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).

Apres le Deluge, Nous

“Apres le Deluge, Nous: The Spatial Turn in Post-Disaster Reconstruction,” unpublished paper, 2007

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

I – A SPATIAL HISTORY OF POST-DISASTER INTERVENTIONS

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

This overlooks the way in which post-disaster reconstruction evolved.  From its modern post-WW2 inception, international humanitarian assistance was conceived in spatial terms. (Slater 1997) The categories and binaries by which it defined itself as an activity were fundamentally geographic – 1st, 2nd and 3rd worlds; developed and underdeveloped countries; the global north/global south.  In particular, Fred Cuny attributes the rise of disaster response as an industry within the global north, to the rapid, post-1945 decolonization process which left the former colonies without either the human or financial capacity to respond.  The ‘apolitical’ international system of NGOs and multilateral agencies was seen as preferable to the reassertion of control by former colonial powers. (Cuny 1983)

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

According to Craig Calhoun, the idea of an Emergency Imaginary is an important part the Western Social Imaginary (Calhoun 2004, Taylor 2005).  “This notion of ‘emergency’ is produced and reproduced in social imagination, at a level that Charles Taylor (2002) has described as between explicit doctrine and the embodied knowledge of habitus” (Calhoun 2004: 7).  Calhoun goes on to say that the “production of emergencies, and the need to address them, has become one of the rationales for assertion of global power.” (Calhoun 2004: 9).  This thesis is further explored by Naomi Klein, in her new book on what she terms ‘disaster capitalism’, where she claims that the global neo-liberal order is perpetuated through the windows of opportunity presented or created by large scale disasters. (Klein 2007)  An important part of the discourse is the perceived unusual nature of the Emergency:  “’[e]mergency’ is a way of grasping problematic events, a way of imagining them that emphasizes their apparent unpredictability, abnormality, and brevity, and that carries the corollary that response – intervention – is necessary.[11]  The international emergency, it is implied, both can and should be managed.” (Calhoon 2004: 6)

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

 

 

 

 

SECTION II – RESPONSE STRATEGIES FROM A SPATIAL PERSPECTIVE

The term ‘reconstruction sites’ refers to geographic locations that have or are being physically reconstructed, with external assistance, after experiencing a crisis that overwhelms the ability of the affected society to respond.  ‘External Assistance’ refers to the provision of physical and/or financial resources by individuals and agencies that normally reside outside the geographic boundaries of the reconstruction site and have been brought there specifically by the event of the disaster.  In the contemporary reconstruction site, changes to the physical environment are of two sorts: first, the physical structures that put are in place to assist the victims of the disaster – houses, schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure; and second, those changes which occur as a result of the influx of ‘external’ actors – refurbished or new hotels, offices, neighbourhoods, security, and transportation infrastructure.  The lens of analysis is rarely, if ever, focused on the latter.  While there is widespread acknowledgement amongst development practitioners and theorists alike, that the rapid influx of hundreds, or thousands of foreign workers has feedback effects, they are dramatically underexamined. This is characteristic of a general lack of understanding as to how the physical/material impacts on the social, and outside of a few specialized disciplines such as architecture and urban planning, there is also a general lack of interest.[13]

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

Authors such as de Chaine (2002), Ek (2006) and Edkins (2000) have pointed to the physical, bounded structure of the international compound  (or ‘camp’) as having unique and underexamined properties.[16] While the camp, or compound, is by no means the only type of physical experience of the international community in a reconstruction zone, it is an evocative one – a place that often becomes the focus of ‘ex-pat’ meetings and leisure activity, whether or not it is truly representative of the international sentiment at large.  Descriptions of the US Green Zone in Iraq, increasingly points to the implications of conducting a ‘reconstruction’ from within a walled compound.[17] A initial examination of the impact reveals at least two types.  First, the practices, and modes of thinking that occur within such a microcosm of international activity will influence the way that individuals relate to one another, what types of interventions are chosen, and how they are designed and implemented.  Second, the impression that such structures, and spatial arrangements have on the individuals that they are intended to assist. The tropes of the white SUV land rover, the ex-pat hotel, the WFP transport planes have become clichés, but what impact does the persistence of these clichés have on external impressions of humanitarian intervention.

 

SECTION III – THE SITE OF THE INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN COMPOUND

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

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

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

 

Form and function of the humanitarian compound

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

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

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

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

i) The Fortress

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii) The Camp as a Space of Exception

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

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

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

iii) Gated Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Beyond the floodgates

The classic texts of post-disaster intervention point to the military spatial heritage of humanitarian relief and reconstruction:  the tents, the conception, layout and organization of refugee and relief camps. (Kent, Cuny, Davis)  However, they do not include an examination of older continuities – those that may exist between the built forms of colonial occupation and contemporary relief efforts.  In the current processes and practices of international assistance, the lived experiences and built environment of the international community are rarely examined despite there contributions to the humanitarian imaginary.[36] They may also be an important aspect of the way in which the international community is understood and interpreted at the local level.  In this way, although many theorists have cautioned against drawing historical continuities where none exist (between development and colonialism), I suggest that these parallels may be stronger than hitherto suggested and worthy of further sustained analysis.

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

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

[2] c.f. MAMDANI, M. (2007) The Politics of Naming:  Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency. London Review of Books. London. PUGH, M. (2005) Peacekeeping and Critical Theory IN BELLAMY, A. J. A. P. W. (Ed.) Peace Operations and Global Order. London and Oxford, Frank Cass and Routledge., CHANDLER, D. (2006) Empire in denial : the politics of state-building, London, Pluto.

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

[4] For the human construction of famine, in particular, see works by KEEN, D. (1994) The benefits of famine : a political economy of famine and relief in southwestern Sudan, 1983-1989, Princeton, N.J. ; Chichester, Princeton University Press. EDKINS, J. (2000) Whose hunger? : concepts of famine, practices of aid, Minneapolis, Minn. ; London, University of Minnesota Press., WAAL, A. D. (2000) Democratic political process and the fight against famine, University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies. Davis, DUFFIELD, M. R. (1991) War and famine in Africa, Oxford, Oxfam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] This paper, is part of a larger piece, forthcoming, which considers the significance of particular built forms in the humanitarian imaginary.  On the idea of the social and emergency imaginary see CASTORIADIS, C. (1987) The Imaginary Institution of Society, Oxford, Polity in conjunction with Blackwell. CALHOUN, C. (2004) A World of Emergencies:  Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order. 35th Annual Sorokin Lecture. University of Saskatchewan, University of Saskatchewan. TAYLOR, C. (2005) Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham and London, Duke University Press.

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

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

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

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

[23] Logistically, a compound provides a base where supplies food and NFIs (non food ite ms) may be amassed prior to distribution.  Compounds secure the vehicles and delivery systems that are used to interact with the target beneficiaries and provide communications networks when others have been destroyed, or are not working.  Diplomatically, they provide a location where various types of meetings and information sharing may take place such as emergency or reconstructive planning processes take place.  The compound must also provide bodily security to the aid workers who are increasingly targeted by the elements of the populations they intent to assist. They also provide an environment in which the workers are able to carry out their tasks to a speed and level of efficiency required by their donor governments and agencies.  This means high-speed communications systems and a common working language.In the case of the UN this usually means the official colonial language for that area – English, French, Spanish, Portuguese. It also means that hygiene standards are such that foreign nationals are able to function without being sick – food and water is either flown in or provided to a standard that is acceptable to its occupants. In this way, the international humanitarian compound provides security as comfort. Scale will be determined by the size and the mandate of the organization in question.  The World Food Programme and the UN HCR require space to store the vehicles used for distribution and the items slated for distribution. This requires large warehouses, water and petrol storage facilities and even hangars. Power generation facilities will also be required in most developing contexts.  Programmes that are involved in ‘soft’ projects such as training and capacity building need less space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[32] In the UK and America such “premium network spaces” result in their  users – wealthy individuals who can afford to live and use such spaces – being “increasingly withdrawn from the wider citizenry.” ATKINSON, R. & FLINT, J. (2004) Fortress UK? Gated communities, the spatial revolt of the elites and time-space trajectories of segregation. Housing Studies, 19, 875-892. (p. 886)

[33] See also Ibid.

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

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

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