretical tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a) London Conference, 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b) Heathrow Airport, 8 October 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c) Rambouillet negotiations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4)  Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Head, 2008

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

[8] Richmond, O. P. (2009). “Becoming Liberal, Unbecoming Liberalism: Liberal-Local Hybridity via the Everyday as a Response to the Paradoxes of Liberal Peacebuilding.” Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 3(3): 324 – 344; Higate, P. and M. Henry (2009). Insecure spaces : peacekeeping, power and performance in Haiti, Kosovo and Liberia. London, Zed.

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

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

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

[12] Lefebvre, 1991, p. 38.

[13] Ibid.

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

[15] Lefebvre, 1991, p. 39.

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

[17] Soja, 1996.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[29] Sell, 2002, p.109.

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

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

[32] Bellamy, 2002, p.31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[40] Judah, 2002, p.183

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[55] Judah, 2002, p.203.

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

[57] Berridge, 2002.

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

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.