Biopolitics of Humanitarianism


Since 2016, I have been exploring citizen responses to the refugee crisis in Europe. My work in southern Africa has overlapped with humanitarian and aid agencies, and as such I have viewed how such organizations function and how they engage or with the local context. As Syrian refugees flooded into Greece in 2015-2016, humanitarian agencies were notably absent and austerity measures had significantly weakened the capacity of the Greek government to respond. Consequently, civilians in Greece and from across Europe served to provide highly disorganized assistance. Eventually large, skilled, and significantly resourced aid agencies arrived and took full control of the situation. As the crisis appeared contained, civilians no longer felt an obligation to assist. While the crisis moment has past, the needs of over 60,000 migrants stranded in Greece have not been met and more people are expected to arrive as the situations in Syria and the Middle East remain unstable. Many challenges remain, including how to integrate people into society. Civilians are being called on to assist in providing housing, offering friendship, and supplementing limited income. My work in Thessaloniki (northern Greece) aims to explore citizen-state relationships in a new dimension by deconstructing notions of sociality and solidarity; how the responsibility for human suffering is negotiated; how boundaries of social categories are made and unmade; and how integration into the body politic is determined. In Spring 2019, I conducted a pilot study examining the effects of the components and construction of social networks on refugee integration. I will be presenting the analysis of this data at the Engage Anthropology Conference at UMASS in October at at the AAA meeting in Vancouver in November. I am collaborating with Christopher McCarty, the University of Florida, to submit a NSF proposal in January.