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There is something about hunger, or more specifically about the spectacle of hunger, that deranges the distinction between self and other. —Maud Ellmann, Despite the depoliticization of hunger that the modern concept of famine produces, and despite the technologization of aid and its translation into disciplinary practices of control and oppression, we still find that, when faced with pictures of hunger, people respond. That response is often a call to ethico-political action that goes beyond the technical, depoliticized practices of aid. How might we account for personal responses to famine and other international humanitarian crises? As an example, I discuss responses to famines in Ethiopia that culminated in the Band Aid and Live Aid events in 1984 and 1985.1 In some of those responses we saw, however briefly, action that acknowledged and accepted ethico-political responsibility. This later became routinized and formed the basis for calls for an international humanitarian system based on rules and codes. At the time, public involvement and participation was denounced by development experts as a short-term, unthinking, emotional response, unhelpful to longer-term work. This can be seen as an attempt to retechnologize and again depoliticize famine. This fleeting moment of ethico-political response to images of The Hunger Artists: 103 5 Response and Responsibility Starving, Writing, and Imprisonment suffering and calls for help was superseded by the recommencing of a process of institutionalization and professionalization of humanitarian intervention and by a move to reinstate the preeminence of developmentalism . In the subsequent analysis, these two—humanitarian intervention and developmentalism—are brought together under the rubric of “complex emergency.” In some instances, this rubric even becomes “complex political emergencies.” The implication is that the emergence of politics itself is what constitutes a failure—a failure of control. In this chapter I explore how humanitarian responses or responsibility can be linked to accounts of the constitution of subjectivity and the social or symbolic order. First, the impulse to intervention in humanitarian crises can be seen as a response to trauma—in this case, other people’s suffering. Second, the role of the international community is constituted through humanitarian response: Why has this notion risen to prominence? Why do national politicians continue to address the international community, although they know that such appeals may well be ineffectual in practical terms? Third, the role of desire in the constitution of subjectivity clarifies why images of hunger or starvation might be so powerful. The link between consumerism and responses to humanitarianism is explored. Hunger, and responses to other people’s hunger, have very specific connotations in terms of desire and the political. Depoliticization and technologizing are (necessary) ideological processes. If this is so, is any form of repoliticization possible? There is an extensive literature posing and answering questions concerning responses to humanitarian crises.2 This chapter focuses on the responses of persons. It does not look at government responses nor responses of the state or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).3 A number of approaches to the question of humanitarian response have gained currency. There is the argument that discounts humanitarian responses as emotional. As such they are unhelpful because they are not based on any knowledge of the objective causes of the problem, and they can even obscure these deeper causes. In the case of famines, this is the argument of developmentalism.4 Things must be left to the professionals; emotional involvement can lead to mistakes about aid. Even some of those who support the aid-causesfamines argument (discussed in the next chapter), which was intended as a critique of the expert-centered, technologizing approach of de104 · response and responsibility velopmentalism, might regard emotional involvement as something to be avoided. The emotions identified are those that we normally associate with the feminine: caring, sympathizing, helping. There is no mention of emotions such as anger, hatred, or rage.5 The devaluing of emotion is similar in other accounts that technologize famine:6 the emotions expressing connections—caring, compassion, sympathy, guilt—are regarded as unhelpful, and detachment, suspicion, and distrust are seen as objective.7 A further objection discounts emotional responses on the basis of a variation of the false consciousness argument : Emotional responses arise when people are misled by the media ; feelings of guilt are seen as ideologically or religiously grounded and hence invalid. Another approach to humanitarian responses studies questions of moral agency. It takes a social constructivist line and examines questions of intervention in terms of responses to the other. This “other” is a person whom “we...


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