Current Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2019 Vol. 10.2
The essay analyses the role of human rights for the population control movement from the 1940s to the 1970s. It is based on records from the Population Council, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations. It shows that rights-based language was introduced by advocates of population control and not by its critics and argues that portraying overpopulation as a problem for the realization of human rights became a successful political strategy in building alliances with states and the UN’s leadership. Both were key factors for the financial support and widespread implementation of population control programmes from the 1960s onwards.
Amnesty International was born in the highly politicized context of the East-West conflict commonly known as the Cold War with the intention of transcending its fault lines. It developed a politics of impartiality that was however deeply rooted in the Cold War paradigm and followed the example of the Red Cross and its humanitarian activism. These two features impeded organization’s navigation of the fluctuating dynamics between East and West and hampered the emergence of a local membership beyond the Iron Curtain in the 1970s. Despite the fact that Amnesty’s policy of impartiality was in constant flux, it remained ill-adapted to the different circumstances in Eastern Europe.
This essay investigates the origins and implications of humanitarian self-regulation. It analyzes two cases: the Sphere Project and the Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. Through archival research and interviews, self-regulation is shown to emerge from a crisis of legitimacy that destabilized assumptions as to the inherent goodness of aid. But what must be done—and how? The article presents the contests—ideational and material—for position that informed regulatory debates. For aid veterans, self-regulation emerged as a vehicle to shift the very bases of humanitarian legitimacy. From charity and compassion, these initiatives have sought to enact an identity of humanitarianism as professional, regulated, and rooted in human rights. But in defining sanctioned practice, codes risk squeezing out alternative models.
This paper considers a case study of Survival International’s campaign in support of the Dongria Kondh adivasi community of Odisha, India, and that community’s ultimately successful struggle to prevent mining company Vedanta from acquiring their sacred mountain, Niyamgiri. I argue this case presents an ethical conundrum for those of us interested in decolonizing solidarity: politically effective work rewards relationships and representations that shore up the making of radical Otherness, its valorization, and desires to know and help the radical Other. Rather than simply condemn or applaud Survival’s problematic work, I explore the role of scale and temporalities to better understand the ethical terrain in which they operated.
This essay explores the aesthetic and narrative conventions of the still and moving images deployed in global campaigns to reduce maternal mortality since the 1980s. I focus on how an international community of advocates, policy makers, and practitioners choose, understand, and use images to create awareness, rouse public sympathy and interest, and call people to action on this issue. I argue that the global maternal health community has constructed an “image world” not of suffering but of hope and aspiration by which they hope to foment the shared sense of humanity and impulse to act that is said to be at the heart of humanitarianism.
This essay assesses two recent books that consider the rise of human rights activism in Colombia’s oil capital (the city of Barrancabermeja) during the 1970s and 1980s. Lesley Gill (Vanderbilt University) and Luis van Isschot (University of Toronto) give two interpretations of the political and social role of human rights ideals in the midst of a brutal armed conflict. The two accounts differ in the relationship that the authors find between the rise of neoliberalism and human rights. While Gill shows that human rights was a last resort defensive strategy for radical activists threatened by the violence of a new economic system, Van Isschot underscores the importance of human rights activism as a way to make violence legible for different actors in a specific local scenario. Although the article highlights the importance of local narratives, in this case from a particular city, it also calls for a more nuanced integration between local and national narratives in human rights history, for the purpose of either completing or challenging international law-based narratives of human rights ideas.
This essay reviews three books: Larissa MacFarquhar, Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help (Penguin Press 2015); Jennifer Rubenstein, Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs (Oxford University Press 2015); and Peter Singer, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically (Yale University Press 2015). The essay traces some similarities and differences between various modes of altruism and humanitarianism, arguing that the shared moral vision that animates much altruistic and humanitarian action tends to neglect the need for politics.
Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help
Penguin Press, 2015. 320 pp.
Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs
Oxford University Press, 2015. xiii + 272 pp.
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically
Yale University Press, 2015. xiii + 211 pp.