Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves

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

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

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

Internationals and locals are from two different worlds.

– Azwar Hasan, Founder and Chairperson of Forum Bangun Aceh

We created a world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

Within international politics, a ‘‘container’’ approach to space remains the dominant assumption (Helmig and Kessler 2007). The ‘‘territorial trap’’ (Agnew 1997) assumes that physical geography and political territory are coterminous and can be mapped out, carved up, bordered and defended. In few situations are these assumptions as visible as in the reconstruction after a large scale disaster. A tabula rasa approach to post-disaster reconstruction is in evidence by the similar approaches used in planning adopted in places as diverse as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Orleans, and Ecuador. To challenge this assumption leads us in two potential directions: first, the problem of ‘‘fit’’ between international solutions to local circumstances, that is, project design; second what happens in the physical and material encounter between international aid worker and local beneficiary.

The Problem of ‘‘Fit’’

The counter-intuitive impacts of restructuring space and the built environment are well documented. Scott (1998), Ferguson (2006), and Hodge (2007) all look at the way in which large-scale development schemes have backfired. In the area of humanitarian response, work by Edkins (2000), Keen (2008), Duffield (2001), Chandler (2006), and Marriage (2006) have demonstrated how the implementation of humanitarian interventions produce unintended and often negative consequences for the very people for whom the intervention has been designed. In de Certeau’s (1988) terms, this is because the very creation and attempted imposition of a top down strategy necessarily entails the appearance of ‘‘tactics’’ that will be deployed by those whom the strategy is intended to assist. These tactics are inseparable from any strategy, and will arise wherever one is imposed. They allow the user of a space to adapt it to his ⁄ her own needs. This changes the way in which the strategy operates, and potentially disrupts the attainment of its intended objectives. In a context of post-disaster reconstruction, tactics are manifest by the intended beneficiaries in the way in which they use, adapt, or reject the houses, infrastructures or trainings that are provided for them by donors.

The Effect of ‘‘Auxiliary Space’’

While specific human subjects deploy the tactics, they are as much a relational product of strategy and environment as they are of human design (Bourdieu; Bourdieu and Nice, 1977). The way in which subjects respond to the imposition of a particular structure is informed by, and inseparable from their personal experiences, social and class conditioning, and past-and-present environment. In the context of post-crisis reconstruction, particular approaches will therefore be informed by previous experience as well as current circumstances. This implies that if the physical circumstances, or habitus of the international community in country is circumscribed, then this will have an effect on how they interact with their intended beneficiaries (Newman 2003). While ideas of the reciprocal causal relationship between subjects and their environments have been common currency in other, more spatially oriented disciplines, development studies, and practice have not, in the main, stressed the importance of spatial concerns in shaping human subjectivities and their social and material practices. Doing so has several implications for the reconstruction effort. First, in terms of project design and delivery—the proposed strategy will be influenced by the particular experiences of its implementers—both in design and interpretation. In their work on the protests of Sudanese refugees toward the UNHCR, Moulin and Nyers (2007) discuss how sited categories such as ‘‘global political society’’ obscures the non-representational reality of how these categories are interpreted and played out on the ground. Second, subtle yet particular socio-cultural biases may manifest in the programmatic approach adopted, as arguably informed the focus on housing and home in post-tsunami Aceh. Third, the particular unique space of the international aid community may invoke further tactics on the part of the intended beneficiaries, thus changing the direction of the overall reconstruction effort.

‘‘Auxiliary Space’’ and the Culture of Reconstruction

The rapid arrival of thousands of humanitarian workers, following the 2004 ‘‘Boxing Day’’ tsunami, has frequently been referred to as a second tsunami. The largest post-crisis reconstruction effort ever seen led to approximately $US 7.7 billion being pledged for post-tsunami reconstruction and hundreds of humanitarian agencies descending upon the province in a matter of months. According to Telford, Cosgrove, and Houghton (2006), the number of International NGOs (INGOs) peaked at around 170 in mid-2005. This was in addition to 430 local NGOs that were also identified. In December 2007, the official government database had identified 841 ‘‘Donors and Partners’[4] and according to Barron (2007) they initially numbered in the ‘‘thousands.’’ The Government of Indonesia (GoI) stated that 133 countries provided assistance, and during the emergency phase, ‘‘16,000 military troops from different countries were deployed in what has been described by observers as one of the largest non-war military missions since the Second World War’’ (BRR 2007a). (The peak number of NGOs and individual donors remains disputed.) What remains completely overlooked in the programmatic literature are the bodies and material circumstances which compose the agencies, and organizations. Viewed from a spatial perspective, the metaphor of the aid tsunami is remarkably accurate. The physical occurrence of a tsunami is the visible result of unseen events (an earthquake) miles away from the damage that takes place. Its footprint is narrow, circumscribed, arrives quickly and retreats shortly afterwards—leaving an uneven, unpredictable, and remade landscape in its wake.

Similarly, work and progress on a post-crisis reconstruction are intimately linked to its site of origin—geographic and functional priorities dependent upon domestic or institutional agendas of organizations based elsewhere (Drury, Stuart Olson, and Van Belle 2005). Evocative of the auxiliary forces of a Roman army, international humanitarian workers are drawn from a wide range of locations and brought together in a foreign land to promote shared values and cosmopolitan norms. While differing in their approach and personal relationship to the particular location, they all have the shared objective of assisting and supporting the reconstruction after a large-scale disaster. Common to this post-crisis space are the three themes of mobility, securitization, and links to the place of origin. Running through all three of these is the fourth theme of exceptionalism.

Mobility

The ability to leave at will—mobility—fundamentally distinguishes the international community from its intended beneficiaries who are generally unable to leave after a few weeks, months or even years, and if they do so it is often in an illicit capacity (Bauman 1998). This applies both to the ability of internationals to arrive and leave a post-crisis site and to their ability to negotiate the space of the disaster itself. In Aceh, the geography of the disaster—long and narrow— meant that the reconstruction site was relatively easy to physically get to from Jakarta. However, the difficulties in moving up and down the approximately 300 km of damaged coastline, led the UN to set up a parallel transport system including almost daily flights to and from certain coastal cities (Calang, Meulaboh). These flights were used to transport (primarily international) staff to and from projects. Throughout the reconstruction effort, the transport of staff—- both of internationals working in country, and visiting experts, consultants, and staff from headquarters—constituted a major part of the UN’s activities. One Acehnese interviewee felt that the constant arrival and departure of international staff was tantamount to tourism, and commented that this money would be better spent on concrete reconstruction work rather than on transport, salaries, and per diems. It also meant that NGOs with fewer resources tended to concentrate their activities around the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.[5]

The theme of mobility is closely related to the theme of securitization where the conditions of movement of international staff around a reconstruction site will often be dependent upon the level of risk that various agencies are willing to expose their staff to. Differential measures of risk with regards to local and international staff are reflected in the operating procedures of various organizations. In the case of largest international organizations such as the UN and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), locally recruited staff members are only evacuated in the most exceptional of circumstances and only if the threat is a direct consequence of their employment by the organizations. While for internationals, disasters and other risks are an exceptional circumstance to be temporarily manage and remunerated with hazard pay, the uncertainty that characterizes the live of the inhabitants of many disaster prone regions is a normalized part of their existence (Beck and Ritter 1992; Giddens 1999).

Securitization

The archetype of international securitization is the walled and gated compound: an enclosure containing an assortment of offices, storage, medical, and sometimes living and leisure facilities. This can be seen most clearly in countries that are perceived to be highly insecure, where the experience of the international worker in the country will be physically circumscribed. It is highly securitized and may have an extra buffer zone or checkpoint. There may be watchtowers on the walls where guards can be located. It can also have other oversight mechanisms such as security cameras, or barbed wire on top of the walls. Compounds secure the vehicles, materials, and delivery systems that are used to interact with the target beneficiaries and provide communications networks when others have been destroyed, or are not working. The form will vary in terms of scale and level of securitization, and on the level of resources that the particular organization invests in staff security.

The compound must also provide bodily security to the aid workers who are increasingly targeted by elements of the populations they intend to assist (Boone 2008). With the increased targeting of humanitarian aid workers, both the UN and INGOs have invested more resources into ensuring the physical safety of their staff (Report of the Secretary General 2000, 2003). However, as the humanitarian community becomes increasingly physically separated from their intended beneficiaries, such securitization inevitably comes into conflict with the need to have an open and easy dialog with one’s beneficiaries. With the advent of the integrated UN mission, such analysis is increasingly important; however, much analysis concentrates on the programmatic impacts (Eide, Therese Kaspersen, Kent, and von Hippel 2005).[6]

While the extreme separation of staff from their environments is only seen in the most non-permissive of reconstruction and development circumstances—situations which are arguably not ‘‘post’’ anything (Heathershaw and Lambach forthcoming)—even where the security considerations are not extreme, there is a spatial separation between international staff and their local environments. From the perspective of an organization, it is necessary to provide an environment in which staffs are able to carry out their tasks to a speed and level of efficiency required by their donor governments and funding agencies. This means high-speed communications systems and a common working language. In a development context, it may also be required for hygiene standards to be maintained at a level where foreign nationals are able to function and remain healthy—food and water may be flown in or provided to a standard that reduces exposure to local pathogens and meets country of origin standards. Power generation facilities will also be required in most developing contexts. The degree to which such material and logistical support systems are required will depend upon the pre-existing infrastructure and the level of security and inevitably contribute not only to a physical circumscription. In countries that are deemed to be highly insecure, or dangerous, the staff of international agencies will be restricted in their physical movements.

One way of ensuring mobile security is the wide spread use of what has by now become a development cliche´: the white Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). While its large frame, and on-road visibility do offer a level of physical safety to their occupants, the protection that it offers has historically derived from its symbolic value. Its form is a mimetic of international humanitarian presence, in many countries better recognized than the symbol of the ‘‘blue helmet.’’ But recent experiences in many countries have shown that the form of the white SUV has become more of a liability than an asset. In some countries, it is not uncommon for international agencies to use local cars or taxis to transport staff instead of official, branded, vehicles to make both staff and vehicles less visible.

Work on the social impact of the SUV in America suggests that the rise in the SUV parallels a model of citizenship that values safety and inviolability of person above all else (Campbell 2005; Mitchell 2005). Similarly, the material practices of the international community may be seen to constitute an ‘‘attempt at self imposed exclusion from the wider neighborhood, as well as the exclusion of others’’ (Atkinson and Flint 2004) reinforcing the observations from local residents that ‘‘the objectives of the international community are different from those of the community they are assisting.’’[7] Edensor (2004:117) describes how cars ‘‘are part of the mediated imaginaries, mundane geographies and everyday practices that inhere in the formation of national identities.’’ The SUV’s large petrol guzzling body has increasingly become a symbol of the excess of the ‘‘West’’ and the exceptionalism with which it regards itself.[8] Such ‘‘self-imposed exclusion’’ may also be related to a personal limited of geographic places that may be deemed risky or insecure, particularly by those internationals who are there on a short-term mission, and therefore are limited in their ability to assess the situation. For most international agencies, the level of security is highly subjective, influenced by political and institutional factors (Lowenheim 2007).[9] It may be tied to the global political concerns of the agency, and may not be directly correlated to the material circumstance of a particular location, again emphasizing the linkages with country of origin rather than location.

Links to Site of Origin

Experiences of host governments have proven that the activities, and priorities of NGOs and multilaterals are remarkably difficult to coordinate and are both strategically and temporally more closely linked to their respective places of origin than to the host government’s (Collier 2007). As the source and location of primary funding, it is in their ‘‘space of origin’’—the country or institution that they are ordinarily based—that field missions are approved and results are assessed.[10] The creation and oversight of contracting, procurement, and assessment all happen in the space of origin, as does the recruitment and retention of staff. Employees’ career paths are tied to their points of origin, or through short-term contracts tied to particular events or disasters. Current debates and policy models at headquarters will inform strategy and approaches where programmatic operating procedures are often based on ‘‘best practice’’ or ‘‘lessons learnt’’ from previous reconstruction efforts, and may be implemented in a new situation with minimal adaptation to local circumstances.

In the case of post-tsunami Aceh, the larger organizations flew in their crisis response teams from headquarters and quickly transported those field staff who had been working on ‘‘similar crises’’ (Telford et al. 2006). This had two effects. First, while the locale of the reconstruction may change, its basic attributes do not, and similar spatial and material circumstances which accompany the aid industry will inform the people who work in them ‘‘hopping’’ from one disaster to the next. From an institutional perspective this is logical. To accomplish a quick and efficient intervention, you need people who are experienced with the instruments and processes of humanitarian response. You do not want to be re-inventing the wheel at every new disaster. However, from a political perspective, the reification of a mobile space of response means that certain assumptions regarding reconstruction become increasingly difficult to challenge and will develop into the ‘‘de facto’’ way of doing things in a particular context; the implications of which are not questioned. It creates an environment where ‘‘you can forget where you are and sip your latte.’’[11] That the priorities of the donors were at spatial and temporal odds with the location can be seen in the frequent complaint from the government and local NGOs that the timing of the reconstruction was problematic.[12]

While many development theorists have criticized the programmatic inefficiencies that result from such disjunctures, this article argues that the discrepancies have a further impact—they are embodied in the material practices of the international aid community. For example, the temporal structure of the in-country workday, including holidays and working hours, will be strongly influenced by the country of origin. Local customs such as prayer and fasting may come into conflict with competing temporal demands such as fiscal and reporting deadlines from headquarters. The length of time that staff spends in country is also significantly different from the local environment with work being carried out by staff who come for either very short periods as consultants (a few days or weeks) or for slightly longer, but still temporary assignments of 6 months to 2 years. To remain in a country longer than a few years is unusual in most agencies and particularly in the case of emergency relief and reconstruction; the demand for such skills is high, and workers are often quickly moved on to the next emergency.

The occurrence of ‘‘burnout’’ amongst this group of individuals is also very high. Other spatial exceptions include common dress codes, in keeping with the business practice and cultures of the point of origin, which may be at odds with local customs, for example, women baring their heads. Depending on which aspects of the space are in question, they may also be the location of potentially exceptional cultural practices such as the consumption of alcohol.

For all three themes, it is worth noting that to talk of the international community as a homogeneous entity is itself an abstraction. Within the aid community there exists, in many large-scale reconstruction sites, a ‘‘tiering of aid’’ between the Multilateral Organizations, INGO, and small scale NGOs.[13] Often these three groups create their own spheres of dialog and interaction—functionally separate from the others, although similar in the characteristic described. This tiering only serves to reinforce the overall theme of exceptionalism, as the more ‘‘elite’’ or prominent the international body, the higher the likelihood that it will have resources to invest in securitization, mobility and links to the space of origin. Such practices focus the international community inward, and bound their experience—both spatially and temporally. But also to disparities in the ability to produce knowledge that is recognized as such by the international community (Siapno-De Araujo forthcoming). The next section will look at how this circumscription contributed both to a particular understanding of the beneficiaries, and to particular choices regarding the built environment. It will first look at the inordinate focus on the built form of the single family dwelling and second, at the assumption that it is possible to separate out natural from political spaces of disaster.

Siting the Reconstruction

The Central Role of the Single Family Dwelling

In the reconstruction of post-tsunami Aceh, the building of new, permanent houses has become a key indicator of recovery. The number of completed houses, as well as required houses has been the source of much debate, and has changed in light of updated beneficiary information and increased costs. By the third anniversary of the tsunami, in December 2007, over 100,000 houses were completed, and the government was continuing to build toward the target of 120,000 (AFP 2007). Of the houses that have been built, many remain unoccupied because of either questions over ownership, land tenure, problems with quality of construction, or lack of adequate infrastructure. The tone between donors and beneficiaries was marked by frustration, mistrust, and sometimes outright anger (World Bank ⁄DSF 2007). Interviews within Acehnese civil society and government offices blamed both the international community and their government-sponsored institutions for the slow pace of construction, misuse of aid funds, and unfulfilled promises. The  internationals in turn, have blamed beneficiaries, government, and contractors for corruption leading to resentment by some internationals toward the very people that they had been brought in to assist.

Prior to the tsunami, there was almost no international presence in the province. Due largely to the protracted guerilla campaign by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) against the GoI, few agencies maintained a presence in the province and of these even fewer maintained international staff. Consequently, relatively little was known about Aceh as a province. This element of the unknown contributed to the fascination that many aid workers felt coming to this place (Kenny 2005) and may have added to reported perception of ‘‘disaster tourism’’ by local interviewees. Upon arrival, the sheer scale of the disaster was overwhelming to many less experienced NGOs and more experienced players alike. Added to this was the previously unheard of US$ 7.7 billion in aid pledges that needed to be spent. In addition to this, the GoI pledged an additional US$2 billion. Rather than begging for funding, they were begging for beneficiaries. In this setting, large building projects, which would show results quickly and use up relatively large amounts of cash, were very attractive to the donor community. So, by December 2006, World Bank figures show 1,424 projects and programs in the housing sector alone—over 757 more than the next nearest sector—transport (World Bank 2006).

Within the humanitarian aid community, the idea of ‘‘home’’ is an elusive concept. The ethnoscape of the humanitarian aid worker is the topography of nomads (Appadurai 1997; Deleuze and Guattari 2004). The concept of home is held up as an archetype of stability and comfort. Arguably, within a globalizing concept in general, the idea of home or neighborhood has come to occupy almost a sacred status. Houses have the added benefit that they are seen to be relatively non-political: they are a basic human need. But for the international community to physically rebuild permanent houses for an entire province is an unusual approach. Normally, reconstruction is done through either cash transfer or concentrates on the temporary or transitional phases of an emergence. The commitment that all earthquake and tsunami-affected families ⁄ households would be entitled to reconstruction or rehabilitation assistance can be traced to the central government directive of January 2005 (Steinberg 2007). In the initial reconstruction strategy of January 2005, the unit of a 36-square meter house was used as a costing estimate, and the reconstruction of houses took up only 12 pages of a nearly 200-page document (AFP 2007). But as the international community experienced increased pressure to show visible results, and tsunami-survivors became increasingly vocal about their need for houses, many NGOs turned to the building of housing as the easy way out.

But the reconstruction of a place proved to be neither as politically nor as technically easy as it was first assumed. Even well-established NGOs were not experienced in the area of construction and had little to no experience designing and implementing full-scale construction projects. In addition to the technical expertise and land right issues, you are dealing with families, with communities.[14] When reports of houses being allocated to ineligible persons began to surface, for example people who had not lost their house in the tsunami, ex-combatants, or people who had more than one house, donors were initially shocked. Interviewees expressed almost a personal sense of betrayal in their descriptions of events. Part of this is due to the way in which the idea of the ‘‘local’’ was imagined by the internals—both in terms of their circumstances and their desires.

Imagining Circumstances

Aceh’s long history as a rich and cosmopolitan place was not visible in the aftermath of the  tsunami. Instead of a multi-ethnic port city that had lain within a vast trade network and that had resisted Dutch colonialism for many years (Siegel 2003), the influx of aid workers knew the province only as a poor, conflict-ridden, and isolated place and consequently, one that should be grateful for what it received. Tsunami survivors were simultaneously constructed as beneficiaries, recipients, victims, and sometimes culprits (Bhabha 2004; Said 1995). Attempts to shift institutional thinking toward a more nuanced, ‘‘client’’ oriented approach were undermined through the continued interpretation by the international aid-workers of a disaster zone as a flat space, and its inhabitants as inherently ‘‘local’’—a term that typical of development circumstances has often been conflated with traditional ways and a vernacular aesthetic (Ferguson 2006).[15]

It was this understanding that led to an overemphasis on the ornamental and stylistic aspects of building. Lengthy discussions were held with beneficiaries on whether the houses should be built in the vernacular style, whether they should have a balcony, where toilets and kitchens should be placed, and what the color of the paint should be. Particular emphasis was placed on involving the communities in the design of their houses; however, the guidelines had already been largely specified by BRR, so changes to the design could only be minor. While many NGOs initially tried to provide larger houses, inflation and other complicating factors such as technical difficulties forced some organizations to scale back their original designs and meant that even the 36-square meter houses were often built to a substandard quality. Some donors were surprised when recipients ultimately seemed most concerned about the overall size of their house compared to their neighbors and whether it was built of concrete or brick.[16]

Within Acehnese society, the role of the house is traditionally complex. According to John Siegel (2003), a typical, traditional Acehnese village ‘‘consists of clusters of houses owned by sisters and aunts (mother’s sisters) with the compounds often sharing a wall and a fence. The size of the clusters depends, of course, on the size of the families and the availability of land’’ (Siegel 2003:52). It is not uncommon for an entire family to live together in one house. Post-tsunami—in the case that the house that was destroyed was a large one, accommodating several generations—there was no provision available within the BRR guidelines for anything except the standard 36-square meter house.

Desires

Three years after the Tsunami, the government agency responsible for investigating corruption in the reconstruction of houses had identified 1,000 cases of ‘‘cheating’’ involving 5,000–10,000 houses and as many as 50,000 individuals. According to a BRR official, entire villages colluded to gain extra houses. Such behavior is held up by internationals as a prime example of the corrupt and dishonest nature of Acehnese society, and have subsequently used this as an explanation for slow project delivery and mismanagement. It has also been used as an excuse to increasingly deploy interventionist and un-participatory methods and to terminate projects. Officially, the approach adopted by the international community was one based on local ‘‘ownership’’: where the community that is being assisted invests their own resources in to the process, and is therefore vested in seeing the outcome and maintenance of the project (Kenny 2005). Many NGOs pursued this approach to the reconstruction of housing, but the sheer scale of required coordination across different legal jurisdictions, issues with property rights, coordination with water, sanitation, roads, and in some cases electricity made it inappropriate for many of the smaller and medium sized NGOs which were not able to marshal the necessary commitment from various constituencies.

Ultimately, many NGOs were forced to abandon the approach and bring in large-scale construction companies that were neither participatory, nor particularly concerned with the impressions, needs, and requests of the beneficiary. Some were cited by interviewees as overtly corrupt, adding to the negative impression of the reconstruction experience. The low quality of the houses, and associated problems meant that the beneficiaries were unhappy—some complaining openly to the media, government or directly to donors; others threatening particular agencies; and many others simply refusing to live in the houses. In December 2007, there were reports of recipients storming donor offices demanding houses and of beneficiaries burning down houses that they considered to be unsafe (The Times 2007). This reinforced the impression that recipients are ungrateful, corrupt, and potentially violent. The resultant level of disgust with Acehnese society was expressed by one aid worker, who claimed that Acehnese culture is based exclusively on the principle of exchange, and is lacking in ‘‘western emotions’’ such as gratitude or love.[17] Such a claim sits uneasily against analysis that blames donor practices for the rise of an ‘‘entitlement culture’’ in Aceh (Barron 2007).

Mapping the Reconstruction

The perception of reconstruction space as flat space, empty space, smooth space (Lefebvre 1991) contributes to an approach to reconstruction, seeks to catalog, and report upon the reconstruction site according to the logic of its space of origin (UN-HABITAT 2007; UNORC⁄BRR 2007). As already mentioned, a major and widely recognized difficulty with the reconstruction effort in Aceh, was the lack of coordination between donors. This is a common problem in all humanitarian and development settings and the general solution on the part of donors is to increase the amount and quality of information. Internationally, it has led to the promotion of a ‘‘cluster system’’ to coordinate donor activity which is currently promoted as a ‘‘best practice’’ in humanitarian responses. This means that the reconstruction effort is divided up into different ‘‘sectors’’ with a different ‘‘lead’’ agency heading the relief and reconstruction effort in each one. When viewed from a spatial perspective, one effect of this system is to carve up the effort into functional areas that treat areas such as ‘‘water and sanitation’’ as distinct from ‘‘shelter.’’ Such distinctions are understandably necessary from a programmatic perspective; however, they also reinforce the perspective that it is possible to divide up a reconstruction effort into geographic and functional areas, and inevitably lead to a ‘‘silo’’ mentality where different sectors pursue endeavors which are out of sync with other, necessarily complementary, areas.[18] The response of the international community to coordinate problems is typically the identification, or creation of more or new data about what is essentially a political problem. In the case of Aceh, consultants and financial advisors were brought in to improve oversight mechanisms which included the establishment of a database to record and track all manner of donor activity.[19] An inordinate amount of attention was placed on the mapping of the disaster through Geographic Information System technology, attempts at coordination ultimately relied upon the production of reports, matrices and face-to-face and word-of-mouth contact through working groups.[20] Easterly (2002) has claimed that there is an incentive for aid agencies to spread the risk of failure by engaging in collaborative endeavors. Such collaborative endeavors may also lead to a shared culture of response between donors, who will regularly see each other at meetings. The regular turnover of staff may also mean that any institutional memory is regularly erased, encouraging a constant re-mapping of the situation.

Such a lack of institutional memory, and a tendency toward spatially oriented categories led to a distinction in the allocation of post-tsunami funds between donor funds and mechanisms which could be used to assist victims of the tsunami and those which could be used to assist communities that were affected by the long-running civil conflict (Helmig and Kessler 2007). Until the tsunami, Aceh had been the site of a long running battle between Acehnese pro-Independence supporters and Indonesian forces (Aspinall 2007; Kell 1995; Reid 2006). August 2005 (6 months after the tsunami) marked a peace agreement (the Helsinki Accord) between the GAM and the GoI. Money and resources were allocated with the demobilization and reintegration processes, but nowhere near the amount that had been allocated for post-tsunami reconstruction. The two types of post-crisis assistance were, by and large, kept financially and programmatically apart (Barron 2007). Separate institutions were created to oversee the respective processes, and use of largest pooled fund of post-tsunami money—the ‘‘Multi Donor Fund,’’ worth US$ 673 million—although espousing a conflict sensitive approach, could not be used on post-conflict projects.[21]

Ignoring years of policy analysis on the need to adopt conflict sensitive approaches to development (Burke and Afnan 2005), post-tsunami projects and programs initially adopted a largely ‘‘conflict blind’’ approach. It was considered to be relatively easy to distinguish between tsunami affected areas and conflict afflicted ones, and the two issues were seen to be programmatically separable. However, in some areas, such as Bireuen and Aceh Utara, there was significant overlap, creating tension between two categories of individuals who were receiving different levels and quality of support (World Bank 2008; UNORC⁄BRR 2007). Even in areas where the two categories of beneficiaries are not overlapping or contiguous, people move. The ‘‘search for beneficiaries’’ on behalf of NGOs may have contributed to this, as did their demand for reconstruction materials and labour (International Crisis Group 2007). The appearance of ex-combatants, looking for homes in areas designated for tsunami victims has also caused social problems. While the ex-combatants were unhappy that they were receiving fewer resources than their tsunami-affected compatriots, the tsunami victims, were uncomfortable living beside ex-combatants who have been associated with a rise in robbery and extortion in certain areas (Barron 2007; International Crisis Group 2007).

Contributing to this has been a ‘‘lack of fit between internationally derived assumptions about the aims of reconstruction and the context and needs of post-conflict Aceh’’ (Barron 2007). While occasions were provided to discuss the appropriateness of particular approaches to local conditions, they had no sustained impact. Instead, he observes that the use of individual compensation approaches in the reintegration of ex-combatants may be (re)producing the very conditions that made conflict likely in the first place: decreases in social cohesion, the hardening of conflict-era group identities, the aforementioned development of an entitlement mentality, and the perpetuation of a lack of trust of communities toward the state. Barron attributes the problem of ‘‘lack of fit’’ to a focus by the international community on implementation and modalities of the reintegration program rather than aims. However, his paper suggests that the space of these discussions—the context, delegates, timeframes and constraints— informed the discussions in such a way as to bias the discussions toward outputs that are in keeping with international assumptions about the nature of the ‘‘local.’’ As seen from the discussions of auxiliary space, such ideas of the ‘‘local’’ are strongly shaped by the bounded presence of the international and what the humanitarian imaginary considers to be local, both in country and in the space of origin.

Work by Heathershaw and Lambach (Forthcoming) has identified the tendency to oversimplify in-country relationships and allegiances through the overreliance on categories of ‘‘local’’ and ‘‘international’’—a problem that is observed across reconstruction sites. In Aceh, when the Agency of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for the Region and Community of Aceh and Nias (BRR) was set up in April 2005 by Presidential Decree, it was supported by international donors as a way of ensuring local ownership over the reconstruction process. In practice, it was staffed almost exclusively by Javanese and has been seen by some as a way for the GoI to ensure oversight over the reconstruction of one of its three daerah istimewa or ‘‘special territories.’’ Many of the employees—substantive and administrative staff alike—came to Aceh exclusively to work at the Bureau and when interviewed, expressed a distain for life in Banda Aceh. With the expansion of the Bureau’s mandate in early 2006 from coordination and oversight to include project implementation, conflict of interest issues arose and the Bureau was accused of graft and irregular contracting and procurement procedures which were exacerbated by the often poor quality of houses built (Afrida 2006; Guerin 2006; Sijabat 2006). The resulting BRR antipathy needs to be read through the lens of contemporary Acehnese politics and the push and pull over various government and parastate institutions, both at the local and national levels. A more nuanced reading that takes into consideration the overlapping and possibly competing fields at play in a reconstruction site, allows one to consider the various interpretations and behaviors of individuals who, in one field, may be beneficiaries, but may in other, be operating according to quite different parameters. A final section will examine this in more detail.

Implications and Conclusion

The Emancipatory Space of Reconstruction

This article has so far discussed the unanticipated ways in which the restructuring of space has resulted in negative unanticipated outcomes. However, the analysis also suggests that the new spaces that are created may also exhibit some emancipatory potential. In the discussion of home, we have seen how many of the aid workers may themselves occupy a liminal space with regards to their own countries—simultaneously longing for home, and yet estranged from it. They not only simultaneously benefit from the privilege and insurance that their nationality of origin confers upon them, but also wish to distance themselves from the most mundane elements of static existence. And while they are brought to these spaces through the impetus of their sites of origin, and offered a relative degree of wealth vis-a`-vis their host populations, they are still subjected to the spaces and timings of their temporary homes such as unexpected power cuts and national holidays. While the article has discussed the ways in which two-dimensional ideas of beneficiaries are often embodied within reconstruction strategies, the many aid workers interviewed espouse nuanced and complex attitudes toward their beneficiaries. Many expressed the desire to find a way to engage with the communities in a way that allowed them to live ‘‘not as a colonist, a soldier, or an aid-worker’’ but as the people they actually are (Meek 2008). However, as discussed, the way in which post-crisis space is reconstructed, makes these types of liminal experiences difficult to obtain.

The post-tsunami reconstruction and its ‘‘auxiliary space’’ also presented new and potentially conflicting opportunities and experiences for the beneficiaries. In light of Aceh’s cosmopolitan heritage, the arrival of foreigners was not seen as particularly threatening by the majority of the population, but rather as a source of interest and for some, of opportunity. The movement of delegations, consultants, and in-country staff created a demand for drivers, fixers, translators, local administrators, restaurants. Some of the financial benefit of this apparently filtered down into the wider economy. Particularly in Aceh, there was a visible economic boom—with the number of scooters, and SUVs having increased exponentially in the last 3 years. One government official commented, on the ‘‘current donor-aided construction-driven economic boom’’ (BRR 2007b), ‘‘when you drive through Banda Aceh in the evenings it looks like Paris: people sitting on the sidewalks, in cafes.’’[22]

For Acehnese living, working, and studying abroad, the event of the tsunami drew them back to assist their families, friends, and communities in rebuilding their lives. But the auxiliary space of humanitarian response also provided the opportunities for them to remain working in Aceh by providing salaries and working conditions comparable to what they would experience abroad. Under the circumstances of reconstruction, it also provides a microcosm (or space of exception) in which ‘‘western’’ behavior and attitudes are encouraged. For example, in post-tsunami Aceh, the bar within the World Food Programme (WFP) compound become known as a place which allowed ex-patriot staff and like-minded Acehnese to drink, dance, and relax in the context of an otherwise strict Muslim society. However, to certain elements within Acehnese society, the compound became a site of suspicion, and in June 2006, the compound experienced a nighttime raid where Syari’at police were reported to have shined lights onto sleeping staff within the compound (Deutsch Presse Agentur 2006). It is not clear whether the threat posed by the compound was one of exceptional space—an unregulated space nested within the space of Aceh—or if it was one of subversion—of the corruption that could be carried out upon the Acehnese subjects that came into contact with it. However, it raises the possibility that the binary distinction between ‘‘us’’ and ‘‘them,’’ ‘‘local’’ and ‘‘international’’ is as instrumental to elements within Acehnese society as it is necessary as a strategic framework for the international community. However, it is also possible, that after such a large scale trauma, the new, ‘‘auxiliary space’’ and material practices present an opportunity to dramatically restructure space, to fundamentally reorient  the direction of a particular society, and offer a visible and tangible hope that spurs the ‘‘beneficiaries’’ on to a better life. Such a window of opportunity was frequently cited in post-tsunami Aceh, as the arrival of an ‘‘army’’ of aid workers was considered to be a major contributing force to the resolution of the long running conflict between the pro-Acehnese independence GAM and the GoI. The physical presence of so many internationals and the accompanying media attention was seen by many as the necessary impetus for the resolution of the conflict (Le Billon and Waizenegger 2007; Renner 2006). In this way, ‘‘auxiliary space’’ may have allowed for a reconsideration of options and relationships between the combatants.[23]

While in the case of Aceh, the outcome of increased international presence has so far been positive, it needs to be considered for its wider impact. Arguably, attribution of causal impact to the international community has contributed to a hardening of the Government of Sri Lanka’s post-tsunami policy stance vis-a`-vis international involvement in domestic politics. Likewise, the 2008 post-cyclone Nargis position of Myanmar’s government was structured along geopolitical lines. Initially, they were willing to accept aid but not the aid workers to deliver it (Mydans 2008), and subsequently expressed a willingness to accept assistance only for other South East Asian countries (Mydans and Cowell 2008). Such outcomes offers insight into the degree to which host governments view the bodies and material presence of the international community as political and emphasizes the need to consider the built forms and material practices and in particular, the role of an ‘‘auxiliary space’’ as an integral part of the international humanitarian response. It is only by understanding that the way in which we do things is as important as what is done that we will be able to move beyond the existing categories of north ⁄ south; donor ⁄ beneficiary; savior ⁄ saved that dominate and constrain current international politics.

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[1] The author would like to thank Tarak Barkawi, Josef Ansorge, Alex Anievas, and two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions. Thanks to Mary J. Hunter and Arran Gaunt for their support. Research funds for this article were provided by the Smuts Foundation. The themes explored in this article are part of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge, Centre for International Studies entitled ‘‘Post-Crisis Built Environments of the International Community.’’

[2] Interview, Banda Aceh, 17 December, 2007.

[3] In the context of this article, ‘‘humanitarian intervention’’ is used to refer to the spectrum of international response following a large-scale disaster, as in practice there is significant blurring and overlap between the categories of ‘‘relief’’ and ‘‘development,’’ particularly from the perspective of the beneficiaries.

[4] Statistics provided by BRR.

[5] The requirement of the GoI for aid workers to register with the military or face expulsion if caught outside the main cities of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, compounded the concentration in these areas c.f. BBC. January 11, 2005 Indonesia Restricts Aceh Aid Work BBC.

[6] For work on the impact of military bases see Enloe, Cynthia H. (1989) Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making

Feminist Sense of International Politics. Updated ed. with a new preface. ed. Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of

California Press, 2000; Cooley, Alexander. (2005) Base Politics. Foreign Affairs 84(6): 79–92.

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

[8] And as much as the vehicles have become the target of displeasure with the international community, so too are they sought after by government ministries as a requirement of international assistance.

[9] The higher the risk rating, the higher the level of financial compensation and benefits earned by staff, which may incentivise some staff—particularly in peacekeeping missions—to maintain a higher security rating. Interview, Dili, May 23, 2008.

[10] While there is a stress in the programmatic literature on downward accountability, the key stakeholders remain those organizations and individuals who fund the intervention

[11] As one NGO worker cynically quipped. Interview, Dili, 20 May, 2008.

[12] It is worth noting that such complaints ran both directions, and that some donors felt that the GoI’s strict

imposition of reconstruction ‘‘phases’’ was unhelpful to a coherent reconstruction effort.

[13] Interview, Dili, 19 May, 2008.

[14] Interview, Banda Aceh, 13 December, 2007

[15] Interview, Banda Aceh, December 14, 2007 & Dili, 19 May, 2008.

[16] Although the general consensus was that the preference of brick over other materials was based upon social prestige, one interviewee felt that the preference was based, in the context of a long-running civil conflict, on the need for the physical security that brick provided. Interview, Banda Aceh, 13 December, 2007.

[17] Interview, Banda Aceh, 14 December, 2007.

[18] The institutional dynamics of aid are such that each ‘‘sector’’ may quite quickly move from being strictly an implementer of the overall project to having its own institutional incentives to expand into other areas ‘‘outside’’ its sector leading to mandate creep.

[19] Certain donors, such as the World Bank, have continued to collect and process their own data leading to disputes over which reporting figures are accurate.

[20] Certain donors, such as the World Bank, have continued to collect and process their own data leading to disputes over which reporting figures are accurate.

[21] Originally named the ‘‘Multi Donor Trust Fund,’’ the ‘‘Trust’’ was dropped from the title, according to one facetious interviewee, because there was no trust left.

[22] Interview, Banda Aceh, 18 December 2007.

[23] The tsunami itself is also pointed to as an event of religious significance which led to a realization on behalf of all the parties, of the futility of violence.

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Spaces of Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefebvre lays out a model of conceived, perceived and lived spaces. Conceived space (or representations of space)  is “conceptualised space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers…all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived” (Lefebvre, 1991, 38). Perceived space (or spatial practice) is the space of everydayness.  It is how a place is commonly used in routine existence and contains the “routes and networks which link up the places set aside for work, ‘private’ life and leisure” (Lefebvre, 1991, 38).  Lived space (or representational space) is the space of “the imagination which has been kept alive and accessible by the arts and literature” (Shields, 2004, 210).  It is

space as lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’…This is the dominated – and hence passively experienced – space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate.  It overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects (Lefebvre, 1991, 39).

This tri-partite model (or triple dialectic) has proved useful for subsequent theoretical explorations of the nature of space.  For example, David Harvey, lays out the categories of space as absolute, relative and relational (Harvey, 2006).[1]  A third spatial theorist who is well known for his work on spatial trilectics is Ed Soja who translates Lefebvre’s framework into a First Space which is known, mappable (analogous, according to Soja, to Lefebvre’s perceived space); a Second Space with is imagined (analogous to Lefebvre’s conceived and lived spaces); a Third Space which brings together spaces which are both real and imagined (Soja, 1996).

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part II – The Humanitarian Compound

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

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

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

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

Lessons from gated communities

Since the 1960s the defensive architectural technique of the gated communities (GCs) have been studied as an identifiable and prevalent settlement type (Blakely and Snyder, 1997).[2]   Atkinson and Blandy (2005) define GCs as a “housing development that restricts public access” symbolically and/or physically,  “usually through the use of gates, booms, walls and fences.  These residential areas may also employ security staff or CCTV systems to monitor access.  In addition, GCs may include a variety of services such as shops or leisure facilities” (Atkinson and Blandy, 2005, 177).  Most importantly, they represent an attempt by their residents to disengage with the wider social processes in an attempt to increase security, safety and comfort.  They are “residential enclaves [that] in all times and places share a basic characteristic of setting themselves off from the urban matrix around them, through control of access, and the solidification of their perimeters” (Luymes, 1997, 198).  Work on GCs in the UK reveals startling similarities with international humanitarian compounds.  Acknowledging the immediate difference – that the compound is established with the purpose of accomplishing a particular labour outcome, while the GC is established primarily for residential and associated purposes such as increased social cohesion and quality of life –  comparisons may offer insight both in terms of material form, and in the ways it affects their residents’ understandings of their local environments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beneficiaries at the gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III – Des espaces des autres

Sport utility vehicles

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

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

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

the early 1980s, Land Rover was the vehicle of choice of aid organisations such as the United Nations, Oxfam and the Red Cross.  There was even an old saying that, for 70 percent of the world’s population, the first vehicle they saw was a Land Rover (Wernle, 2000).

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

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

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

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

[w]hen you have disasters, you need 4x4s [sic.].  There’s nothing better for a 4×4 vehicle than to be seen with an emblem that says United Nations or Oxfam or the World Wildlife Federation.  That’s worth a whole lot of money to any manufacturer (Wernle, 2000).

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

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

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

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

Work on the social impact of the SUV in America suggests that the rise of the sports utility vehicle parallels a model of citizenship that values safety and inviolability of person above all else (Mitchell, 2005; Campbell, 2005).  Similarly, the material practices of the international community may be seen to constitute an attempt at self–imposed exclusion from the wider neighbourhood, as well as the exclusion of others (Atkinson and Flint, 2004), reinforcing the observations from local residents that “the objectives of the international community are different from those of the community they are assisting.”[15] Just as the white Land Rover (or SUV) is associated with certain affective and symbolic resonances to the people who use it, it may evoke other, quite different things to those for whom it is meant to assist.

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

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

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

The Grand Hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

[2] There is an extensive literature on gated communities including those in the ‘developing world’. See the Special Issue of Housing Studies 20:2 (2005) and the special issue of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Within this literature there are well established debates regarding whether it is possible to speak of a universal form of gated community, and authors such as Atkinson and Blandy caution against making universalist claims that ignore local history and context. Atkinson, Rowland & Sarah Blandy. 2005. Introduction:  International Perspectives on the New Enclavism and the Rise of Gated Communities. Housing Studies, 20(2), March 177-86.

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

[4] Interview.

[5] Interview.

[6] Interview.

[7] Interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] And as much as the vehicles have become the target of displeasure with the international community, so too are they sought after by government ministries as a requirement of international assistance.

[17] Interview, August 13, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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