Through this project, we seek to decolonize the rhetoric and understanding of humanitarianism by examining the histories of forced migration and practices of humanitarian care for forced migrants, including both ‘conventional’ and ‘humanitarian refugees’, that developed outside of Europe and North America. In order to do so, we are pursuing a comparative examination of these issues through three thematic clusters—Decentering Migration and Decolonizing Humanitarianism, Comparative Humanitarianisms, and Rethinking the Human—each of which builds on the previous cluster and thus creates threads of inquiry that will frame a public speaker series and the work of a faculty and graduate student research group.
Decentering Migration and Decolonizing Humanitarianism
This part of the Sawyer Seminar will focus on the history of forced migrations within and across the Global South (especially East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Mediterranean). Our selection of invited speakers will aim to show that humanitarian practices do not emerge from a singular genealogy, but that the intense attention to migration in these regions reveals a series of misperceived assumptions about the Euro-American origins of practices surrounding humanitarianism and on misunderstandings of the politics of international asylum and refugee laws that grew out of World War II as part of a mandate for a new world order. We believe that the decentering of migration and the decolonizing of humanitarianism requires two key intellectual moves. The first involves locating the flows of forced migrants in the Global South, the primary sites for hosting, in order to ask: How does a focus on host countries reorient our understanding of the spaces of care? The second involves moving away from a Euro-American intellectual history in order to ask: What are the ideological underpinnings of caring for distant- others outside of Enlightenment frames? We envision that such comparative reorientations will transform our perspectives on humanitarian care to integrate the diverse rationalities and forms of expertise that underlie them. This thematic cluster will also examine how international law and politics from the seventeenth century shaped categories of migration by defining acceptable and unacceptable forms, such as fleeing political and religious persecution (acceptable) versus environmental change or natural disasters (unacceptable). We invite our speakers to consider the discursive (including legal discourse) processes through which entire regions of the world were written out of the narrative of humanitarian care.
Meeting Times and Location
October 8, 2020 | RECORDED WEBINAR | Anne McNevin, "Sovereignty, Welcome, and Epistemic Hospitality"
November 12, 2020 | RECORDED WEBINAR | Ilana Feldman, “Humanitarian Rights and Palestinian Presence” & Pamela Ballinger, “Provincializing the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees”
December 3, 2020 | RECORDED WEBINAR| Jessica Whyte, “‘The Opposite of Humanity’: Anti-colonial Challenges to International Humanitarian Law” & Emma Meyer, “Managing Migrants, Resettling Refugees”