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Aidland in South Asia: Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh and the Contours of the Global Aid Industry in the 1970s
February 26 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Speaker(s): Dr Kevin O'Sullivan
Affiliation: Conflict, Humanitarianism and Security
Organised by: Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change, NUI Galway
This seminar uses the experiences of expatriate aid workers in South Asia to trace the contours of the global aid industry in the long 1970s. It begins by outlining the impact of the crisis on the aid sector, before using case studies of NGOs from three Anglophone states – Britain, Canada (Québec excepted), and Ireland – to examine the physical, intellectual, and imagined spaces in which ideas of aid-giving were made. The seminar examines the places where aid workers worked, slept, and played; the spaces where knowledge about ‘doing aid’ was circulated; the sense of collective belonging they fostered; and how practice led aid workers to mould and re-mould the ideals on which global humanitarianism was made. From that foundation, the seminar makes three claims about the aid community that emerged in South Asia and its impact on the global aid sector. The first is to see it as a product of circumstance, namely, the opportunities provided by decolonisation and the immediacy of crisis in the post-colonial world. Second, and related, while there were certain characteristics that were common to aid workers in every environment, this seminar argues that we should be careful not to lose sight of the specific contextual factors and points of reference on which responses to humanitarian crises were based. Finally, the focus on Western aid workers (and the absence of recipient voices) in this seminar is not only deliberate, it is also instructive. By laying bare the processes through which ‘Aidland’ was constructed in South Asia, I argue, we can test how that community imagined and reinforced a particular role for the West in the Global South.
This is one of a series of seminars as part of the Whitaker Ideas Forum. Kevin will be representing the Conflict, Humanitarianism and Security research cluster.
The Whitaker Ideas Forum is a weekly seminar, running Wednesday’s throughout the semester from 1:00pm-2:00pm in CA110. It provides the opportunity for members of the Institute to showcase their research. The result are presentations that highlight the diversity of the research being undertaken, while allowing for an opportunity to engage in discussions and, sometimes, collaboration with attendees. Below, you will find a list of this semester’s seminars, please click the title for more information on that seminar.