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209 A Tale of Two Affects: Humanitarianism and Professionalism in Red Cross Aid Work Liisa Malkki This brief essay represents a fragment of a research project on the ethics and politics of humanitarian practices in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a related national-level organization , the Finnish Red Cross (FRC). I have worked mostly with Finnish medical professionals—nurses and doctors—who have gone on international ICRC and FRC missions, and, to a lesser extent, with Red Cross professionals who work domestically in Finland.I have also interviewed FRC staff in logistics, finance, administration, transportation , and other areas. In an effort to understand the forms and uses of affect among these aid workers, and in the institution they serve, I have in addition interviewed Red Cross therapists who offer counseling to the workers. Here,I will try to give an account of two of the key affective regimes or sensibilities that are both present in Red Cross work and yet appear to be incommensurable. (This is not to say, of course, that there are not other kinds of emotions also at play.) The first of the two is a “humanitarian sensibility” that hails a generalized suffering humanity , or, in another well-known formulation, the “suffering stranger”; F5920.indb 209 F5920.indb 209 12/17/12 3:00:47 PM 12/17/12 3:00:47 PM 210 Liisa Malkki the other is an unsentimental, consummate professionalism. I will end by suggesting that these two very different, sometimes opposed affective sensibilities are nonetheless “recursively and dialectically related” (Tambiah 1985b,13), often for good reasons The opposition between the sentimental and the professional parallels another. On the one hand, there is the humanitarian sensibility that expects to encounter need and suffering on a cosmological, universal scale (generalized human suffering) and attributes mythicohistorical significance—extraordinariness—to it. Figures that enable the visualization of this human suffering include the famished young child and chaotic masses of refugees. On the other hand, there are forms of need and suffering that are encountered as mundane and ordinary—that is, not necessarily especially meaningful in a moral, cosmological sense. One representative figure here might be a grown man panhandling. He might provoke discomfiting guilt about “our society” and its inequalities, but not automatic discussions about bare human suffering (Arendt 1979,Agamben 1998). I begin with an anecdote to draw the difference more sharply. On a summer evening in Montreal, my family and I attended the engagement party of a young Hutu couple from Burundi. They had both been granted asylum in Canada after fleeing genocidal violence and were beginning life in the “New World.” I stood outside a community hall, one in a large crowd of people milling about. Suddenly a very young girl ran up to me. She looked like a little wedding cake in her extravagance of white lace. She tugged at my dress urgently: “Je dois faire caca!!” Hesitant to take her to the bathroom, I asked, “Where is your mother?” She snapped: “Ma mere est morte!” And then, with impatient emphasis, she repeated in English: “My mother is dead!” I automatically assumed that her mother had died in one or another episode of genocidal violence in Central Africa. It turned out that she had,in fact,died recently of cancer in Canada.I had assumed,in other words, an extraordinary and yet generic death that somehow stood, metonymically, for “human suffering” in Africa. What had actually happened was quite particular and cruelly ordinary. This abrupt shift in my thinking from the general to the particular revealed a humanitarian sensibility in my own habits of thought and feeling—or, perhaps better, a kind of habituated, affective humanitarianism. Clearly, humanitarianism is not only a matter of institutions and international law, mandates and interventions; it is also a mobile “affective state” with significant effects (Stoler 2004).Sometimes—in the F5920.indb 210 F5920.indb 210 12/17/12 3:00:47 PM 12/17/12 3:00:47 PM A Tale of Two Affects 211 form of a widely shared sensibility—it takes on the structural heft of an ideological apparatus in an Althusserian sense. At other times, it appears in the form of something more contingent and individual— perhaps as a private rush of emotion. In his essay “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility ” (1998), Thomas Haskell...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780823246199
Related ISBN
9780823241897
MARC Record
OCLC
867738144
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-17
Language
English
Open Access
No
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