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Spaces of Aid

Spaces of Aid

Lisa Smirl


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Book Details


Aid workers commonly bemoan that the experience of working in the field sits uneasily with the goals they’ve signed up to: visiting project sites in air-conditioned Land Cruisers while the intended beneficiaries walk barefoot through the heat, or checking emails from within gated compounds while surrounding communities have no running water. Spaces of Aid provides the first book-length analysis of what has colloquially been referred to as Aid Land. It explores in depth two high-profile case studies, the Aceh tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, in order to uncover a fascinating history of the objects and spaces that have become an endemic yet unexamined part of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

'An intriguing book on a neglected subject: the increasing trend towards aid workers barricading themselves away from "target populations" in fortified compounds, four wheel drives and grand hotels.'
Development Book Review

'Inspirational. Lisa Smirl was one of the first to expose the spatial dimensions of aid and thus open to view a whole new area of critique and research.'
Mark Duffield, professor emeritus at the University of Bristol and honorary professor, University of Birmingham; author of Global Governance and the New Wars

'No humanitarian scholar or aid worker can afford to ignore the political and moral realities with which this path-breaking work confronts us.'
Professor Stephen Hopgood, SOAS University of London, and author of The Endtimes of Human Rights and Keepers of the Flame

'Lisa Smirl was one of the most original and brilliant academics working on the global humanitarian order.'
Tim Dunne, professor of international relations, University of Queensland

'Spaces of Aid is masterfully researched, theoretically innovative, and analytically sophisticated. It is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding or improving humanitarian interventions.'
Severine Autesserre, Barnard College, Columbia University

'A fascinating and well-written book that unearths an important, but often unseen, part of the humanitarian world. Highly recommended.'
Michael Barnett, George Washington University, and author of The Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism

'A ground-breaking work, which introduces a spatial dimension to humanitarian analysis while spanning fields, disciplines, and geographical areas, in order to explore what is going wrong and what might be done about it.'
Professor Oliver Richmond, University of Manchester

'Lisa Smirl's remarkable book teaches us that objects and structures of privilege such as the SUV and gated apartment complex contribute to the insecurity perpetuated by the international aid industry. Spaces of Aid provides us with critical insights into everyday aid life in order that we might reflect seriously on our continuing ethical responsibilities and humanitarian interventions. An inspiring read.'
Marsha Henry, LSE

'Lisa Smirl died tragically young in 2013, aged 37. The lecturer in international relations at the University of Sussex made a big impact on the way we think about humanitarian aid. Now friends, colleagues and fans have brought Smirl’s work together in the book Spaces of Aid in the hope that the debate and reform that she began will continue. The book is a critical examination of the aid landscape, looking at how the built environment of humanitarian staff - from gated communities and hotels to air-conditioned cars and mobile phones - alters power relations between international aid workers and local communities. A book well worth reading.'
Lucy Siegle. The Guardian

Lisa Smirl was a lecturer in international relations at the University of Sussex. She worked previously for the United Nations Development Programme in Africa, Southeast Europe and Central Asia. A Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, she did graduate work at the London School of Economics and completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2010. Lisa was from Manitoba, Canada. She died in 2013 at the age of 37.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Front Cover Front cover
About the Author \r i
Title iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Figures vi
Note to the Reader\r vii
Foreword viii
Acknowledgements x
Preface xii
Abbreviations xvi
Introduction 1
The Argument 4
Methodology 13
The Structure 15
1: Stories from the Field, Stories of ‘The Field’: How Aid Workers Experience the Space of the Field Mission 20
Aid Work as Rite of Passage\r 21
Liminal Spaces, Affective Constraints\r 39
Conclusion: Setting the Stage\r 45
2: Exploring the Humanitarian Enclave 47
Perceptions of Insecurity Among Aid Workers\r 48
The Evolution of Physical Securitization in the Field\r 58
The Compound as the New Archetype of Humanitarianism\r 68
Conclusion 76
3: How the Built Environment Shapes Humanitarian Intervention 80
How the Material Matters: A Framework for Analysis 82
Auxiliary Space 87
The Impact on ‘Others’ \r 91
The Impact on the Aid Workers: Gated Communities\r 97
Sport Utility Vehicles 101
The Grand Hotel 106
Conclusion 112
4: Building Home Away from Home: Post-Tsunami Aceh, and the Single-Family House 114
Mapping the ‘Second Tsunami’ 117
The Single-Family House 125
The Gift of the House\r 132
The House as Commodity 143
From Donors to Contractors\r 159
5: Playing House: Rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Katrina 165
The Appeal of the Blank Slate\r 166
Make It Right or Making It Wrong: The Solution of Green Architecture in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth\r 169
Imagined Communities: New Urbanism and the Post-Katrina Gulf Coast 179
The Katrina Cottage: Emblem of the Reconstruction\r 183
A Shotgun Reconstruction 191
Conclusion 202
A Tripartite Model of Space\r 203
Implications for Theory and Policy\r 206
Future Research Directions 208
Bibliography 211
Index 233
Back Cover Back cover