The Banality of Care: The Figure of the Humanitarian, in Haiti and Elsewhere

In: Public Anthropologist
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  • 1 Western University, Ontario

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The humanitarian is often seen as the great moral figure of our time. In this article, I explore how the idea of the humanitarian, as a global public figure, is related to broader ideas of liberalism, agency, ethics, and care. I draw on ethnographic examples from Haiti to first paint a portrait of the humanitarian as a person concerned with certain ideas of care, suffering, and salvation. I then offer a more general theoretical account of the figure of the humanitarian and suggest that this figure is tied to a larger story about liberal responses to cruelty and suffering. In the end, I suggest that the figure of the humanitarian tells us much about the normalization of emergency around the world and about what I call the banality of care.

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