Everyday humanitarianism in Cambodia

Challenging scales and making relations

Author:
Anne-Meike Fechter
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Accounts of development and humanitarianism, including its critiques, have long been preoccupied with its institutional forms, driven by governments and international organisations. Such emphasis often attributes significance to the large-scale. The book argues that engaging with the informal and local manifestations of aid disrupts this assumption. It draws on ethnographic research with practitioners in Cambodia, who run their privately funded aid projects. They include Cambodians and foreigners, from Asia and the Global North, who undertake these projects of their own initiative. The book demonstrates how they make their own scales, offering radically different understandings of what actions are significant, and who counts. Such a perspective queries core humanitarian beliefs, and theories of social change more generally. It suggests that everyday practitioners operate with multiple, interlinking scales of their own making. Rather than being dismissed as ‘small scale’, they demonstrate how they render people and causes meaningful, regardless of numbers or size. They question the role of distance for aid, and reveal a nuanced interplay of proximity and distance to those in need. Such unsettling of the valorisation of the large-scale extends to social relations. The ‘distant stranger’ as the archetypal object of humanitarianism is replaced by a desire to get to know others through the act of assistance, often through idioms of kinship. Critically nuancing the trope of the ‘white saviour’, everyday aid is characterised by multiple affinity ties between actors from the Global North and South, which direct and motivate development and humanitarian action.

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