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The incorporation of hunger into the discourses of modernity gave rise to a depoliticized, technologized approach to famine theorizing and famine relief, as I discussed in chapter 2. A brief challenge from Sen’s entitlement approach became depoliticized, as did the flicker of repoliticization that arose with Band Aid and the famine movement in the mid-1980s. At the end of the previous chapter, I argued that there might be a way of maintaining a more avowedly political stance in relation to suffering and disaster, one that acknowledges the need for a continual process of involvement and decisioning and does not try to set up principles or regulate practices according to abstract general rules, and one that does not succumb to modernity’s hunger for certainty. I examine some recent attempts to do this—to repoliticize famines —particularly those that introduced the notion of famine as a complex political emergency. Much of this work began as an endeavor to reintroduce an explicit consideration of violence and the political missing in Sen’s work. As I argued in chapter 3, violence is always already present in the violence of the law and the state even in the absence of military conflict. Efforts to repoliticize run the risk of constituting no more than a struggle to reverse the view of relief or humanitarian aid as a solution to famine. Such a reversal is problematic because it does not move outside the frame of modernity. It lays itself open to a further technologization, and I will discuss how 129 6 Complex Emergency and (Im)possible Politics that is taking place. What is needed is a displacement or resituating of the problematics of humanitarianism and aid. Humanitarianism can be a deeply conservative activity in the face of the emergence of new political formations, or it can be an emancipatory move. Which it is depends on the specific configuration in which it is located and the political substance with which it is articulated or linked at any particular moment. These articulations can be contested: they are not natural or given. Sen’s analysis leads to a practice of relief that relies on technical and managerial solutions. Despite their radical contention that relief can be a cause of famine, there is a risk that theories cast in terms of complex emergency and those who draw on this work will retain a reliance on experts—this time experts in other fields: conflict resolution and prevention, for example. We should take a much broader view of the role of force and violence, eschewing easy dichotomies between peace and conflict or famine and plenty in favor of a questioning of connections and relationships. This would lead to a more critical approach to specific situations in which decisions must be, and are, made. Rather than seeing famines, conflicts, and poverty as problems that call for technical solutions from experts, or codes of practice and principles of action, what is needed is political and ethical engagement that produces a climate where responsibility for decisions about intervention and aid is inescapable. The struggles to articulate and rearticulate theories of famine can be seen as continuing attempts to reinscribe the political—attempts to rewrite what counts as needing ethical or political decisions—and hence to situate the boundaries to what will be accepted as the terrain of the expert or the professional. In part the debates reflect struggles between different disciplines for the ear of policy makers and the funding that goes with it. Is famine a question of food supply, to be tackled by greater agricultural production, new varieties of seed, and advanced farming methods, in which case it is the province of the agriculturalist? Or is it a matter of poverty and vulnerability, to be tackled by a welfare safety net, public works programs, and early warning systems? Or is it a question of an emergency situation calling for action by the relevant nongovernmental organizations? Further, if it is the latter—if it is an emergency—is it a question of humanitarian relief, military intervention, or conflict resolution? In what is seen by some writers as a new (dis)order emerging in a post–cold war 130 · complex emergency and (im)possible politics world,1 the old disciplinary boundaries are being renegotiated. The debate over whether resources should be concentrated on relief efforts or on longer-term development projects, and the so-called reliefdevelopment continuum, has been revived by some2 and considered irrelevant by others.3 Development specialists saw their assumptions...


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