Thinking Power Relations across Humanitarian Geographies: Southism as a Mode of Analysis (January 2019)

This piece is posted as part of the blog series, Thinking through the Global South.  You can read the series here.

In this blog post Dr Estella Carpi examines the impact of the structural relationships between the Global North and Global South and puts forward the concept of ‘Southism’. This term is used to describe the unequal power relations, practices and belief systems that enable Northern humanitarian actors and organisations to assume a right to care for, rescue and assist Global South settings and people that it preconceives to be disempowered and incapable. Dr Carpi also examines how “epistemic failure”, and “material discrimination” influence and shape the encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries and suggests a ‘geography-free’ approach to enable us to critically question geographies of birth and national passports as assumed sole identifiers of power.

This piece was posted on the 23rd January, 2019.

By Dr Estella Carpi, Research Associate, Southern Responses to Displacement

In my chapter for the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, I sought to uncover the multifaceted power relations that underpin the ways that humanitarian practitioners lead their lives and encounter and think about local residents, governors, infrastructure, providers and refugee groups in the context of Lebanon’s humanitarian crises. My contribution, ‘The “Need to Be There”: North-South Encounters and Imaginations in the Humanitarian Economy’ also seeks to explore how the so-called international community of humanitarian practitioners is perceived by local and refugee populations.

My chapter specifically considers the Lebanese humanitarian provision systems in place during the Israel-Lebanon July 2006 war and in response to the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon from 2011. In these settings, it can be argued that there is a relationship between aid providers and recipients that cements the Global South as the key source of the Global North’s empowerment, accountability and capability to develop and assist vulnerable settings and people. This is a relationship that I explore in more detail below.

Aiming to problematise ethnic and political geographies within this context of provider-recipient power relations, my chapter suggests the concept of Southism as an analytical tool.  The complex role of international and local aid workers in crisis-driven transnational labour, and the ad hoc relevance of nationality within humanitarian economies, demonstrates to interrelated dynamics: on the one hand, the paternalistic behaviour of the humanitarian apparatus which deems itself as “necessary” in areas of need and, on the other hand, the complex relationships that exist between local, regional and international NGOs. For some displaced people I had the chance to speak to in Lebanon, these provider-recipient power relations seemingly form a homogenous arm of governance unable to either empathize with them or enact solidarity. It is in this articulated context that I explore North-South actual encounters and perceptions within the humanitarian economy.

My field research in Lebanon between 2011 and 2013 pointed to a tension between the philanthropic spirit of the humanitarian system, and local and refugee responses to the “Southist” intent. This Southist intent of the Northern humanitarian system to care for, rescue, upgrade and assist settings in the Global South combines personal affection and collective compassion with professional aspirations. By using the concept of Southism, I intend to resonate with Gayatri Spivak’s “monumentalization of the margins”, that is the overemphasis of needs and areas of need exclusively in the Global South. As such, Southism indicates a structural relationship, rather than a mere act of assisting the South with a philanthropic spirit. Specifically, it preconceives the South as disempowered and incapable.

To examine these concepts further, in my chapter I identify “epistemic failure” and “material discrimination” as key issues that influence and shape the encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries, and the latter’s perceptions of the former. Epistemic failure, or the failure of the humanitarian system to accumulate local knowledge concerning the cultures, languages and capacities of the areas of intervention exists at the same time as valuing the geographic diversification of professional experience and the standardization of operational skills. This creates a problematic disconnection between humanitarian practices and lifestyles on the one hand and aid recipients on the other.

In turn, material discrimination refers to the different pay-scales set up for local and international staff, heavily disadvantaging the former. In addition, I propose that “humanitarian tourism”, “politics of blame” and the “betrayal of the international community” represent local and refugee perceptions of global humanitarian worldviews, ways of being and lifestyles. “Humanitarian tourism’ represents the temporary as well as voyeuristic international interest in crisis-stricken settings. There is also a humanitarian tendency to blame local staff, infrastructure and politics for operational failures: “the politics of blame”. Lastly, “the betrayal of the international community” refers to the moral wound felt by forcibly displaced people who denounce the fictitious intervention of the international community and its inability or unwillingness to eradicate injustice and the very causes of crisis.

The humanitarian approaches to thinking about and assisting the needy that I discuss in my chapter relate to disparate sides of the world and, therefore, it questions geographies of birth and national passports as a priori sole identifiers of power. The global humanitarian way of being that I explore in Lebanon’s humanitarian crises is also about the social class and economic status of aid workers, and their own freedom to move inside (and away from) vulnerable areas and opt for educational and professional migration.

From this perspective, I strive towards a geography-free interpretation of Southism. While passports and nationalities still prove their efficaciousness in times of risk, my research in Lebanon has rather aimed to identify comfort zones which protect social statuses, ease and privilege across passports. The hegemonic culture which underpins the “NGOization” of postcolonial settings, on the one hand, can sometimes be adopted regardless of the geographic context of its primary actors. On the other hand, an exploration of hegemonic culture can unearth the organisational and individual ethics of international and local practitioners in approaching southern settings affected by crisis.

This geography-free approach helps to highlight and critically examine the “too-easy West-and-the-rest polarizations sometimes rampant in colonial and postcolonial discourse studies”. To understand the contextuality of humanitarian action and its impact on societies, we therefore need a flexible geography of Southism, which disappears when irrelevant and re-emerges when able to uncover the ad hoc performative roles of nationality.

Nonetheless, in my chapter I limit myself to showing some of the moral and material implications of Southism. After all, the feelings, intentions and aspirations which often underlie the humanitarian career make such Southism not a matter which can be straightforwardly addressed in the short term. Humanitarian actors’ tendency to believe that, whenever a new emergency breaks out, Lebanon – like other “fragile states” – would collapse without international humanitarian help is a belief that requires longstanding cultural intervention.

As I affirm in my chapter, “Southism does not merely make the Global South, or Southern elements in the North, its special place – as Edward Said does with the Orient – but it is, rather, employed by Northern and Southern actors to reassert, solidify and legitimise the Northern humanitarian presence and actions”. As long as the very aim remains the politico-pragmatic role and the moral survival of the Global North, “polycentric forms of knowledge, politics and practice” – as stated by Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Daley in the introduction– are unlikely to emerge and produce tangible transformations. My contribution, in line with the other 30 chapters of the Handbook, has attempted to prompt critical framings of everyday political geographies that form our material lives, actions, and conceptual referents.

This extract from Dr Carpi’s chapter in The Handbook of South-South Relations, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Patricia Daley, has been slightly edited for the purposes of this blog post. For more information about the Handbook, see here, and for other pieces published as part of the Southern Responses blog series on Thinking through the Global South, click here.

 For further readings on the themes addressed in this post please read:

Thinking through ‘the global South’ and ‘Southern-responses to displacement’: An introduction – in this introductory piece to our new blog series, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh sets out a series of questions that our project is exploring with reference to how to think about, and through ‘the South.’

Conceptualising the South and South-South Encounters – in this extract from their introduction to the new book, Handbook of South-South Relations, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Prof. Patricia Daley explore different ways of conceptualising and studying ‘the global South’ and diverse encounters that take place across and between diversely positioned people and institutions around the world.

Histories and spaces of Southern-led responses to displacement – In this blog post Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh highlights the need for the analyses of local responses to be more attentive to the longstanding history of diverse “local/Southern” actors and examines the ways in which Southern-led responses can work alongside, or explicitly challenge, Northern-led responses to displacement.

Empires of Inclusion – In this post Dr Estella Carpi explores the implications of the concept and process of ‘inclusion’ in relation to South-South Cooperation.

The Localisation of Aid and Southern-led Responses to Displacement: Beyond instrumentalising local actors – In this blog Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh examines a number of questions relating to recent action by international humanitarian actors responding to displacement and the new impetus to localise aid by engaging with ‘local’ actors in and from the global South.

Does Faith-Based Aid Provision always Localise Aid? – In this blog post Dr Estella Carpi argues that there is a need to reflect on local contexts to ensure engagement with local faith communities do not rely on essentialising practices that assume certain groups speak on behalf of a homogenous ‘locale.’

Featured image:  Al-Hikma Modern Hospital, Zarqa.  © E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (2018)


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Recensione di “Come uno Stato. Hizbullah e la Mimesi Strategica”, di Marina Calculli (gennaio 2019)

Hezbollah: come uno Stato

Se gli studi sul maggior partito libanese sciita Hezbollah sono ormai prolifici, Come uno Stato: Hizbullah e la Mimesi Strategica di Marina Calculli offre un’analisi acuta e per certi versi insolita.

Come uno StatoIl libro, composto da un’introduzione, cinque capitoli e un’incisiva conclusione, ha il pregio della chiarezza strutturale e contenutistica. Con uno scopo finemente analitico, Come uno Stato sembra pensato per un pubblico sia accademico che non accademico, ma che si suppone abbia una minima familiarità con il partito di Hezbollah e il Libano. Ad aprire il libro è una solida introduzione che delinea in modo nitido il contesto teorico e politologico in cui l’autrice intende collocare la propria analisi. Il  libro si costituisce di 5 capitoli, strettamente interconnessi e scorrevoli alla lettura.

Come uno Stato identifica le peculiarità di Hezbollah senza dipingere il partito come un fenomeno di natura quasi anomala da denigrare o elogiare, come invece alcuni studiosi hanno suggerito in passato, abbracciando un iperbolico eccezionalismo negativo o positivo (si legga Augustus Norton e Nicholas Blanford nella letteratura anglofona, Mausolino e Angelino nella letteratura italiana, o Amal Sa‘d Ghorayeb nella letteratura libanese). Allo stesso tempo, il libro di Calculli ha il pregio di contestualizzare Hezbollah in una più ampia costellazione di partiti libanesi, discutendo ad esempio nel secondo capitolo la realtà delle Kata’eb – la destra falangista libanese – e la formazione coloniale di matrice francese dello stato libanese.

Hezbollah dunque emerge come singolare, ma a tratti paragonabile ad altre realtà politiche libanesi. Più recentemente, da una vasta letteratura permeata dall’eccezionalismo politico – che, ad esempio, spesso enfatizza la violenza politica adottata da Hezbollah durante la guerra civile libanese (1975-1990), seppur fosse una pratica comune ad altre parti del conflitto – si è approdati quasi a una banalizzazione delle peculiarità del Partito di Dio o a una sua mera lettura socio-economica, con il rischio, a mia veduta, di svuotarne le caratteristiche strategiche, per le quali ideologia e prassi non possono restare un binomio antitetico. Calculli riesce invece a ricostruire la peculiarità ideologica e logico-strategica di Hezbollah, pur evitando l’eccezionalismo astorico.

Come uno Stato, avanzando l’idea della mimesi strategica, riesce a definire con sistematicità una letteratura libanese antecedente che, nei decenni, ha analizzato le strategie politiche, militari e di auto-affermazione di Hezbollah nel processo di ricostruzione post-bellica della guerra dell’estate 2006 contro Israele (in Libano chiamata comunemente harb tammuz, “la guerra di luglio”). Calculli, seppur parlando dalla prospettiva delle Relazioni Internazionali, attraverso il concetto di mimesi strategica offre finalmente uno strumento di interpretazione incisivo e appropriato per comprendere le contraddizioni comportamentali e diplomatiche nella storia relazionale tra Hezbollah, lo stato libanese e l’esercito regolare libanese. Tale tendenza mimetica del partito è adottata dal partito sia in contesto geopolitico – a cui l’analisi dall’autrice da priorità – sia nel contesto della ricostruzione urbana; la quale, di natura transnazionale, si ricollega quindi al contesto geopolitico.

All’interno delle politiche di ricostruzione dopo la guerra di luglio, infatti, le pianificazioni urbana e territoriale sono state delegate a Hezbollah dallo stato libanese, che ha approcciato il partito come attore privato a cui assegnare appalti. Questa tendenza comportamentale di Hezbollah, confermata pertanto dalla letteratura urbanistica locale, non era stata concettualizzata in modo metodico. Come uno Stato arriva estremamente puntuale e incisivo nel proporre una lettura organica delle politiche di Hezbollah.

Inoltre, il rapporto di fatto complesso tra Hezbollah e il regime siriano che il libro contribuisce a ricostruire è offuscato da un’apparente linearità degli eventi odierni in Siria – all’interno dei quali il partito libanese ha contribuito ampiamente alla sopravvivenza del regime di Bashar al-Asad. Analogamente, il rapporto tra Hezbollah e le Forze Armate regolari libanesi emerge nel libro come complementare e, per l’appunto, mimetico. In tale quadro, Hezbollah risulta farsi promotore dell’insurgency durante la guerra civile (1975-1990) e della counterinsurgency con l’emergere dello Stato Islamico (p. 147).

Calculli traccia la traiettoria storica del processo trasformativo del partito concentrandosi su tre spartiacque temporali: la fine della guerra civile libanese, la “guerra al terrore” post-settembre 2001 e il conflitto siriano che inizia con la crisi politica del marzo 2011. In tale analisi tripartitica, l’agentività elastica di Hezbollah emerge con chiarezza. A mio avviso, il ruolo del partito nella guerra di luglio è affrontato in modo analogamente fondamentale nell’analisi di Calculli: la costruzione da parte del partito della propria moralità pubblica al di fuori dello Stato ma non in opposizione ad esso durante l’ultima guerra contro Israele potrebbe quindi essere letta come una quarta giuntura critica.

Come uno stato

È “l’ostentazione pubblica della competizione” (p. 150) di Hezbollah a permettere tale elasticità politica, che si preoccupa più della performance contestuale che di immutabili credenze ideologiche, e sembra fare eco alla politica del “come se” di cui parlava l’antropologa statunitense Lisa Wedeen in Ambiguities of Domination (1999): la politica di pubblica dissimulazione del regime siriano. Un ulteriore approfondimento teorico della dissimulazione come strategia di sovranità nel contesto libanese, e come quest’ultima si intrecci ad altre politiche di dissimulazione regionali, potrebbe costituire un intrigante seguito analitico di Come uno Stato.

Infine, il libro si fonda su una metodologia ancora di minoranza all’interno delle Relazioni Internazionali: le interviste in prima persona con personaggi politici eminenti, che raramente si ritrovano all’interno di studi non tradizionalmente etnografici. Calculli, a tal proposito, suggerisce implicitamente l’importanza delle fonti primarie in discipline spesso sviluppate su annunci diplomatici e discorsi ufficiali. L’importanza di tale metodologia qualitativa è però evidenziata troppo poco nell’introduzione, quando invece costituisce, a mia veduta, uno dei punti di maggior forza del libro.

Come uno Stato , infine, spezza il rigido binomio tra lo stato ufficiale e Hezbollah, andando oltre la visione del partito come “stato nello stato” o come “anti-stato” tout court. Nell’attuale letteratura sullo stato libanese, che sembra finalmente distanziarsi da definizioni sterilmente normative di statalità “forti” e “deboli”, il libro di Calculli è una lettura particolarmente consigliata a chi desidera comprendere Hezbollah come ideologia e prassi in chiave relazionale e temporale e, finalmente, al di là del suo carattere islamico: il partito rispetto allo stato libanese, agli altri partiti politici e a eventi chiave di giuntura e disgiuntura nelle politiche globali.

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The ‘Need to Be There’: North-South Encounters and Imaginations in the Humanitarian Economy (December, 2018)

I have contributed to the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Patricia Daley (2018), which has just been published!

The edited volume collects an important number of critical contributions which question contemporary political geographies of Global North and Global South. Here below you can read the abstract of my chapter which focuses on my work on humanitarianism in Lebanon.

chapter 22|13 pages

North–South encounters and imaginations in the humanitarian economy
ByEstella Carpi
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Based on ethnographic research conducted in Beirut’s southern suburbs (Dahiye) and northern Lebanon (Akkar) between 2011 and 2013, this chapter advances a critical reflection on humanitarian lifeworlds in Lebanon and their encounters with war-stricken local citizens and refugees. Defining Southism as a structural relationship that cements the ‘global South’ as the key symbolic capital of Northern empowerment, accountability and capability, the chapter discusses the attitudes and thinking that have characterised the Lebanese humanitarian economy during the Israel–Lebanon July 2006 war and the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon from 2011. While it defines ‘epistemic failure’ and ‘material discrimination’ as the actual encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries, this chapter proposes that ‘humanitarian tourism’, ‘politics of blame’, and the ‘betrayal of the international community’ represent the local and refugee imaginary encounters with global humanitarian lifeworlds. With the purpose of problematising ethnic and political geographies in provider–recipient power relations, it finally theorises a de-geographicised notion of Southism that can better capture the complex role of international and local humanitarian workers in crisis settings, as well as the ad hoc relevance of nationality within humanitarian economies.


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Book Review of Lucy Mayblin’s Asylum after Empire (December 2018)

You can access here my review of Lucy Mayblin’s book “Asylum after Empire. Colonial Legacies in the Politics of Asylum Seeking” on Refuge 34(2): 158-160.

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Southern Responses at British Academy “Working Together: Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and Gender Equality” Workshop

Southern Responses to Displacement

In November 2018, Dr Estella Carpi from the Southern Responses to Displacement research team took part in “Working Together: Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and Gender Equality,” a workshop held at the British Academy to launch a report of the same title. In this post, Dr Estella Carpi reflects on the workshop and the report, which focuses on the need for the human rights and SDG frameworks to work together in a bid to take steps towards achieving substantive gender equality. In this regard, the Southern Responses project is examining how principles and motivations differ in various models of care, development, advocacy and protection across the global North and the global South, and how ‘northern’ approaches have historically overshadowed alternative frameworks to overcome diverse structural barriers and inequalities.

This blog was posted on the 27 November 2018.  

Southern Responses at British Academy “Working Together: Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals…

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Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo (by Estella Carpi, November 2018)


E’ uscito il mio primo libro Specchi Scomodi il 13 novembre 2018!

Ho pensato a questo libro con un fine divulgativo, seppur si basi sul mio lavoro di dottorato (2010-2015).

Attraverso il racconto etnografico di quattro donne reduci da esperienze diverse di migrazione forzata – Souhà, Iman, ‘Alia e Amal –  cerco di offrire un’approfondita lettura storica e sociologica dei flussi dei profughi verso il Libano contemporaneo e all’interno del paese stesso. Il fine è quello di offrire ai lettori le motivazioni e le implicazioni sociali e politiche dei fenomeni migratori dal Libano meridionale alla periferia di Beirut a causa dell’occupazione israeliana, e dalla Palestina, Iraq e Siria al Libano a causa di processi politici tuttora irrisolti. Con una particolare attenzione al fornimento dei servizi sociali, il libro enfatizza la continuità storica – per l’appunto, gli specchi scomodi – che lega indissolubilmente non solo questi quattro complessi processi storici, ma anche le vite individuali, le sensazioni, le tattiche quotidiane di sopravvivenza economica ed emotiva e le micro-politiche delle quattro donne protagoniste.

Lo potete prenotare online e in libreria. Nelle librerie italiane lo troverete invece in ampia distribuzione da gennaio 2019 in poi.

Buona lettura!

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Intermediaries in humanitarian action: a questionable shortcut to the effective localisation of aid? (by Estella Carpi, November 2018)

Over the last decade, international humanitarian agencies have endeavoured to develop effective ways to localise their practices of intervention in areas receiving forced migrants or stricken by conflict or disasters. ‘Localisation’ is an umbrella term referring to all approaches to working with local actors, and includes ‘locally-led’ projects which refers specifically to “work that originates with local actors or is designed to support locally emerging initiatives” (Wall 2016).

Local-international partnerships have received much rhetorical attention as a more acceptable face of the humanitarian programming designed in the global North. Nonetheless, there is evidence that northern funding and organisational structures still give preference to implementers from the global north (Ramalingman, Gray and Cerruti 2012). In this framework, the middle space, spanning from international donors to local implementers, is of crucial importance in shaping decision-making processes related to humanitarian funding, practices and policies. In this framework, I would like to advance my considerations on the international humanitarian system that presently places special emphasis on the role of intermediaries in crisis-stricken settings, or contexts that are proxies to crisis.

On November 14 2018 I participated in a roundtable organised by the Overseas Development Institute which aimed to evaluate the role of intermediaries in humanitarianism. In this context, several London-based humanitarian professionals expressed the need to define the role of the intermediary figure in humanitarian action, and to rely on the latter’s support to access local and refugee communities in the targeted areas. By contrast, academic literature which seeks to map such a ‘middle space’ is scant (Kraft and Smith 2018). Based on these observations, what are humanitarian actors trying to bypass, remove, enhance or achieve by emphasising the importance of intermediaries in their sector? With the following considerations, I intend to shed light on how intermediaries may be problematically employed as a shortcut to localisation and as a logistic facilitation strategy to not further contextualise policies and practices which are often designed in the so-called global North.

The first observation I would like to make is related to the layered social identity of intermediaries. Indeed, it is a common belief that intermediaries are mostly local or regional residents with strong connections and networks in the areas targeted by humanitarian programmes. If the line of separation between the ‘international’ and the ‘local’ is unavoidably blurred, it is important to note that some segments of local middle classes – generally those employed in the humanitarian system to manage crisis – are as unfamiliar with other social strata of their own country as many international workers with whom they share common lifestyle standards. As a result, from a relational and emotional perspective, some local professionals may not necessarily be any closer to the people they address. At the same time, however, intermediaries are believed to be well placed to manage local politics, such as corruption, inefficiency or reluctance to comply with external norms and requests. Can such a social figure ever exist? In this respect, the research I conducted from 2011 to late 2013 in Lebanon (Carpi 2015) demonstrates a promiscuous intentionality of the international humanitarian apparatus: on the one hand, the desire to avoid local politics and its discontents, but, on the other, the need to rely on intermediary figures who are able to prepare beneficiary lists and can provide contextual knowledge to enable humanitarian actors to rapidly and safely access local and refugee groups. However, as my research has shown, by doing so international humanitarian agencies often end up recognising local authorities as key actors of the humanitarian machine. In my field experience, the moral impact of what I may call an ‘unintended alliance’ between humanitarian internationals and local gatekeepers was particularly relevant when local residents and refugees expressed their desire to get rid of intermediary figures operating between them, the humanitarian system and the central government. Intermediary roles were predominantly covered by local state officials and delegates (makhatir and mandubin respectively) and other local informal leaders (zu‘ama’). In sum, the necessary entrance of formal and informal local authorities into the international humanitarian labour chain produced a substantial impact on humanitarian workers who must deal with local politics and its contextual configuration.

The second issue that I would like to analyse is the excess of intermediaries in the contemporary humanitarian sphere. Looking at the intermediary role as a relational and performative process rather than a clear-cut sociological mission, it is possible to identify unorthodox configurations of “intermediariness”. Even though it is mainly conceived as local actors, –networks, individuals, diaspora groups or formal organisations that occupy the middle space between initial donors and final implementers, intermediaries can sometimes be epitomised by INGOs and UN agencies. For instance, the humanitarian corridors that currently take Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Italy and France across the Mediterranean are a suitable case in point. As a local aid worker recounted in an interview in Beirut in March 2017, in order to retrieve personal data and carry out an initial selection of the refugee groups who better suit the Italian and the French labour markets, the INGOs in charge of organising the humanitarian corridors rely, in turn, on other INGOs and UN agencies that can provide them with a contact database. This modality of selection is believed to avoid a costly and time-consuming door-to-door strategy. In this case, needs assessment is viewed as a bureaucratic hurdle rather than an effective way of identifying needs and protection and their changing nature. Likewise, another aid practitioner working for an INGO in a village of northern Lebanon affirmed that individual and family eligibility to cash transfers was determined through the UNHCR central database, rather than independent field visits and assessments (interview in Halba, February 2017). These two anecdotes show how intermediaries operating in the humanitarian middle space are at times excessive.

My third observation concerns bureaucracy. Enhancing and institutionalising the role of intermediaries may sort out the difficulty of pinning down sociological figures in changing contexts and of managing institutional trust versus informal society. By this token, we may think that the role of intermediaries should therefore be professionalised. However, the institutionalisation of the intermediary role might instead add complexity and slow down the already hyper-bureaucratised system of international humanitarianism and development. The same system has long been accused of being poorly responsive to context-sensitive needs (Belloni 2005) and de-humanising war and disaster victims (Pandolfi 2002). In this regard, Lebanon offers the meaningful example of the Municipal Support Assistant (MSA). This professional figure, appointed by local municipalities, has been created to work with local authorities and international humanitarian actors and acts as a local government administrative assistant. In the case of Lebanon, the MSA needs to be fluent in Arabic and English to be able to develop double communication strategies. As a municipality representative of Sahel az-Zahrani reported in a 2016 study conducted by UN-Habitat and the American University of Beirut, the MSA has presumably been created to enhance coordination between the local and the humanitarian systems of governance (Boustani, Carpi, Hayat and Moura 2016). However, considering the formal ways of working that the MSA needs to comply with, bureaucratic impediments are practically enhanced. In other words, if bureaucracy is enhanced to achieve greater coordination, I would be wary to believe that actual coordination can soon see the light.

The very aims of the ongoing efforts towards an “intermediary-sation” of humanitarian action need to be clearly motivated and contextualised. From a personal perspective, considering the provisional presence of many international humanitarians and researchers in the areas where crisis management is needed, we continue missing historical continuity. Short field visits are in fact unlikely to trace the local history of human relations, contextual power dynamics and assistance mechanisms. Should the international humanitarian system not find the radical determination to develop physical and moral proximity towards the populations it endeavours to serve, I hence envision intermediaries only as everyday researchers who conduct “reality checks” whenever accurate humanitarian assessments of outreach, programming, policies and local specificities are needed.


Belloni, Roberto (2005) Is Humanitarianism Part of the Problem? Nine Theses. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Boston, MA.

Boustani, Marwa, Carpi, Estella, Hayat Gebara, and Mourad Yara (2016) Responding to the Syrian Crisis in Lebanon. Collaboration between Aid Agencies and Local Governance Structures. London: IIED Urban Crisis report.

Carpi, Estella (2015) Adhocratic Humanitarianisms and Ageing Emergencies in Lebanon. From the July 2006 War in Beirut’s Southern Suburbs to the Syrian Refugee Influx in the Akkar Villages. PhD dissertation, University of Sydney (Australia).

Kraft, Kathryn and Smith, Jonathan D. (2018) “Between International Donors and Local Faith Communities: Intermediaries in Humanitarian Assistance to Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon”, Disasters.

Pandolfi, Mariella (2002) “’Moral Entrepreneurs’, Souverenaités Mouvantes et Barbelés: le Bio-Politique dans le Balkans Postcommunistes”, in Politiques Jeux d’Espaces, ed. Pandolfi, M. and Abélès, M., special issue, Anthropologie et Sociétés, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 29-50.

Ramalingam, Ben, Gray, Bill, and Cerruti, Giorgia (2012) Missed Opportunities: The Case for Strengthening National and Local Partnership-Based Humanitarian Responses, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Tearfund, and Action Aid.

Wall, Imogen with Hedlund, Kerren (2016) Localisation and Locally-Led Crisis Response: A Literature Review, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

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Para o Brasil

“Sr. Jair Messias Bolsonaro:
Como cidadão defensor dos preceitos democráticos, reconheço o senhor como o cidadão escolhido para ser o presidente do meu País. E, como tal, espero que o senhor faça um governo que consiga minimamente avançar na resolução de alguns dos profundos problemas crônicos da nação. Afinal, ninguém em sã consciência quer o pior para si e para o seu povo. Para tanto, acredito que num primeiro gesto à nação, o sr. deveria seguir o exemplo do ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso (aquele que um dia o sr. desejou a morte) e dizer a todos para esquecerem tudo o que o sr. falou. Até agora o sr. tem sido um obscuro deputado de pouquíssima produtividade, porém de muita bravata, conhecido apenas por seu discurso divisionista de ódio e violência contra os seus opositores ideológicos, os defensores dos direitos do ser humano, às minorias compostas por negros, indígenas, LGBTs e por uma ampla parcela de mulheres que não aceitam sua visão de que têm um papel inferior na sociedade. Agora o sr. é presidente de todos os brasileiros e precisa ter a exata noção da grandeza que este cargo representa. Até agora não sei minimamente quais sãos os seus planos para o país, uma vez que, como político experiente e esperto, refugiou-se no pântano das redes sociais para se vender como algo novo, impulsionado por uma enxurrada de fake news que convencem e cegam os inocentes úteis, logrando êxito num fenômeno mundial já visto nos EUA, no Brexit e em outros cantos. Até agora o sr. não expôs o seu projeto para o Brasil, pois recusou-se ao debate democrático, provavelmente temendo que sua fragilidade argumentativa expusesse o seu despreparo e seu verdadeiro caráter, o que colocaria tudo a perder. De qualquer forma, sr. Bolsonaro, agora que o sr. sai desta pseudo realidade do mundo virtual e volta seus olhos para a realidade crua do país que vai governar, é bom saber que a “minoria” que o sr. despreza, na verdade compõe a maioria da base social. Assim, como se o sr. teve 57 milhões de brasileiros cravando seu número nas urnas, outros 47 milhões disseram não e, ao se somarem aos demais 42 milhões de votos brancos nulos e abstenções, na prática, de uma forma ou de outra, não comungam com as suas idéias. Lembro ainda que, no campo político, apesar do avanço das forças conservadoras que o colocaram no poder, há uma força progressista, que não foi eliminada como o sr. desejaria, mas ao contrário está viva e disposta a uma forte oposição na defesa do estado democrático de direito e dos reais interesses do povo brasileiro. Uma oposição, diga-se de passagem, que não surgiu do oportunismo de um movimento político pontual, mas que tem um longo histórico de lutas contra o autoritarismo, contra o secular modelo perverso de política (que o sr. representa) que mantém o país no atraso e por mais justiça social. Como disse, sr. Bolsonaro, espero que o sr. me surpreenda com um bom governo. A mim e a todos os brasileiros. Estamos conscientes, firmes, vigilantes e atuantes. Ah, e somos a maioria…”

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In conversation with the Kahkaha project in Lebanon: an effective example of a Southern-led initiative.

Southern Responses to Displacement

‘One cannot come from outside and decide people’s needs on the basis of assumptions or experiences lived somewhere else.’

In this blog post Dr Estella Carpi interviews Lina Khoury, the founder of the Kahkaha project in Lebanon.  The Kahkaha project aims to blur the boundaries between urban and Palestinian refugee camp spaces.   To do this the project promotes infrastructure for sport and play  within and outside refugee camps with the aim of achieving social participation and everyday security for Palestinian refugee children and youth.  The initiative is an example of what some international scholars have named South-South or Southern-led humanitarianism.  However, as emerges in the interview, Kahkaha’s work often departs from the mainstream humanitarian narrative and action.

This blog was posted on 9th October 2018

In conversation with the Kahkaha project in Lebanon: an effective example of a Southern-led initiative.

by Dr Estella Carpi, Research Associate, Southern Responses to Displacement Project.

View original post 2,227 more words

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The ‘Learning from Crisis’ Humanitarian Formula: Bridging Disaster and Normality (October, 2018)


You can here listen to my interview with Habitat for Humanity-Great Britain (May, 2018), which summarises the report I published with the International Institute of Environment and Development in the framework of the Urban Crisis Learning Partnership project – including Habitat for Humanity-GB, Oxfam-GB, the Overseas Development Institute, and the Bartlett Development Planning Unit (University College London).

To access all outputs and the broader outline of the partnership:

To access my report:


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