When Humanitarianism Goes to War

Date: 11 May 2011
Time: 18:30 - 19:30
Venue: Rayson Huang Theatre, HKU


When Humanitarianism Goes to War by Didier Fassin (James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; fomer Vice President, Doctors without Borders; Visiting Research Professor, Centre for the Humanities and Medicine, HKU)

In the face of the disorders of the world, moral sentiments have become a powerful ground for global as well as local policies. Whether it is to assist the poor or the refugees, aid victims of disasters or justify military interventions, a humanitarian government, which combines solidarity and compassion, is deployed everywhere in favor of the disadvantaged and the oppressed. The lecture will more especially focus on the war scenes, from Kosovo to Iraq to Palestine, and on the role of non-governmental organizations, international agencies and the states in these contexts. It will explore the tensions and contradictions at work in the politics of humanitarianism, thus contributing to a history of the way in which contemporary societies deal with the intolerable. This critique of humanitarian reason, respectful of the engagement of participants but lucid about the issues and stakes they have lost sight of, yields the theoretical and empirical foundations for a political and moral anthropology.

About the Speaker:
Didier Fassin is the James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and until 2003, was vice president of Doctors without Borders. He has been appointed to a Visiting Research Professorship at the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine. Prof Fassin trained and practiced as a physician and holds a doctorate in anthropology. In his work he has developed an ethnographic approach to study critical public health issues within socio-cultural and political contexts. Among his books are When Bodies Remember: Experience and Politics of AIDS in South Africa (University of California Press, 2007) and The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood (with Richard Rechtman, Princeton University Press, 2009).

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