Department of Anthropology

Adia Benton: Race, Risk and the Humanitarian Politics of Life

Fri, February 24, 2012 | JES A230

12:00 PM

"Race, Risk and the Humanitarian Politics of Life"

A talk by Dr. Adia Benton, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Oberlin College.

While social science critiques of humanitarianism regularly highlight inequalities embedded in the humanitarian encounter, these critiques tend to be leveled in terms of culture, nationality, and economic development status - often excluding the role of race in the constitution of humanitarian narratives and in humanitarian practice. In this paper, Dr. Benton describes two events occurring forty years and thousands of miles apart and the story they tell about the role of race in the humanitarian encounter. She argues that race is implicated in and central to humanitarian practice and ideology, suggesting that the differential valuing of life upon which humanitarianism rests is given expression in racialized considerations of whose lives are to be risked, saved, and narrated (Fassin 2003). Drawing upon findings from fieldwork in Sierra Leone, Dr. Benton addresses what these stories about humanitarianism fail to tell us about the lives that may be shaped by the humanitarian encounter, but not determined by it.

Dr. Benton is a medical anthropologist who examines the cultural politics of global health and humanitarianism and their relationship to moral and lived experience. A public health consultant since 2000, she has taught courses on global health and medical anthropology and conducted research, monitoring and evaluation activities in several countries. Her most recent ethnographic fieldwork took place in Sierra Leone, where she studied the convergence of HIV exceptionalist policies, post-conflict development, and health-inflected identities.

Sponsored by the African & African Diaspora Studies Department.

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