Humanitarian Urbanism: Cities, Technology, and the Hybrid Practices of Humanitarian Planners
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Potvin, Marianne F.
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CitationPotvin, Marianne F. 2019. Humanitarian Urbanism: Cities, Technology, and the Hybrid Practices of Humanitarian Planners. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis doctoral dissertation examines the largely untheorized relationship between global humanitarian action and the politics of urban planning using an approach that combines history and material theory, particularly Science Technology and Society Studies (STS). Through a review of technical and spatial planning instruments – field handbooks, refugee settlement policies and crisis mapping software – the research documents the shifting integration of urban and environmental policies into humanitarian mandates to protect the life and dignity of refugees and victims of conflict, from the 1960s through the present. Using a socio-technical imaginary framework, it investigates how the values of influential international humanitarian organizations (e.g. neutrality, independence, volunteerism) intersect with the norms of spatial planning.
Offering an alternative to the literature on humanitarian encampment, particularly the camp-to-city binary, this research highlights the interplay between moral and scientific rationality that exists within aid institutions, and attends to questions of expertise and legitimacy. It argues that humanitarian urbanism plays a crucial yet paradoxical role in aid agencies’ quest for political legitimacy and moral accountability. On one hand, spatial practices have been marginalized as inferior to political or legal ones; on the other hand, there has been a desire that spatial “fixes” solve even the thorniest of ethical conundrums. It finds however that both technological and legal repertoires work towards the display, stabilization and extension of humanitarian neutrality. The research opens a critique of the conventional categories used both in urban and humanitarian studies. It allows for a reevaluation of urban practices in humanitarian contexts, and provides an analytical blueprint for the study of other humanitarian technical assemblages, which are bound to multiply in the years to come.
The findings are relevant to debates about urbanization, technology, forced migration, spatial justice, urban disaster and recovery, and digital philanthropy. They rely on multi-sited institutional ethnography, participant observations, archival research, and interviews conducted in French and English at the headquarters and field offices of international humanitarian organizations, primarily the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in Switzerland, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42013101
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