The Need to Help: The Domestic Arts of International Humanitarianism
Liisa H. Malkki is Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University. She is the author of Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania, and the coauthor of Improvising Theory: Process and Temporality in Ethnographic Fieldwork.
Bear Humanity: Children, Animals, and Other Power Objects of the Humanitarian Imagination
This chapter analyzes moral economies, forms of social imagination, techniques of enchantment, and spurs to affect commonly belittled, easily dismissed, yet pervasive in/around humanitarian practices. Humanitarian object-beings like Trauma Teddies and Aid Bunnies combine humanity and animality, innocent children and blameless (baby) animals. In their neoteny, they become “neutral,” but not necessarily neutralized, and engage the powerful affects and aesthetics at work in humanitarian ethics and politics. Such forms of object-being involve the cosmological and cosmopolitical, and may be usefully compared to the social life of power-objects like Congolese minkisi (misrecognized as “fetishes”)—forms that highlight the ritual personhood of objects. Aid Bunnies do not have the powers of minkisi, powers that can hurt as well as heal, but they do have ritual personhood. They are devices for warding off thoughtlessness and consequential “failures of the imagination” in the aesthetic, ethical, political dimensions of different publics’ donations to humanitarian work.