The humanitarian fix: an ethnography of civilian protection in contemporary wars
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2019 Dr. Joe Cropp
This research explores the growing tensions that exist between the humanitarian frameworks that guide the protection of civilians and the complex, shifting arena of contemporary wars. Armed actors from different political, cultural and religious traditions to those of international humanitarian law are making their presence felt in these so-called new wars. They selectively accept or transgress these frameworks according to circumstances, sometimes following the established laws, while at other times asserting strategic, political or cultural justifications to target civilians, manipulate aid and deny humanitarian access. In the face of these shifting realities and protection failures, the humanitarian focus remains on improving the frameworks in order to accommodate these new actors. In this instrumentalist view, it is assumed that improved protection frameworks will result in improved protection outcomes. There has been little attention given to examining the relationship between the frameworks at one end, and positive protection outcomes at the other. This thesis makes an effort to fill this research gap. It is concerned with how these frameworks operate in the real world of contemporary conflicts where civilian protection is negotiated by a complex network of actors. To this end, my approach is ethnographic, combining fieldwork in Iraq, interviews with aid workers and critical theory analysis. I argue that humanitarian protection is not simply a derivative of legal principles, but is rather driven by the relationships that develop between the complex network of actors who occupy the humanitarian arena, including states, their militaries, insurgents, aid organisations and affected communities. Protection occurs when these actors are able to reach a mutually beneficial relationship that also promotes civilian protection. Rather than laws to be followed, the frameworks are the unifying narrative of this relationship. They present a broad agreement on what is appropriate behaviour, thus establishing and sustaining the relationships that drive protection. Humanitarian practitioners act as unofficial brokers, translating official frameworks in order for them to align with the often-divergent agendas of non-state armed actors. I suggest that these informal practices are an unofficial humanitarian fix to the challenges of applying official frameworks to contemporary wars.
Keywordshumanitarianism; humanitarian protection; development ethnography; humanitarian; international humanitarian law; contemporary war; civilian protection; brokers; brokers and translators
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