The anthropology of emergencies, rescue and good intentions

This Humanitarian Studies Colloquium was hosted by NORAGRIC/NMBU, the NCHS and Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) and focused on anthropology.

In this recorded seminar, participants explored why and how anthropologists have dealt with and contributed to shifting ideas of human suffering, emergencies, survival and rescue; the so-called “humanitarian space” and “beneficiary” agency; the social life of humanitarian aid; the role and relevance of humanitarian governance, risk and resilience; and the amalgam of humanitarian principles, moral imperatives, transparency and accountability initiatives, soft regulations and logistical and technological apparatuses governing the distribution or non-distribution of humanitarian aid.

While there has been a longstanding and substantial anthropological engagement with the evolution of the development field (bistandssektoren) and the role and practices of Norwegian governmental and civil society actors, limited academic attention has been given to the specific trajectories, organisational shifts and narratives of actors in the Norwegian humanitarian field (nødhjelpssektoren). Policy discourses and popular culture depict Norway as a “humanitarian superpower”, but have received little attention from anthropologists (in contrast to the adjacent fields of peacebuilding and forced migration).

This seminar was held on 19 April 2017 and was chaired by Kristoffer Lidén (PRIO). This seminar included the following speakers:

  • Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO/UiO): A “Norwegian” anthropology of humanitarianism?
  • Cindy Horst (PRIO): The anthropology of forced displacement and refugee studies in Norway.
  • Åshild Kolås (PRIO): The anthropology of development and aid in the Norwegian context.
  • John Andrew McNeish (NMBU): Anthropological thinking on the “Norwegian do good project”.
  • William Derman (NMBU): Anthropological engagements with human suffering: from evolutionism via human rights to humanitarianism.

Suggested reading