Building the Humanitarian Imaginary

“Building the Humanitarian Imaginary,” unpublished paper (2009)

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

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

 

The Appeal of Post-Crisis Reconstruction to Architects and Engineers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THREE CASES:  BUILDING THE HUMANITARIAN IMAGINARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insert Figure 1 about here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Shot-Gun Reconstruction

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

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

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Insert Figures 2 & 3  about here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eco building & the culture of celebrity in New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

Insert Fig. 4 about here

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technological Salvation and the Domes of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS

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

 

Conclusion:

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

 

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

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

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

[5] Interview, April 17, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[19] Interview, April 17, 2009.

[20] Interview, April 17, 2009.

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

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

[24] Interview, April 17, 2009.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[45] As of May 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Political Life of Things

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

Plain Tales from the Reconstruction Site

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

 

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

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

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

A Spatial Genealogy of Response: Locating the Humanitarian Imaginary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Spatial Continuity A: Mobility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spatial Continuity B: Separation

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

 The space of home

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

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

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

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

The space of the vehicle

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

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

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

Implications

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

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

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

It incorporates the following themes and approaches:

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

Learning Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURSE OVERVIEW

SECTION ONE – FOUNDATIONS

Week 1 – Background Reading

Week 2 – The origins and evolution of humanitarianism

Week 3 – Principles, Professionalization and Organization

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

SECTION TWO – CASE STUDY 1 – HAITI & CHEs

Week 5 – Haiti as complex humanitarian emergency

Week 6 – Haiti before and after

Week 7 – Essay Preparation Week

SECTION THREE – CASE STUDY 2 – DISASTERS & NEW ORLEANS

Week 8 – New Orleans as state of exception

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

Week 10 – Cultures of Aid – Codes of Conduct

COURSE CONTENT

Week One – Background Reading (no class)

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

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

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

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

 

Week Two: The origins and evolution of humanitarianism

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

Guiding Questions:

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

 What are the key moments, documents and decisions?

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

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

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

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

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

Please have a look at online

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

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

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

Additional sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Week Three: Principles, Pragmatism and Organization

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

Guiding Questions:

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

 How is funding obtained?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collins and Weiss – Chapter 2

Barnett – Humanitarianism Transformed

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

IASC standing committee on Clusters

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

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

Codes of Conduct

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

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

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

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

Additional Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Guiding Questions:

 What is humanitarian space?

 Who is it for?

 How is it constructed?

 What are the implications for humanitarianism?

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

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

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

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

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

Additional sources

Hyndman, Jennifer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.un-spider.org/rivaf/docs/152_Geographically%20Visualizing%20Consolidated%20Appeal_Tomaszewski2009.pdf

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

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

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

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

 

Week 6 – Haiti 2 – Before and After

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

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

Zanotti, Laura (2010) Cacophonies of Aid

Additional Resources

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

Week 7 – Essay Week

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

Week 8 – New Orleans as state of exception

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

Eggers, David – Zeitoun

Hayley – on Camps

Klein, Naomi – Chapter from the Shock Doctrine

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

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

Additional

Brinkley, Douglas The Great Deluge

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

Piazza, Tom City of Refuge ( a novel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouble the Water (another documentary)

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

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

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

Solnit chapter (to be distributed)

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

Presentation – “Representing Katrina”.

Additional Reading

Lots of articles by Demond Shondell Miller

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

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

Brusma (2007) Katrina: The sociology of disaster

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

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

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

Week 10 – Cultures of Aid – Codes of Conduct

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

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures

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

Presentation: The role of Aid Blogs in contemporary aid work

Additional Readings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richmond, O. P. (2009). “Becoming Liberal, Unbecoming Liberalism: Liberal-Local Hybridity via the Everyday as a Response to the Paradoxes of Liberal Peacebuilding.” Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 3(3): 324 – 344. 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The object(s) of humanitarianism

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Best Practice in Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

i) Overall Theoretical Approach

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

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

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

 ii) The Object Lesson in Historical Perspective

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

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

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

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

What does the cat do when she is happy?

Children. She  purrs.

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

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

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

C. She mews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iii) The Object Lesson in 2010

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

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

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

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

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

iv) In Class Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

v) End of Term Paper

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

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

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

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

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

3. The student response and observations

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

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

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

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

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

“Fascinating subject.”

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

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

But they also had some complaints…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Resultant modifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dant, T. (2004). The Driver-Car. Theory Culture and Society 21(4/5):61-79.

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

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

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

Foundations. (2000). Inquiry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Richmond, Oliver. (2009). Becoming Liberal, Unbecoming Liberalism: Liberal-Local Hybridity via the Everyday as a Response to the Paradoxes of Liberal Peacebuilding. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 3(3):324-344.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drive by Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The structure of the article proceeds in two phases:

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

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

Part 1:  Theorizing the SUV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Being in the car – affect and interiority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Car Aid (1980s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interim Conclusion: Car-jacking the theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Interview, December 2, 2010.

[4] Also, see the Queesland development scheme

[5] Interview, November 27, 2010.

[6] Interview, December 2, 2010

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

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

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

[11] Interview

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

[13] Wikipedia.

[14] Interview, December 2, 2010

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

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

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

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

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