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.
Homemade Humanitarianism: Knitting and Loneliness
Abject need and loneliness, domesticity and craft, can be closely linked in Finland. Here the focus is not on the professional Red Cross aid workers posted abroad, but, rather, on “ordinary Finns”—usually women—who also had a “need to help,” but did not travel to do so. The domestic here involved knitting for “the needy,” be they needy in Finland or “out there in the world.” Many participated in advertised craft projects like Mother Teresa blankets and Aid Bunnies because this gave them a legitimate reason to seek out human connection. They found such connection (even if precarious) by visiting the yarn store, joining knitting circles, and looking for other safe venues for sociality, even “stranger sociality.” This was sought as a palliative for frightening loneliness, long-term social isolation, and the vulnerability of advanced age. “The need to help” arose from a profound neediness.