Date of Submission

Spring 2012

Academic Program

Human Rights; Political Studies

Project Advisor 1

Thomas Keenan

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Much could be said about the actual work of saving lives that humanitarian organizations are doing in crisis zones, especially the many ways in which they are actively shaping political contexts, but it is crucial to use the modern Humanitarian project to turn the gaze back on the countries where it originated. Humanitarianism is a mirror; it reflects the personal anxieties, societal tensions and political, as well as economic realities of privileged societies. It tell us a lot more about who the donor wants to be and how privileged societies perceive their own role in the world, than it does about the actual context of suffering in the Global South. Humanitarian organizations are an active force, shaping the image of the modern hero and what it means to be a moral human being. Through their discursive practices, their sales-pitch as it were, they heavily influence political contexts in the Global North as well. As Samuel Moyn points out about the rise of these apolitical doctrines in his book The Last Utopia: “they have done far more to transform the terrain of idealism than they have the world itself.”(Page 9) The question needs to become: How are the appeals of humanitarian organizations transforming discourse and perceptions at home?

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