Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationHeidelberg, U. of
Grant numberGr. 10017
Approve DateAugust 26, 2020
Project TitleNovikov, Egor (Heidelberg U.) "The Role of Filth in International Humanitarianism"
EGOR NOVIKOV, then a graduate student at Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany, was awarded funding in August 2020 to aid research on ‘The Role of Filth in International Humanitarianism,’ supervised by Dr. William Sax. Humanitarian work deals a lot with disorder, ambivalence and varieties of physical dirt, but unlike compassion, repulsion and anxiety are mostly omitted from its public image. This research conducted through remote interviews with former international volunteers in Kolkata and their local counterparts, and analysis of grey literature and relevant social networks pages studies the emotional bind of abjection and compassion common in humanitarian experience. Firstly, the contact with physical filth and moral ambivalence makes the experience of volunteering moderately traumatic and through this valuable for the providers of aid. Secondly, the protective repulsion towards disorder and disease nourishes the central social tension of humanitarian work: the radical inequality between the givers and the receivers. This emotional anchor makes the paternalistic dominance of the humanitarians over their counterparts fluid but persistent. Thirdly, ambivalence is also a problematic but promising communication resource bringing the international humanitarians and the locals to a common ground. To the aid receivers and other local participants, the informality and lack of transparency in relations with the humanitarian agents can be a means to plant their own meaning into the aid and thus claim agency and dignity, instead of accepting the role of passive victims.