Open Access (free)
Architecture, Building and Humanitarian Innovation
Tom Scott-Smith

Humanitarian innovation has come under considerable fire in recent years for its uncritical technophilia, its links with the private sector and its tendency to fetishise objects rather than focusing on politics and process. There are many examples of these issues in the shelter sector, yet this article argues that a clear distinction should be made between innovation and architecture. By comparing the Ikea-funded Better Shelter with the series of architectural interventions in Vienna, collectively known as Places for People, this paper argues that architecture can productively engage with humanitarianism not by constructing shelters but by designing at a smaller scale in a way that does not involve any building at all.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Rethinking Digital Divides by Linda Leung
Antonio Díaz Andrade
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Planned Obsolescence of Medical Humanitarian Missions: An Interview with Tony Redmond, Professor and Practitioner of International Emergency Medicine and Co-founder of HCRI and UK-Med

In this interview with editors Tanja R. Müller and Gemma Sou, Tony Redmond reflects on his long career as a professor and practitioner of international emergency medicine and founder of UK-Med, an NGO that provides international emergency humanitarian medical assistance and which hosts the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR) and UK International Emergency Medical Register (UKIEMR). He questions the usefulness of prioritising innovation in medical humanitarianism and advocates aiming for the same duty of care that one would offer in one’s everyday practice at home. In this, Tony is also critical of the term ‘humanitarian space’, as it by definition proclaims an imagined geographical entity where normal rules should not apply.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Author: Jenny Edkins

Despite the imperative for change in a world of persistent inequality, racism, oppression and violence, difficulties arise once we try to bring about a transformation. As scholars, students and activists, we may want to change the world, but we are not separate, looking in, but rather part of the world ourselves. The book demonstrates that we are not in control: with all our academic rigour, we cannot know with certainty why the world is the way it is, or what impact our actions will have. It asks what we are to do, if this is the case, and engages with our desire to seek change. Chapters scrutinise the role of intellectuals, experts and activists in famine aid, the Iraq war, humanitarianism and intervention, traumatic memory, enforced disappearance, and the Grenfell Tower fire, and examine the fantasy of security, contemporary notions of time, space and materiality, and ideas of the human and sentience. Plays and films by Michael Frayn, Chris Marker and Patricio Guzmán are considered, and autobiographical narrative accounts probe the author’s life and background. The book argues that although we might need to traverse the fantasy of certainty and security, we do not need to give up on hope.

Open Access (free)
Jenny Edkins

This concluding chapter explores the difference between tragedy and hope: traversing the fantasy that we can know what the world might be with any certainty, and retaining a dream of a different sort, a hope without guarantees. It argues that traversing the fantasy and accepting the inevitability of a lack or an excess does not mean abandoning hope or giving up on dreams altogether. It examines Lauren Berlant’s notion of cruel optimism, where what we desire turns out to be an obstacle to our desire, David Scott’s tragic sensibility, and Les Back’s idea of hope as improvisation.

in Change and the politics of certainty
Jenny Edkins

The chapter juxtaposes quantum cosmology and Lacanian psychoanalysis in a reading of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, and discusses its staging and the controversies it provoked. The play explores the visit of Werner Heisenberg to Neils Bohr in Copenhagen during the Second World War and their discussions about the feasibility of developing nuclear weapons. Did either of them attempt, as experts, to stall the development of nuclear weapons? It enacts three divergent scenarios of the meeting and shows how it is not possible to determine which is the more accurate. Memory is unreliable, and, more importantly, we cannot even know our own thoughts and motivations, let alone those of others. The chapter points to the impossibility of either physical security or intellectual certainty in a world of entanglements.

in Change and the politics of certainty
Jenny Edkins

The chapter provides a semi-autobiographical narrative that considers classism and racism against the background of movement from one class to another and the dislocation that produces. It explores James Martell’s notions of misinterpellation – when someone responds to a call that they know is not for them – and how a refusal of interpellation can function politically as a decolonising move. If, instead of taking on the habits and values to which we are called, we retain our loyalty to the place we are from, whatever that might be, then we have the potential to resist interpellation’s colonising move.

in Change and the politics of certainty
Open Access (free)
Jenny Edkins

In this chapter, the slow violence of austerity, classism and racism is contrasted with the swift justice that is meted out to Omega Mwaikambo, a Grenfell resident who took photographs of one of the people who jumped from the tower on the night of the fire. It examines the ‘blackening’ of the community both before and after the fire and their ongoing search for justice and recognition. The chapter assembles traces from the public domain of what happened to Mwaikambo into a narrative account that points to the complexities of the interactions between individuals, the police, and the courts after the fire, and highlights the inadequacy of procedures for the forensic identification of those who died.

in Change and the politics of certainty
Jenny Edkins

The chapter examines the desire to help those we see as victims of crisis or disaster, in particular through what we call humanitarian intervention. It looks at how such actions can perpetuate the very divisions that produce the problem in the first place. Through their reliance on a distinction between the human and the non-human, those politically qualified and those not, humanitarianism shares a secret solidarity with the exclusionary practices of the state and the coloniser. The chapter examines David Reiff’s book A Bed for the Night and considers the dangers of ethics and criteria for a ‘good’ or humanitarian war. There is a tension, the chapter argues, between small actions, face to face, and the desire to do more: to change the world.

in Change and the politics of certainty
Open Access (free)
Jenny Edkins

The chapter explores practices of problematisation and expertise. It argues that looking for solutions to problems can reproduce the regime of truth that leads to the so-called problems in the first place. Problematising famine is an example, and what are put forward as ways of ending hunger can turn out to be functioning to reproduce it. Turning to expertise, the chapter examines the case of Dr David Kelly, a scientist who attempted to challenge the manipulation of intelligence to justify the Iraq war. When an ‘expert’ such as Kelly enters the political fray, their voices are sometimes either not heard, or even suppressed. Is there an alternative? The chapter suggests that thinking in terms of a slow listening and an excavation of forgotten subaltern knowledge – and a quiet rebuilding of the world, brick by brick – may help.

in Change and the politics of certainty