Grassroots exceptionalism in humanitarian memoir

Memoir has for some time played a significant role in the expansion and interpretation of the humanitarian industry. For both the relief and development industries memoir is admirably suited as an ambassador from the field to the larger public, oriented as it is to personal experience and testimony. This chapter explores how humanitarian memoir generates an aura of authenticity much-needed by an industry reliant on public donations and on the perception of its status as a player outside the systems of state sovereignty and global capital. Analysing two founder narratives, this chapter considers the ‘humanitarian naive’ at work: the role of the ‘fool’ proves both revelatory and empowering, asserting the value of sui generis intelligence to produce humanitarian knowledge and even participate in global governance.

in Global humanitarianism and media culture