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

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.


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.


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).


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.


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.

Spatializing Communicative Ethics

“Spatializing Communicative Ethics: Politics and Legitimacy in Peace Negotiations,” unpublished paper (2010), co-authored with Naomi Head (Aberystwyth); for presentation at ISA conference, New Orleans

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


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

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

1) Communicative Ethics and the Case of Kosovo

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

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

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

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

2) Space as an analytical and theoretical tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a) London Conference, 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b) Heathrow Airport, 8 October 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c) Rambouillet negotiations

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4)  Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Head, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Lefebvre, 1991, p. 38.

[13] Ibid.

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

[15] Lefebvre, 1991, p. 39.

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

[17] Soja, 1996.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[26] Rules of Procedure, London Conference:, accessed 21 January 2010.

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

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

[29] Sell, 2002, p.109.

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

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

[32] Bellamy, 2002, p.31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[40] Judah, 2002, p.183

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[55] Judah, 2002, p.203.

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

[57] Berridge, 2002.

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

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.