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Humanitarian presence. Locating the global choices of Doctors Without Borders

Abstract : This dissertation is a monograph of the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Doctors Without Borders (MSF). It is based on an ethnographic inquiry into the operations of this medical humanitarian NGO as they take place. Observing members of MSF providing healthcare to migrants in Paris and to inhabitants of a slum in Nairobi, evaluating and planning projects in their headquarters, we see them tinker together the sometimes-incompatible goals of a seemingly simple humanitarian mission: medical assistance to the vulnerable around the world. Our pragmatist approach consists in arguing that analysis of international aid must account for how humanitarians find a way to hold together the ambiguities, and even the contradictions, of this claimed mission in the ambivalent effects humanitarian aid in practice. To this end, we ask how MSF selects those it seeks to assist around the world. Our response entails close description of the instrumentation of triage: the problematic processes of elaborating and using tools that support the reflexive choice of beneficiaries around the globe. We then make three analytical gestures, allowing us to contribute to ongoing discussions in anthropology on global assemblages, global spaces, and global health. First, we show how the processes of bordering, territorializing, and scaling that triage instruments support, participate in producing humanitarian locations: humanitarian space, the field, medical platforms, and headquarters. Second, analysing the ways triage instruments script for those humanitarians claim to assist, we argue that MSF gains humanitarian agency in the ways it relates to humanitarian beneficiaries: the tact and tactics of care, the reciprocal recognition of beneficiaries in their need and of MSF’s need to help, the acceptance of responsibility for this vulnerability coupled with an attempt to transfer responsibility to public health care systems. Third, accounting for these instruments in terms of humanitarian technologies of intervention, we demonstrate how MSF makes timely interventions into governing bodies and the bodies of the governed. Together, our description of aid as it takes place and our analysis of the problems associated with humanitarian locations, beneficiaries, and technologies of intervention constitute what we call MSF’s humanitarian presence. This humanitarian presence indicates the ways MSF exists, in their global physical extension, in the health care they practice, in their nongovernmental politics and their ethics of attention. This concept supports critique by indicating, first, the multiple and incompatible goods that are to inhere in humanitarian aid, and second, those specific instances when MSF has failed to do so.
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Evan Fisher. Humanitarian presence. Locating the global choices of Doctors Without Borders. Sociology. Université Paris sciences et lettres, 2020. English. ⟨NNT : 2020UPSLM024⟩. ⟨tel-03013617⟩

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