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The New Humanitarianism
Course Number: 
Kroeber 155
Aihwa Ong
Tu-Th 2-3:30pm

"Humanitarianism" implies moral interventions into problems of life and living rooted in universal beliefs of our shared humanity. Humanitarianism is often expressed in terms of cosmopolitanism, the notion of human reciprocity and obligations in an interconnected world. An assumption is that the various practices, things, and ideals we deploy to save lives and reduce suffering is that the recipients as well as the helpers are thereby constituted as moral beings.  The question of whose morality is thereby served, and what politics of life is shaped, remains unsettled. This course draws on ethnographic cases from around the world, this course considers the new humanitarianism as strategies of governing, altruism, and security in the interests of the 'common good.'

Part 1 'The Government of Well-Being & Otherness,' explores humanitarianism as a non-government governance of well-being.  Modern interventions into life promote the care and capacity of subjects, thereby enhancing their productivity as citizens.

Part 2 'Transnational Virtue: Altruism, Affects, & Ethics' explores humanitarianism as the exercise of first-world sentiments of virtue on people in disadvantaged countries. We consider an array of N-S strategies -- poverty-reduction, rescue mission, global health, financial aid, and volunteer tourism -- that raise additional questions about the limits of external interventions and the importance of situated solutions.

Part 3 'Humanity at Stake,' explores how new technology and radical uncertainty increase the stakes of being human in irreducibly biological terms.  Humanitarianism becomes a new 'politics of life' that anticipates global bio-threats in the age of the Anthropogenic.