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As wars, poverty and disasters continue to persist in the world, there is a growing body of professionals engaged in humanitarian and development aid work. These aid actors are driven by a desire to help suffering others, at the same time that they create particular kinds of knowledge and regimes of governance. This project emerges out of an undergraduate and MA-level module that provides an anthropological overview of the institutions and practices of international aid through the lens of development and humanitarian expertise. Students will learn the conceptual frameworks through which anthropologists and aid actors imagine and act upon efforts to alleviate suffering and poverty. Using ethnographies of development and humanitarianism, the module explores how the tensions, negotiations and convergences between the ethics and politics of ‘doing good’ shape the complex system of aid interventions.

A key point to remember is that anthropology is not about ‘facts’ or normative prescriptions about how the world ought to be. Anthropological approaches examine people’s values, interpretations, practices and experiences that bring about phenomena in the world, such as the idea of ‘development’ or the unintended (sometimes negative) consequences of humanitarian interventions. At the same time, anthropologists are increasingly moving away from analyses that only criticise aid actors. Past students of the anthropology of development and humanitarianism also expressed frustration at the gaps that they saw between critical analyses and the concerns of practitioners.

This project, then, has three aims:

  1. To help students articulate for themselves how anthropological analyses can converse with and contribute to humanitarian and development aid expertise and ‘practical issues’;
  2. To show aid practitioners how anthropological analyses could help them understand their professions and projects better, via student input;
  3. To connect aid practitioners with students so that the latter can learn how to get into the career of aid. To this end, the module is structured around a visit in the last lecture (week 10) from aid practitioners. The students will work in groups throughout the semester to prepare for this event, ultimately producing entries for this website that will showcase what they think that anthropology can offer to understand or address humanitarian and development expertise.