13/04/2016: GTD Colloquium “The Humanitarian Narrative in Context: From Mission and Empire to Cold War and Decolonization” by J. Paulmann

The Humanitarian Narrative in Context:  From Mission and Empire to Cold War and Decolonization

 by Prof. Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute for European History at Mainz)

Globalisation, Transnationalism & Development (GTD) Colloquium organized in association with Maastricht Centre for Citizenship, Migration and Development (MACIMIDE)

Abstract: Adapting Didier Fassin’s notion of ‘humanitarian reason’, the presentation discusses the changing rhetoric and visual means which are employed to form a bond between those who are suffering and those who care to help. While contemporary scholarly critique of crisis relief question the narrative which lets readers and spectators assume that ameliorative action is possible, effective and therefore morally required, the ‘emergency imaginary’ (Craig Calhoun) has made responding to disasters by quickly delivering assistance worldwide one of the modalities of globalization carrying moral imperatives for immediate actions. Presenting two historical examples, with a focus on bodily images, the paper analyses the display of mutilations bodies during the Congo reform campaign in the context of missionaries’ drive for saving souls around 1900 and concludes with a documentary film on a civilian hospital ship during the Vietnam War. These images were embedded in a narrative of Red Cross neutral humanitarian action and the ambiguous attempts to keep one’s distance to bodily harm, the politics of war, and sometime later also refugees.

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