This article analyzes imagery and representation in humanitarianism. It focuses on ethical dilemmas aid agencies face in advertizing: on the one hand, photos of distant victims are necessary to inform and to raise funds; however, the risk is that these representations dehumanize and devalue the very individuals they are intended to assist. There are two central arguments. The first is that humanitarian actors engage imagery as a “recipe,” or means, of bridging distance, thus transporting the distant victim to donor publics. Second, the paper argues that these marketing acts raise essential ethical questions as they derive emotional force through their reliance on human misery. If images of suffering and want are a means towards a principled end, they also risk undermining the principle of humanity and calling into question the very meaning of humanitarianism. The article concludes by returning to the role of technology and change in representing humanitarian crisis.
This paper is concerned with the tension between what it describes as “pure” humanitarianism and the increasing pressures on relief workers to become politically engaged by adopting developmental approaches and by seeking to actively resolve disaster-producing conflicts. Combining theory with case studies concerning the delivery of health and food aid in war zones, it argues that while seductive, attempts to use relief aid as a tool for political engagement are fraught with practical and ethical difficulties. Not only are developmental goals elusive in conflict environments, but abandoning principles of neutrality and impartiality to determine the allocation of scarce resources increases the risk of aid being manipulated by warring parties and by donor governments. While not unproblematic, the paper concludes that neutrality and impartiality remain the best principles currently available to organise humanitarian action.
The end of the cold war and the aftermath of the Gulf War gave birth to an overoptimistic view on peace and stability. From an ethical point of view, a pacifist tradition is in place chanting the theoretical merits of peace. Politicians, using phrases like “The New World Order”, with references to “the End of History” were now fostering the impression that peace was practically feasible. Action researchers engaged in conflict and peace studies were eager to take up the scientific gauntlet. Early warning systems and conflict prevention became serious issues, if not fashionable language. As we are engaged at our institute for quite some time with problems of conflict prevention, the main aim of this article is to save the scientific concept from expectations which cannot be fulfilled. If, for reasons of high ethics, we place voluntarism above realism and emotions above aseptic scientific standards, we could end with politics lacking any moral standards.
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