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Joël Glasman
and
Brendan Lawson

The modern humanitarian sector is gripped by a data frenzy. How can we take a step back and critically engage with what datafication means? This introduction to the special section begins by outlining three broad theoretical positions within the literature: positivist, constructivist, and reflexivity of actors. To dive deeper, and to tie together the four pieces in this special section, we point to ‘ten things we know about humanitarian numbers’. The ten points cover issues of epistemology, institutionalisation, linguistics, social justice, technology, theorisation and power. Taken together, they offer different springboards from which academics can launch into critiques of data in the humanitarian sector.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Cathrine Brun
and
Cindy Horst

In this article we suggest that the call for widening participation as part of the quest for a more localised humanitarianism has overlooked the clash of ethical registers that this would entail. We show that the formal script of the professionalised humanitarian system operates with an individualised ethics, while multiple other actors that exist alongside the humanitarian system operate with a relational ethical register. Based on a literature review on civic humanitarianism and humanitarianism embedded in social practice, we explore dimensions of the web of social interaction within which humanitarian practices often take place. We ask how to conceptualise these humanitarian relationships when relationships in themselves are understood as compromising humanitarian principles. Inspired by decolonial perspectives and relational ontologies and ethics, we then identify key dimensions of a relational humanitarianism: solidarity, responsibility and justice; identity and belonging; social distance and proximity; and temporality. In conclusion we suggest that for calls for localisation to succeed in genuinely changing power relations and practices, better understanding and recognition of relational ethical registers that operate alongside the formal script of the professionalised humanitarian system is required.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
The identification of an American First World War MIA
Jay E. Silverstein

In 2004, the remains of two First World War US soldiers from France were delivered to the US Government for identification and burial. One set of remains was identified and buried, and the other went into a cold-case status. In 2019, the second individual was identified using multiple lines of evidence. The possible individuals that could be associated with the remains were reduced based on material evidence recovered with the remains and the spatiotemporal historical context of the remains. The First World War personnel records then offered sufficient biometric criteria to narrow the possible individuals associated with the second recovered individual to one person, Pfc. Charles McAllister. A family reference DNA sample from a direct matrilineal descendant of the individual added statistical weight to the identification, although the mtDNA was not a decisive or necessary factor in the identification. Due to bureaucratic reasons, the legal identification of Pfc. Charles McAllister is still pending.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Funeral workers’ experience with ‘contagious corpses’
Silvia Romio

The extremely high death rates in northern Italy during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic called for exceptional rules and suspension of funeral practices and burial rites. Additionally, forms of collective burial, typical of a wartime scenario, and mechanical methods and timing were reintroduced into the handling of corpses. Although several academic studies have highlighted how the absence of funeral ceremonies and ‘dignified burials’ has caused prolonged and deep suffering for the mourners and for many of the caregivers and health workers, few have so far focused on funeral workers. This article focuses on the intimate, emotional and ethical experiences of a group of funeral workers in northern Italy who handled COVID corpses and had to take the place of the mourners at the time of burial. Through an anthropological analysis of their oral memories, this work attempts to analyse their expressions of discomfort, frustration, fear and suffering.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Caroline Fournet
,
Élisabeth Anstett
, and
Jean-Marc Dreyfus
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Écorchés, moulages and anatomical preparations – the cadaver in the teaching of artistic anatomy at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera
Greta Plaitano

Since the sixteenth century, artistic anatomy – a branch of medical science subordinated to the Fine Arts – has understood itself as a comparative investigation halfway between forensic dissection and the analysis of classical art and live bodies. Its teaching was first instituted in Italy by the 1802 curriculum of the national Fine Arts academies, but underwent a drastic transformation at the turn of the century, as the rise of photography brought about both a new aesthetics of vision and an increase in the precision of iconographic documentation. In this article I will attempt to provide a history of the teaching of this discipline at the close of the nineteenth century within the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, with a focus on its ties to contemporary French practices. Drawing on archival materials including lesson plans, letters and notes from the classes of the three medical doctors who subsequently held the chair (Gaetano Strambio, Alessandro Lanzillotti-Buonsanti and Carlo Biaggi), I will argue that the deep connections between their teaching of the discipline and their work at the city hospital reveal a hybrid approach, with the modern drive towards live-body study unable to wholly supplant the central role still granted to corpses in the grammar of the visual arts.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Constanze Schattke
,
Fernanda Olivares
,
Hema'ny Molina
,
Lumila Menéndez
, and
Sabine Eggers

Osteological collections are key sources of information in providing crucial insight into the lifestyles of past populations. In this article, we conduct an osteobiographical assessment of the human remains of fourteen Selk'nam individuals, which are now housed in the Department of Anthropology, Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria. The aim is to bring these individuals closer to their communities of origin by using non-invasive methods aimed at rebuilding their biological profiles (i.e., age-at-death, biological sex and health status), adding to these with results from provenance research. This way, the human remains were assigned a new identity closer to their original one, through a process that we call ‘re-individualisation’. This is especially significant since it must be assumed that the individuals were exhumed against their cultural belief system. We conclude that building strong and long-lasting collaborations between Indigenous representatives and biological anthropologists has a pivotal role in research for reappraising Indigenous history.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
From Karokynká/Tierra del Fuego to Austria
Fernanda Olivares
,
Constanze Schattke
,
Hema’ny Molina
,
Margit Berner
, and
Sabine Eggers

Museums are places characterised by collecting objects, displaying them for public education and also subjecting their collections to research. Yet knowledge can not only be created by using the collection for research. The history of a collection can also be reconstructed, albeit mostly in a fragmentary way. This is important when there is evidence that the collection was acquired in a colonial context, when the collection contains human remains and more so if these were taken from Indigenous peoples. Reconstructing the history of a collection can assist source communities in strengthening their identities and help to regain lost knowledge about their ancestors. This study analyses the provenance of fourteen crania and calvaria of the Selk’nam people from Tierra del Fuego, stored at the Department of Anthropology, Natural History Museum Vienna. Additionally, the significance of these results and their meaning for today’s Selk’nam community Covadonga Ona will be contextualised within the framework of colonial history and museum systems.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Digital Work and Fragile Livelihoods of Women Refugees in the Middle East and North Africa
Dina Mansour-Ille
and
Demi Starks

In the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and the push to digital work, this op-ed argues that the emerging digital economy can be vital for enabling refugee women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to overcome existing livelihood barriers. Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011, over 6.5 million Syrian refugees have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) globally. Neighbouring countries across the MENA region continue to carry the largest share of the burden. Across the region, refugees live on the margins, in camps, as well as urban and peri-urban communities, and other informal settlements. Existing gender disparities coupled with other social and logistical barriers, as well as restrictive legal and economic structures, exacerbate livelihood challenges for refugee women in MENA. Research demonstrates that the digital economy, particularly crowd and ‘on-demand’ work, could provide opportunities that would enable women refugees to overcome these barriers to work. As it stands, however, the digital economy is still in its infancy, especially in host countries in MENA, and it is still fraught with challenges, including barriers to entry, employee protections and the lack of guarantees to decent work, especially for vulnerable and marginalised communities. We therefore argue that there is a need to direct efforts to maximise the benefits that the digital economy could offer, especially to refugee women – a need that has become even more pertinent since the coronavirus pandemic.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs