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.


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– 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.

Fighting in a Material World

“Fighting in a Material World: using and abusing the built environment” – draft MA option syllabus

Course Aims and Objectives:
Examine how the physical and material work is implicated in understanding and constructions of conflict, security and development.
Provide a historical perspective on contemporary geo-political categories.
Examine the evolving role of the built environment in securitization, politics and conflict
Introduce students to non-representational theory of affect, performativity and theories of the everyday with reference to historical and contemporary examples and applications

Week 1 – Introduction – Problematizing existing categories

Key themes:

  • Critical Geopolitics and the genealogy of the contemporary cartographic categories (Middle East; 1st, 2nd, 3rd world;  Underdeveloped/Developed)
  • The bounded nature of the nation state & borders; inside/outside; the myth of the nations state and extra-state territories.
  • Introduction to non-representational theory:  Critical Geopolitics, Affect, Performativity

Cases:  Global evolution of the state system

Exemplary sources:  (Barkawi 1999; Campbell 1998; Chandler 2008; Coward 2005; Dahlman 2005; Duffield 2007; Gregory 2004; Inayatullah 2004; Navaro-Yashin 2003; Thrift 2008)


Week 2 – Border zones, frontiers & the notion of the nation state

Key themes:

  • The role of the frontier in constructions of the nation state
  • Borders
  • Cross cultural approaches to empire building
  • Governmentality & Public Space

Cases:  Building America through the frontier; The security wall in Israel; Paris, Hausmann & Algeria

Sources:  (Basaran 2008; Foucault et al. 2003; Hirst 2001; Maroya 2003; Mennell 2007; Scott 1998; Turner 1986; Weizman 2007)

Week 3 – Equipment for Empire: Bunkers, Barracks and Camps

Key themes:

  • How the built environment facilitates empire building
  • The geneology of the “camp”
  • The role of the base in empire building
  • How securitization/”architectures of paranoia” foreshadow it’s decline

Cases: Post-WW2 Europe (the Atlantic Wall, the Nissan Hut); Albania; “My Cold War”

Sources:  (Agamben and Heller-Roazen 1998; Füredi 2007; Gillem 2007; Hirst 2001; Mallory and Ottar 1973; Piazza 2004)


Week 4 – Securing the Body/Practices of the Everyday

Key themes:

  • “Being-in” & phenomenology
  • How space is created by performance
  • How the body is politicized/secured
  • From Human Security to regimes of insurability

Cases: Derek Gregory’s “Performing Cairo”; Human Security Report 1994

Sources:  (Butler 1993; Certeau 1988; Commission on Human Security 2003; Duffield 2007; Gregory 2008; Grosz 1995; Heidegger 1977; Massumi 2002; Pupavac 2005)

Week 5 – Securing the Home/Community

Key themes:

  • The evolution of theories concerning public/private spaces
  • Gated Communities/Suburbia/Company Towns
  • Exporting the enclosure:  relationships between colonial and contemporary machinery for living
  • Surveillance/Banlieus, Ghettos/Red-lining
  • Affect; Social Production of Space

Cases:  The Gated Community in comparative perspective; the case of the bungalow; The Lives of Others/Stasiland

Sources:  (Arendt 2000; Clough and Halley 2007; Funder 2003; Harvey 1973; King 1995; Lefebvre 1991; Low 2003; Massey 2006; Raban 2006; Vale 1992; Wacquant 2008)

Week 6 – Security archipelagos

Key themes:

  • Mobility/Travel
  • Non-spaces/postmodernism/security archipelagos
  • Networks, Assemblages
  • Humanitarian Response

Cases: Contemporary Travel; Humanitarian Response

Sources:  (Auge 1995; Bauman 1998; Bousquet 2009; Davis 2000; Lisle 2006; Soja 1996; Weizman 2006)


Week 7 – Urbicide, Urban warfare, and the changing face of war

Key themes:

  • War in cities
  • Urbicide

Cases: Mostar; Iraq

Sources:  (Coward ; Graham ; Hills ; Schneider)

Week 8 – Ruins & Memorials

Key themes:

  • Theories of destruction
  • Memory & Memorialization
  • Lieux de Memoires

Cases: Holocaust; Cyprus; Photos of Car Bombs from Beirut

Sources:  (Bell 2006; Butler 2006; Davis 2002; Hodgkin and Radstone 2006; Koureas 2008; Navaro-Yashin 2009; Nora and Kritzman 1998; Stoler 2008; Till 2005)

Week 9 – Reconstruction & The Infrastructure of Empire

Key themes:

  • Post crisis reconstruction
  • Natural Disasters vs. Conflict
  • Different Approaches to Planning and the evolution of response
  • Embassies & Multilateral Buildings – from High Modernism to Humanitarianism

Cases: Iraq; Rwanda; Katrina; Aceh; the UN; Lebeus Woods

Sources:  (Barakat and Wardell 2005; Bartos and Hitchens 1994; Birch and Wachter 2006; Chandrasekaran 2006; Vale and Campanella 2005)


Agamben, Giorgio; and Daniel Heller-Roazen. (1998) Homo Sacer : Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Arendt, Hannah. (2000) The Public and the Private Realm. In The Portable Hanna Arendt, edited by Peter Baehr, pp. 182-230. London: Penguin.

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

Barakat, Sultan; and Gareth Wardell. (2005) After the Conflict : Reconstructions and Development in the Aftermath of War. London: I. B. Tauris.

Barkawi, Tarak and Mark Laffey. (1999) The Imperieal Peace:  Democracy, Force, Globalization. European Journal of International Relations 5:403-34.

Bartos, Adam; and Christopher Hitchens. (1994) International Territory : The United Nations, 1945-95. London: Verso.

Basaran, Tugba. (2008) Security, Law, Borders:  Spaces of Exclusion. International Political Sociology 2:339-54.

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

Bell, Duncan. (2006) Memory, Trauma and World Politics : Reflections on the Relationship between Past and Present. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Birch, Eugenie Ladner; and Susan M. Wachter. (2006) Rebuilding Urban Places after Disaster : Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. The City in the Twenty-First Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bousquet, Antoine J. (2009) The Scientific War of War. London: Hurst & Co. .

Butler, Judith. (1993) Bodies That Matter : On the Discursive Limits Of “Sex”. Routledge.

———. (2006) Precarious Life : The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.

Campbell, David. (1998) National Deconstruction : Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia. Minneapolis, Minn. ; London: University of Minneapolis Press.

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

Chandler, David. (2008) Review Article:  Theorising the Shift from Security to Insecurity – Kaldor, Duffield and Furedi. Conflict, Security & Development 8:265-76.

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. (2006) Imperial Life in the Emerald City. New York: Alfred A. Knopt.

Clough, Patricia Ticineto; and Jean O’Malley Halley. (2007) The Affective Turn : Theorizing the Social. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press ; Chesham : Combined Academic [distributor].

Commission on Human Security. (2003) Human Security Now. New York.

Coward, Martin. (2005) The Globalisation of Enclosure: Interrogating the Geopolitics of Empire. Third World Quarterly 26:855-71.

Dahlman, Carl and Gerard Toal. (2005) Broken Bosnia:  The Localization of Geopolitics of Displacement and Return in Two Bosnian Places. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95:644-62.

Davis, Mike. (2002) Dead Cities, and Other Tales. New York: New Press ; [London : I. B. Tauris].

———. (2000) Ecology of Fear : Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. London: Picador.

Duffield, Mark R. (2007) Development, Security and Unending War : Governing the World of Peoples. Cambridge: Polity.

Foucault, Michel,Mauro Bertani,Alessandro Fontana,Franc ois Ewald; and David Macey. (2003) Society Must Be Defended : Lectures at the College De France, 1975-76. 1st Picador pbk. ed. ed. New York: Picador.

Funder, Anna. (2003) Stasiland. London: Granta.

Füredi, Frank. (2007) Invitation to Terror : The Expanding Empire of the Unknown. London: Continuum.

Gillem, Mark L. (2007) America Town : Building the Outposts of Empire. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press ; Bristol : University Presses Marketing [distributor].

Graham, Stephen (ed). (2004) Cities, War and Terrorism: Towards an Urban Geo-Politics. Studies in Urban and Social Change. Oxford: Blackwells.

Gregory, Derek. (2008) Performing Cairo. Vancouver.

———. (2004) The Colonial Present : Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq. Malden, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell Pub.

Grosz, E. A. (1995) Space, Time, and Perversion : Essays on the Politics of Bodies. New York ; London: Routledge.

Harvey, David. (1973) Social Justice and the City. London: E. Arnold.

Heidegger, Martin. (1977) Building, Dwelling, Thinking. In Martin Heidegger:  Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell, pp. 320-39. San Franciso: Harper Collins.

Hills, Alice. (2004) Future War in Cities. London: Frank Cass Publishers.

Hirst, Paul Q. (2001) War and Power in the 21st Century : The State, Military Conflict and the International System. Oxford: Polity.

Hodgkin, Katharine; and Susannah Radstone. (2006) Memory, History, Nation : Contested Pasts. 1st pbk. ed. ed. Somerset, N.J.: Transaction ; London : Eurospan [distributor].

Inayatullah, Naeem and David L. Blaney. (2004) International Relations and the Problem of Difference. New York: Routledge.

King, Anthony D. (1995) The Bungalow : The Production of a Global Culture. 2nd ed. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Koureas, Gabriel. (2008) Trauma, Space and Embodiment:  The Sensorium of a Divided City. Journal of War and Culture Studies 1:309-24.

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

Lisle, Debbie. (2006) The Global Politics of Contemporary Travel Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Low, Setha M. (2003) Behind the Gates : Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America. New York ; London: Routledge.

Mallory, Keith; and Arvid joint author Ottar. (1973) Architecture of Aggression; a History of Military Architecture in North West Europe, 1900-1945 [by] Keith Mallory and Arvid Ottar. London, Architectural Press.

Maroya, A. (2003) Rethinking the State from the Frontier. Millennium – Journal of International Studies 32:267-92.

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

Massumi, Brian. (2002) Parables for the Virtual : Movement, Affect, Sensation. Post-Contemporary Interventions. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mennell, Stephen. (2007) The American Civilizing Process. Cambridge: Polity.

Navaro-Yashin, Yael. (2009) Affective Spaces, Melancholic Objects:  Ruination and the Production of Anthropological Knowlege. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15:1-18.

———. (2003) “Life If Dead Here”:  Sensing the Political in ‘No Man’s Land’. Anthropological Theory 3:107-25.

Nora, Pierre; and Lawrence D. Kritzman. (1998) Realms of Memory : The Construction of the French Past. European Perspectives. New York ; Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Piazza, Tom. (2004) My Cold War: A Novel. Harper Perennial.

Pupuvac, Vanessa. (2005) Human Security and the Rise of Global Therapeutic Governance Conflict, Security & Development 5:161-81.

Raban, Jonathan. (2006) Surveillance. London: Picador.

Schneider, Jane and Ida Susser (eds.). (2003) Wounded Cities:  Deconstruction and Reconstruction in a Globalized World. Oxford: Berg.

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

Soja, Edward W. (1996) Thirdspace : Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge, Mass. ; Oxford: Blackwell.

Stoler, Ann Laura. (2008) Imperial Debris:  Reflections on Ruins and Ruination. Cultural Anthropology 23:191-219.

Thrift, N. J. (2008) Non-Representational Theory : Space, Politics, Affect. International Library of Sociology. London: Routledge.

Till, Karen E. (2005) The New Berlin : Memory, Politics, Place. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. (1986) The Frontier in American History. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press.

Vale, Lawrence J. (1992) Architecture, Power, and National Identity. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press.

Vale, Lawrence J.; and Thomas J. Campanella. (2005) The Resilient City : How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wacquant, Loi c J. D. (2008) Urban Outcasts : A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity.

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

———. (2006) “Walking through Walls”. Radical Philosophy.

Not Welcome At The Holiday Inn

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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