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2016-7 Final event


In the last lecture, we welcomed 5 professionals in the fields of development and humanitarianism. They were from: (1) the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit; (2) the British Red Cross, International Family Tracing Service; (3) the Independent Commission for Aid Impact; (4) Oxfam; and (5) the Student Development & Community Engagement office at the University of Manchester.

The visitors and students first worked in small groups. The students shared what they had learned throughout the semester about anthropological analyses and the visitors responded based on their experiences as aid workers. The discussions were lively and no one wanted to stop when it was time! In the second half of the event, the visitors each spoke about what they thought anthropology students could offer to development and humanitarian work, and how students could enter the profession.

Sometimes anthropology seems far removed from ‘the real world’ and the practical concerns of, for example, aid workers. The event in April and the steps leading up to it helped students and the invited professionals work together through some answers to the question ‘How can anthropological analyses help us understand development and humanitarian work better?’ We might never reach a final conclusion but asking the question and exploring responses together was very much in the spirit of the anthropological endeavour.

Here are some words from students, reflecting on the project:

Iona Walker

As the ‘crisis’ group, we spent a lot of time focusing on the efforts of organisations such as MSF, especially in relation to the immediate necessities of medical care, shelter and nourishment through the framework of ‘bare life’. For example, we talked about the perception of medical intervention in crises as morally pure alongside the process of triage necessitating the prioritisation of certain bodies at the expense of others (Redfield 2013)… However, upon meeting Anna Letizia from the British Red Cross, I became aware of the irony of my own position and our blog post. Letizia works as a family tracer, reuniting families with lost loved ones after crises. Our group had become so obsessed with the concept of ‘bare life’ that we we did not fully consider that there is more to humanitarian crisis response than managing bodies. In Letizia’s words: ‘what comes next after bare life? Family’. I felt that our group had disregarded other ways that humanitarian actors engage in aid work, especially in the long term. Letizia’s impassioned call for anthropologists to contribute to her work highlighted the importance of holistic humanitarian efforts as well as a lack of anthropological analyses where it has the potential to do enormous good.

References cited:

Redfield, P. (2013) Life in Crisis: the Ethical Journey of Doctors without Borders. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Sebastian Notarmarco Pope

David Lewis’ (2014) argument in his article ‘Heading South’ is the concept that I have found most helpful to understand out topic of ‘NGOs’. Lewis unpacks the historical dichotomy within the Third Sector between NGOs working in the ‘developing’ world and non-profit organisations working in the ‘developed’ world… Lewis proposes that this binary approach should be reconsidered because there are shared problems in both the ‘developed’ world and the ‘developing’ world, such as poverty. He proposes that in this increasingly globalised and interconnected world, it could be beneficial to share practice and knowledge in order to tackle these shared problems… It was interesting to hear Graham Whitham’s (policy advisor for Oxfam) point of view on how knowledge and practice could be shared between those working in the ‘developing’ world and those working in the ‘developed’ world. He highlighted that there still exists a divide between those working in the ‘developed’ and the ‘developing’ world… However, Graham did explain that organisations like Oxfam and Save the Children now have projects both in the ‘developed’ world and in the ‘developing’ world. This means that there is more scope for the sharing of knowledge and practice in order to tackle shared problems. Interestingly, this is happening more and more with such organisations.

References cited:

Lewis, D. 2014. ‘Heading South: Time to Abandon the “Parallel Worlds” of International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and Domestic Third Sector Scholarship?’, VOLUNTAS, 25(5), pp. 1132–1150.


Alexandra Wood

A concept I found useful for understanding our group topic of ‘refugees and asylum seekers’ was legibility. Legibility refers to how governments manage populations and maintain social order through making persons ‘legible’. For example, documents are used as a power mechanism to control people and borders (see Foucault 1979 cited in Malkki 1995: 170)… In the blog post we discussed the example of Mohammad, a case study on the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit’s (GMIAU) website. He was unable to gain legal access to the UK due to the absence of marriage certificates, passports and DNA evidence. This illustrates Foucault’s statement as it depicts how documents are techniques of power vital for moving through border controls and offering the potential for access to citizen’s rights and a new life… When we met Denise McDowell from GMIAU, she expanded on this and explained their involvement in helping teenagers who are viewed as adults by officials because they look older than they are. I found this comment insightful as it highlights the significance of the boundary between child and adult in the asylum process and how being a child triggers a very different response to being an adult. It made me reflect on the way the system needs to be improved.

References cited:

Malkki, L. (1995) Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees and Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.