Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Association for Feminist Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Humanitarian Citizens: When Strangers Become Kin
“Our prisoner was released,” Amnesty International activists announced joyously at a group meeting, referring to a prominent political figure from the global South. For members of this San Francisco Bay Area group who had invested their affective energies into advocating for her release, the prisoner had become a charge, our prisoner. How do we understand the affective appropriation and claims of responsibility, care, and ownership made on suffering postcolonial bodies? This paper examines the social afterlives of humanitarian moral sentiments, which dominate the global public sphere and mediate citizenship and belonging. I understand humanitarian sentiments as a technology of governance that recuperates morality, virtue, and political agency for normative subject-citizens by projecting sentiments on gendered, sexualized, and racialized others, but that also turns strangers into a particular kind of kin. My sites of analyses are kinship claims of Amnesty International activists, and the reconfigurations of families that result from American families’ practices of temporarily adopting refugees. By bringing these two sites into the same analytical fold, I outline what I call the humanitarian secular, and reveal its resonances with the evangelical orphan movement to save children from war-torn countries. My goal is to unsettle the purchase of humanitarian sentiments as well as to show how a feminist anthropological analysis destabilizes the critique of humanitarian citizenship itself.