ArticlePDF Available

Praxis and paradigms of local and expatriate workers in ‘Aidland’



This paper discusses practices and paradigms that expatriate and national humanitarian aid workers use to deal with major problems they encounter in their daily work. It views ‘Aidland’ as an arena where different actors encounter, negotiate and shape the outcome of aid. One of the main findings is that there are consistent differences in the way expatriate and national aid actors perceive problems in their field, as well as in the way they respond to these issues. The paper shows that these perceptions often translate into heterogeneous paradigms and practices between expatriate and national staff, particularly around remote control aid, partnerships and donor reporting. These findings are highly relevant in the current context of ‘localisation’, suggesting that the so-called North/South divide continues to exist and more explicit attention should be given in aid research to the heterogeneous strategies of different actors working in the aid sector. The paper is based on analysis of data derived from a multiple-round Delphi expert panel study involving 30 highly experienced humanitarian aid practitioners.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Third World Quarterly
ISSN: 0143-6597 (Print) 1360-2241 (Online) Journal homepage:
Praxis and paradigms of local and expatriate
workers in ‘Aidland’
Roanne van Voorst
To cite this article: Roanne van Voorst (2019) Praxis and paradigms of local and
expatriate workers in ‘Aidland’, Third World Quarterly, 40:12, 2111-2128, DOI:
To link to this article:
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 17 Jul 2019.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 223
View related articles
View Crossmark data
2019, VOL. 40, NO. 12, 2111–2128
Praxis and paradigms of local and expatriate workers in
Roanne van Voorst
International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands
This paper discusses practices and paradigms that expatriate and
national humanitarian aid workers use to deal with major problems
they encounter in their daily work. It views ‘Aidland’ as an arena where
different actors encounter, negotiate and shape the outcome of aid.
One of the main findings is that there are consistent differences in the
way expatriate and national aid actors perceive problems in their field,
as well as in the way they respond to these issues. The paper shows that
these perceptions often translate into heterogeneous paradigms and
practices between expatriate and national staff, particularly around
remote control aid, partnerships and donor reporting. These findings
are highly relevant in the current context of ‘localisation’, suggesting
that the so-called North/South divide continues to exist and more
explicit attention should be given in aid research to the heterogeneous
strategies of different actors working in the aid sector. The paper is
based on analysis of data derived from a multiple-round Delphi expert
panel study involving 30 highly experienced humanitarian aid
The humanitarian sector is saving more lives, caring for more wounded and feeding more
hungry people in more places than ever. Yet it falls short in the world’s most enduring crises.
This paper investigates aid effectiveness by engaging with anthropological and ethnographic
studies of the aid industry (aidnography for short). It focuses on three major problem realms:
politicisation of aid, gap in funding and demands, and lack of localisation within the aid sector.
These focal points largely overlap with what Bennett etal., in their review of critical liter-
ature on humanitarian aid, argue are major underlying reasons for aid ineffectiveness.2 In
this paper, these topics arise first and foremost from an empirical dataset which was derived
from repeated in-depth interviews with 30 highly experienced aid practitioners. From this
analysis, it also becomes clear that the coping practices used by practitioners to deal with
these problems, can, and do, have impacts on aid effectiveness that are often unanticipated.
Sometimes, the analysis suggests, they may even have an adverse effect.
Received 3 April 2018
Accepted 7 June 2019
aid and capital ows
conict and security
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
CONTACT Roanne van Voorst International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University,
Kortenaerkade 12, The Hague, 2502 LT, The Netherlands
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License
(, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Basing the core of the analysis on empirical data, this paper takes an agency perspective
to studying aid ineffectiveness, and aims to understand the ways in which practitioners
perceive and deal with problems in their work. It focuses not just on actual practices but
also takes into account paradigms: a particular way of understanding crisis and action.
Paradigms are relevant in an analysis of aid effectiveness because they are a way of thinking
that informs practice.3 How do practitioners frame or explain particular actions and deci-
sions? How are paradigms used to justify an action or a decision? By asking these questions,
it becomes possible to understand not just what humanitarian actors do, but why they do
it: underlying motivations and convictions come to the surface.
Anthony Giddens coined the term ‘duality of structures’ to remind us that individuals can
act freely and reflexively, but only within the limits of the social structure created around
This does not mean, however, that these social structures must be regarded absolutely
statically; rather, they can be changed when actors use their agency to challenge them,
ignore them or replace them. Hence, if we want to gain a better understanding of the effec-
tiveness of aid, focusing on humanitarian actors’ behaviour alone (micro-analysis) and on
the rules and resources of the aid sector (macro-analysis) would be insufficient. What is
needed, instead, is a mid-range level analysis that takes into account both structural and
agency factors that impact aid effectiveness.
In the remainder of this introduction, the issues of politicisation, funding and localisation
are briefly elaborated. It is important to note that the choice for focusing on three problem
realms was dictated by the participants and, moreover, they have been chosen because – in
the eyes of research participants – the three realms are interconnected. The literature dis-
cussion below allows for an understanding of the major structures, rules and recourses in
the larger political and social context of the aid-industry vis-à-vis the practices of individual
aid actors. Next, a theoretical section introduces the actor-oriented approach as a tool to
establish a mid-range level analysis, and contrasts it to the Aidland’ perspective, another
stream of literature that is frequently used to study praxis and paradigms of aid workers. The
theoretical section also problematises concepts that are commonly used in the literature to
categorise aid actors: most particularly ‘expatriate’ versus ‘local’. Next, drawing on these argu-
ments, the empirical findings will highlight paradigms and practices that humanitarians
with different backgrounds commonly use to deal with problems in their industry.
Major hindrances to aid eectiveness
While humanitarianism has always served geopolitical and other political interests, especially
since the ‘war on terror’ developed after 9/11, humanitarian aid has increasingly been politi-
cised by all (new and old) stakeholders: donors, governments, international non-
governmental organizations (INGOs), national and local non-governmental organizations
(NGOs), the military, non-state authorities (e.g. political opposition parties or ‘rebel groups’),
the private sector and religious organisations. Each of these groups’ can claim, or blame, aid
for their own legitimation.5 This trend has had an enormous impact on the reputation and
credibility of the aid industry. Even if humanitarian actors claim to work according to human-
itarian principles, they are certainly not perceived as ‘neutral’ or ‘impartial’ by host commu-
nities.6 Humanitarians perceive their work as increasingly unsafe due to the recent
politicisation of aid.7 In response, their organisations try to protect staff through
‘securitisation’.8 This means greater investment and emphasis on improving security man-
agement,9 or working through ‘remote control aid’ rather than through direct action.10
According to the respondents (and further elaborated in this paper), problems involving
funding point to the gap between available funds and demands. In 2013, the gap between
available funds and estimated global needs reached US$4.5 billion, leaving at least one-third
of the demand unmet.11 The sector thus lacks the funds to respond to the volume and com-
plexity of current humanitarian needs. The gap only seems to widen, as key donors cut their
contributions while humanitarian disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies, such
as the war in Syria, grow more frequent and severe.12
In policy documents, the term localisation emphasises the locale of the aid recipient and
responders, but according to Geoffroy and Grünewald, the concept goes far beyond that,
requiring ‘a shift in power relations between actors, both in terms of strategic decision-
making and control of resources’.13 In development practice, the paradigm shift to a more
local and participatory approach gained momentum throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In
humanitarian policy terms, the call for localisation became strongly entrenched in the 2016
World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) and the subsequent Grand Bargain. There is a growing
belief that localisation increases aid impact and improves effectiveness.14 Initiatives like the
Charter for Change and the Shifting the Power project (StP) aim for a more balanced human-
itarian system, where the role of local and national humanitarian actors is valued, supported
and recognised by international humanitarian agencies, donors and International NGOs.
Within the sector, according to the participants, many aid actors believe that local NGOs or
beneficiaries should be financed directly. Yet in 2018, the Global Humanitarian Assistance
Report stated that little progress had been made with regard to localisation.15 While the
debate on localisation of humanitarian action has gained momentum in the past years, the
sector has not succeeded so far in the creation of equal partnerships with, and accountability
to, local populations.16 Critics say that the reason why the localisation agenda is not imple-
mented successfully is that it is fraught with ambiguities, takes a top-down perspective, does
not specify what ‘the local’ is and focuses primarily on technocratic policy guidelines.17
Theoretical framework: a mid-range level analysis of a
heterogeneous group of aid actors
In order to provide an analysis that takes into account both the praxis and paradigms of aid
actors, as well as the structures within which these actors operate, this paper takes an actor-ori-
ented approach. The actor-oriented approach was developed as a response to the overly struc-
tural analysis of aid in previous decades.18 This approach considered aid as the outcome of the
interaction of social actors struggling and negotiating to further their ideas and interests in a
metaphorical arena, shaping the practices of service delivery along the way.19 Different scholars
have used the arena perspective of Long etal. to analyse case studies on humanitarian praxis in
different settings: for example, everyday politics of adapting to climate change in Mozambique,20
aid and institutions in Angola,21 and humanitarian governance in refugee camps.22
Without explicitly calling their approach actor-oriented, aid scholars such as Krause, and
Swidler and Watkins, have managed to take into account both individual practices and
paradigms, as well as the structures in which aid actors work and to which they respond.
Krause focuses on the practices of managers in large (Western) humanitarian relief NGOs,
in the context of what she considers, in line with Bourdieu, to be a humanitarian ‘field’.
field is shaped by a specific history, which resulted in shared assumptions and interpretations
that help aid actors to select relevant information, develop activities that sit well with spon-
sors and produce ‘good projects’. In her analysis, Krause emphasises practice and empirical
observation but goes beyond individual opinions and experiences to distil patterns and
specific logics of practice that exist in the humanitarian field. In their analysis of the AIDS-aid
industry, Swidler and Watkins show how altruists (donors and foreign staff members working
for NGOs) and brokers (Africans who mediate between foreign altruists and local people)
together shape a specific culture – full of rituals, programmes and interventions.24 In sum,
holistic analyses of aid effectiveness should be mid-range level, considering both individual
actions of aid actors and also structural factors that enable and limit their actions.
It then becomes important to distinguish an actor approach from another important
agent-related perspective on aid that has become known as the Aidland genre.25 Aidland is
portrayed as an imaginary country, or a global bubble, which is inhabited by development
organisations and the people working for them (both paid and unpaid), living and working
in places close to, or far away from, their places of origin. Numerous studies were conducted
by aid workers (often Northern or former), about other aid workers, or about themselves,
reflecting both on their individual actions and also on those of their industry. Aidland scholars
have succeeded in making the complex world and cultural dynamics that comprise ‘aid work’
more concrete, and therefore better understandable, for academics and other outsiders.
All scholars working on Aidland do not focus solely on the micro-level. However, Harrison
has warned that traditional Aidland-literature still risks underemphasising the structures of
practitioners’ working environments and the ways in which this limits their actions.26
Although some of the literature discusses the (changing) paradigms, working conditions
and relationships between different aid organisations, a lot of the Aidland literature is more
narrowly focused on individual praxis. The consequence, probably unintended, is that the
literature suggests that ineffective aid is due to what practitioners do or don’t do. This
neglects the fact that aid performance is dependent on many different factors, many of them
outside the direct control of practitioners. Moreover, as authors like Shutt suggest, while the
discussion on aid worker’s lives is insightful, it also seems useful to ask what are the specific
implications of their relations and values for aid practice.27
However, even with a mid-range level analysis that aims to take into account individual
practices, the structure in which they come about, and the implications of agent–structure
interaction, there remains the risk of offering a picture of aid actors and their ‘world’ that is
inaccurate or unrealistic. This happens all too easily when fuzzy concepts such as ‘local’ are
used to categorise aid actors.
The distinction between who and what is local, and who or what is not, is often considered
relevant with regard to the broader discussion of localisation, and to some extent it certainly
is. If the recent agenda of global policymakers is to make humanitarian operations ‘as local
as possible and international as necessary’, it becomes crucial to better understand how it
is possible that the lack of localisation still remains a major hindrance to aid effectiveness in
the eyes of social researchers and practitioners alike.28 It also becomes crucial to acknowledge
that aid workers who were born and raised in the region or country in which they provide
aid, encounter different challenges and experiences in their work than do outsiders. In much
of the literature, however, the focus has remained on what Ong has called the humanitarian
archetype: an ‘always-already worldly, generically cosmopolitan, globally mobile figure
operating from a position of relative strength and anonymous power vis a vis (“local”, “help-
less”) aid recipients’. For example, Ong and Combinido note that Roth’s article on Western
aid workers’ attraction to adrenaline-pumping ‘edge work’ in crisis contexts does not neatly
apply to national aid actors in the global South who live in dangerous proximity to risk day
to day.
(Note, however, that Roth herself indicates in her article that the expatriate situation
is different from national staff, and in the same year published a book on inequalities between
different groups of aid workers and how they are perpetuated, as well as a later article that
address the differences and interactions between national and international staff.30)
Yarrow shows in his case study of Ghanaian NGO workers how personal relations, although
frowned upon by proponents of good governance’ as potentially nepotistic and unaccount-
able, actually were key in upholding the NGOs’ ideological and institutional autonomy in
the face of threats from government and donors.31 In a 2016 paper for Medicins sans
Frontieres, Schenkenberg wrote that, particularly in open conflict settings, local practitioners
face different challenges in adhering to the core humanitarian principles, due to their affil-
iations with the populations or violence actors, from those that expatriate staff would face.32
And in 1995, Hugo Slim described how, despite being specialists who understand the history,
culture, and fast-moving politics of a place’, local aid workers face a ‘very effective glass ceiling’
that limits professional advancement and ability to influence policy.33 This problem has not
been solved in the time since then. In fact, it might have become worse. Roth has shown
that while the ‘professionalization of aid’ that has taken place in more recent years can have
positive effects for aid recipients and other actors involved in aid, it can also lead to hierar-
chies and disadvantage for aid actors from the Global South.34
For all of the above reasons, it is en point that Apthorpe observed that different aiders
[…] live with different Aidlands’, and also that different scholars have explored the specific
positionality of local aid workers and reviewed the opportunities, responsibilities and chal-
lenges they face.35 The problem is, though, that the literary distinction that is often made
between ‘expatriate’ and ‘local’ aid-workers is unhelpful and unrealistic.
For example, many
of the people who are called ‘local’ NGO-development workers in the literature are in reality
raised or trained in the North, or come from a different country or region from where their
employers’ head office or field office is located. On the other hand, many expatriates might
claim that they have lived for a long time in countries far away from their place of origin and
that they have become ‘insiders’. Moreover, not all expatriates’ come from the Global North.
A large number of ‘expatriate’ aid workers come from Southern countries and thus work in
a similar context to their own.
It thus appears rather unhelpful to use labels such as ‘local’ in an analysis of the aid sector.
Instead, scholars could try to pay attention to the more complex backgrounds different aid
actors may have, and to the roles and hierarchies that are related to that positionality.
Scholars before me have noted that local aid workers often function as brokers that can
smooth the divide between aid agencies and their clients.37 Their experiences are different
from those of expatriate colleagues on account of that role. Others have observed that
national staff proximity to the aid regime may lead to tensions with local recipient commu-
nities – again, it appears that it is the positionality of the aid actor, rather than the national
or ethnic background per se, that is relevant for the analysis.
For this reason, in this paper, the regional background of interviewees will be described
where relevant, as well as the hierarchic position that they take within their organisations
as well as the staff member’s national or expatriate background. Although this research did
not set out to distinguish between expatriate and national staff initially, the differences in
their opinions and narrated experiences were so systematic that it seemed relevant to con-
sider overlaps and differences between expatriate and national staff. It is hoped that the
explicit but nuanced attention in this paper to heterogeneity will encourage aid scholars to
come to a more differentiated and context-sensitive understanding of aid work.
This paper records the insights that were drawn from two rounds of an expert panel, in which
key humanitarian actors with at least seven years of experience in the field were interviewed.
The expert panel was part of a larger research project on humanitarian aid in settings of
conflict and disaster. The goal was to establish an informed, evidence-based study about
some of the most pressing challenges that are currently hampering the effectiveness of aid,
as well as to collect observations of highly experienced practitioners on trends and recent
experiences in the field.
A Delphi method was used, which has a cyclical research design with several rounds of
questioning. Thirty qualified experts (the number of participants was based on recommen-
dations from the literature on the Delphi technique) were selected through a snowballing
method. First, a committee of highly-experienced practitioners and aid scholars, most of
them having a Northern background, was asked whom they believed were well-experienced
‘reflective practitioners’ that should be approached for an interview, and then each selected
participant was asked for new, highly recommended names.
In the first round of the research, participants were interviewed in open, semi-structured
ways for one to three hours over Skype or face-to-face. The questions concerned the expe-
riences of practitioners in the field, in settings of disaster and conflict. Specifically, it was
interesting to understand what are, in their opinion, important trends in the humanitarian
sectors, such as the most pressing challenges to (more) effective aid, the factors underlying
these challenges, and the solutions that practitioners sought and perhaps found. Programmes
or interventions that went really well or contributed to effective aid were also of interest,
and the related success-factors. In the second round, the questions were followed up with
additional questions by email or phone based on the analysis of the interviews that were
held in the first round.
The advantage of the cyclical structure of a Delphi study is that it allows participants to
reflect on their earlier answers and it allows the researcher to ask additional questions
throughout the interview process if these appear relevant. Moreover, it avoids the potential
negative consequences of a group interview and it allows people to speak openly and
thoughtfully.38 All interviewees remained anonymous to other participants, so that every-
body could speak freely. Interviews were recorded in 2017, directly transcribed and stored
in the software analysis program NVivo, together with the audiofiles. A full report of the
analysis is available elsewhere.39
Fifty per cent of the participants was male, 50% female; ages ranged from 32 to 65.
Participants had varying national backgrounds: the USA, Spain, UK, Poland, Slovakia, the
Netherlands, France, Kenya, India, South Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Japan
and Colombia. Seventeen were expatriates, of which 15 were from the Global North, and
two from the Global South working in the region. The other 13 participants were Southern
national humanitarians meaning they were raised in, are still based in and work in the Global
South. Panellists worked for organisations including MSF, ICRC, Save the Children, Oxfam
Novib, Adeso, UNICEF, UNOCHA, WFP, MercyCorps, CoARC, Action against Hunger, SEED
India, Lebanon-support, Community Healthcare Initiative, CARE, AAR and AMEL. The settings
in which they were professionally engaged in humanitarian aid are Afghanistan, Lebanon,
Nepal, Liberia, India, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Darfur, Haiti,
Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Iraq, Colombia, Nigeria, Syria, Turkey and
Panellists were asked about the ways in which they had dealt with problems in their field
and to reflect on the motives behind these decisions: why did they choose this strategy and
not another? Who or what was impacting their actions? Looking back, would they have
acted differently? What would be the ideal scenario? What were the effects of their actions,
on the problem discussed and on aid effectiveness as a whole?
The first round of interviews highlighted pressing problems and trends in the field, as
discussed in the introduction and mentioned above. The second round of interviews focused
on the narratives that panellists used to speak about solutions they have tried to seek in
order to deal with problems in their field. Here it became clear that, while expatriate and
national aid actors spoke about similar topics, the paradigms and strategies they used were
consistently different: this point will be elaborated throughout the findings.
Both the expatriate and national aid actors most often mentioned ‘remote control aid’ as a
strategy to deal with problems of politicisation of aid and the related impacts on staff security.
This was followed by an overt emphasis on principles: both strategies are discussed below.
Remote control and localisation
Without exception, all panellists observed that, both in their own organisation and
amongst other organisations that they encounter in the field, remote control is increasingly
used to deliver aid in regions that are considered too dangerous for, and by, expatriate
staff. In some cases, this means that the organisation sends support from another country
and partners up with local organisations to handle the aid upon arrival. In others, it means
that an organisation manages the delivery from a safe spot (e.g. a protected compound
in the capital) and subcontracts aid to local aid actors who are willing to take more risks.
While expatriate aid actors (those with a Northern, as well as those with a Southern
background) framed remote control aid as a genuine partnership and hence an example of
successful localisation, national aid actors framed remote management as a form of sub-
contracting and hence as clear evidence for the divide between the North and South. The
following two quotes typify the expatriate point of view:
Country director, male, 42:
‘I do a lot with remote control aid nowadays. This is such a big step: nally, it’s no longer us
delivering the aid! It’s our local partners. And those types of partnerships – I think that they
should be the future of the aid industry’.
Programme manager working in the region but not in mother country, female, 47:
‘Oh, yes, I have some really good examples of partnerships with local organisations, here. […]
I basically hire them, to deliver the boxes in conict areas that I can’t access due to security
reasons. […] It’s remote control aid’.
National practitioners generally agreed that remote control aid can offer a solution in high
conflict scenarios, but they were very critical about the way in which this type of aid man-
agement was being implemented. They expressed frustration with their expatriate col-
leagues as they are said to maintain ownership in these arrangements. For them, remote
control aid all too often resembles subcontracting, rather than equal partnerships. In the
words of the director of an NGO, aged 63:
They send us a contract and call it localisation. But it’s them who decide what is going to hap-
pen, when and how. We were not invited to work on the programme design. We are just paid
to implement it, because we take greater risks than they do. But it is not a partnership. You’re a
researcher. If you pay a student to type out your interview notes, is that a partnership?
It is interesting to note that both expatriates (with Northern and Southern backgrounds
alike) and national humanitarians shared the concern that remote control aid is hard to
monitor. Both groups also mentioned ethical objections to remote control aid, particularly
in circumstances where the argument that the environment may be less risky for local staff,
than for expatriate staff, may not apply. The pros and cons of increased remote control aid
have been discussed elsewhere.40 It is also widely known that there exists a large variety of
relationships between national and international agencies that co-engage in remote control
aid. Some are genuine and equal and based on many years of trust building; some less so.41
What these findings contribute to this stream of literature is the observation that the way
in which remote control aid is perceived by humanitarians differs greatly among expatriate
staff and staff with national backgrounds.
Expatriates usually regarded their remote management projects as less-than-ideal-but-
better-than-nothing and, importantly, as examples of successful localisation and partner-
ships with local humanitarian actors. By contrast, actors with a national background
emphasised that remote control aid is hardly ever based on equal partnerships. From
Lebanon to Afghanistan, from Liberia to South Sudan, actors shared case studies where local
NGOs are being subcontracted by INGOs to carry out projects for them, but don’t get own-
ership of these projects. National practitioners find they have little to say in these projects
and therefore there is hardly room for local innovation. From that perspective, the fact that
the tendency of expatriates (with a Northern and a Southern background alike) to frame the
‘largely unknowns’ that are remote operations as equal partnerships, serves to convey an
image of control and comfort.
Emphasising/rejecting neutrality
Another common strategy that the large majority (28/30) of the panellists used in order to
deal with the problem of politicisation was to emphasise their own ability to act neutrally
and impartially in conversations with colleagues and recipients. Humanitarian principles
were frequently mentioned with respect to stakeholders in the field, most importantly
conflict actors and donors, as well as recipients and colleagues in the field and/or office.
Asked why they have made this repetition of the ‘neutrality’ narrative a habit, humanitar-
ians often replied by saying that in order for the sector to become more credible and effective,
humanitarians have to be neutral and impartial. They then contrasted their own ability to
act neutrally with explanations about other aid actors, who were said to experience more
difficulties with adhering to humanitarian principles: this was done by both expatriates and
nationals, but in opposing ways.
For example, almost all expatriate interviewees (14 out of 16) strongly agreed with the
assumption that international (expatriate) staff and agencies are neutral actors; 13 out of 16
expatriates added that national partners could never be truly ‘neutral’ because of their ethnic
or clan background. This opinion was shared by expatriates with a Northern and with a
Southern background.
National actors, in contrast, emphasised that they were most knowledgeable about
inequalities and tensions that often exist between and within host communities, while expa-
triates typically miss these nuances and in that way unknowingly disadvantage or advantage
some recipients over others. In other words, it is possible for nationals to be neutral and
impartial because they recognise inequalities and lingering conflict in their country that may
remain undiscovered by expatriates. It was also often expressed by national humanitarians
that expatriates and the INGOs they work for are under pressure from international politics
including attempts to counter poverty and terrorism and, hence, are not in a neutral position
at all. This was claimed to be less the case for local and national NGOs, who can sometimes
work more or less autonomously. National practitioners would typically make remarks such as:
Field officer, male, 35:
All those INGOs – they work with our government; their programmes are controlled by the
government. If the government does not want them to go to a certain area, they won’t allow
them to. And INGOs don’t complain because otherwise they’re being kicked out of the country.
What is neutral about that?
Director, female, 47:
It seems that there is an automatic assumption that if you are an insider, you cannot be neutral.
I take oence to that, because it assumes that only Northern, white people, can be neutral. And
it’s bull! I constantly see non-neutral whites! They come here and have already formed their
opinions and allies and think one group is better than another.
This clearly contrasts with excerpts taken from interviews with expatriate panel members:
Office manager, born in the region but not working in mother country, male, 37:
Our international sta was trained in the principles. The local sta, people from this country – I
try to train them, but they have family here, or live in the communities we work with. So even if
they understand the principles, it’s dicult for them to actually adhere to them.
Office manager, female, 41:
Oh, yes, we are 100% neutral! I personally have nothing to do with the conict, other than
professionally helping whoever is wounded or needs help.
Coordinator, male, 37:
I strictly work through the humanitarian principles. That is the problem with my local sta. They
don’t even know what the principles are. I come in the oce and I hear them talking about
“those rebels”, and I tell them: “You cannot speak like that. You may think that, but you cannot
say that in this oce”. Not sure if that really resonates, though [laughs].
Whether or not these ideas are correct is not relevant here. Rather, this paper aims to
draw attention to the habit of distinguishing or ‘othering’ that is practised by both expa-
triate and national staff. The advantage of this strategy might be that it helps aid workers
keep up an idea about themselves, that they are ‘neutral’ and hence doing ‘the right thing’.
In other words: if the aid sector is in a crisis, they are not to blame – only ‘outsider’ col-
leagues are, whether they be outsider to the country or outsider to the ‘professional’
aid world.
A less common strategy to emphasise humanitarian principles was also mentioned by
nine out of 30 interviewees: six (Northern) expatriates and three nationals. This strategy
concerned overtly distancing one’s agency and staff from national soldiers or UN employees
working in the same region. Two expatriate practitioners explained that while they frequently
negotiate and cooperate with military personnel in an attempt to increase security for their
staff (for example they ask for security advice or for extra patrols around the compound),
they make an effort not to be seen with any of these people in public. They overtly deny
they have anything to do with these actors, or/and underline to local staff, guards and recip-
ients that humanitarians are ‘different’ from UN staff or soldiers. Humanitarians with national
backgrounds typically used the same strategy.
In summary, expatriate and national humanitarians increasingly feel the need to protect
the ‘neutral’ status of their agency. Protection of the neutrality image happens in daily prac-
tice through regular emphasis on humanitarian principles towards stakeholders in the field,
most importantly to conflict actors and donors. While both expatriate and national human-
itarians use these strategies, they do so in opposing ways: each group’ emphasises their own
neutrality and contrasts it with the inability of their colleagues to be neutral and impartial.
Creative funding and diering transparency towards donors
As mentioned in the introduction, while humanitarian organisations have never before
received so much funding, the type of disasters and emergencies they currently deal with
are so many and complex that many of them are in a constant search for more money.42 This
applies to both INGOs and NGOs, although the latter usually have more problems in obtain-
ing funding directly from donors.
Without exception, the national practitioners participating in this study indicated they
have much difficulty in getting funding from large donors because it is hard for them to
adhere to the language and jargon requirements. This specific problem was not shared by
the majority of expatriate staff – except for those with a Southern background, who indi-
cated that they sometimes also struggle with the language and technical jargon demands
of donors. The majority of them, however, emphasised different donor-related problems
of earmarked donor funding or bureaucratic challenges – which can create the problem
that funds need be requested long before they are needed for practitioners and recipients.
Trying to obtain funding in this slow and complex financial climate, expatriate and national
practitioners indicated that they often find creative ways to get funding and use it flexibly.
All study participants (including nationals and expatriates from North and South) explained
that they are frequently less transparent about their actual activities in donor reports.
Examples of their creative strategies varied from person to person: some concrete examples
are provided below. It is interesting to note that the strategies to get access to funding and
the attempts to cover up things that may prevent donors from providing funding are often
described as ‘professionalisation’ – by both nationals and expatriates.
About a quarter of the panel members had started recently to try and get more private
funding for their organisations, rather than funding from institutional donors, to avoid
the difficulties with earmarked donor money. They have hired special staff for this task
and in one case even set up a whole department to actively seek funding from the private
sector. Several expatriate panel members admitted writing reports in a style that is so
jargon-technical that national (field) staff hardly understand or use it, but ‘it impresses
the donors’. This strategy was also used by about half of the national humanitarians (eight
out of 15). Another strategy used by expatriates and nationals had to do with labelling
money. Three (Northern) expatriates and two national humanitarians always keep a little
bit of money separate in their account labelled very broadly or vaguely, so that it can be
used for a sudden crisis or a sensitive issue even if donor funding rules do not allow for
such flexibility.
Finally, the majority of panellists (25 out of 30) feel forced to spend more time on
communication and PR towards their donors and host governments about their ‘suc-
cess’, than on accountability towards recipients, who at most get to fill in an evaluation
form or are invited to complain during a short meeting with staff and the community.
While all of the above funding strategies were used by nationals as well as by expatri-
ates, differences became obvious when it came to openness towards donors. Most of
the expatriates indicated that they had a very good relationship with their donors, in
which they could talk openly about problems encountered in the field without having
to fear that financial support would be withdrawn. Consider, for example, these
two quotes:
Country director, male, 42:
I go and have beers with our donors on a regular basis. I tell them what I am doing, even the
things that you wouldn’t necessarily share with the broader audience. For example, if we are
negotiating with local militias in order to get access to a region. People don’t like that, usually,
they think I have to stay away from conict actors. But that’s not the reality. And our sponsor
knows that, they encourage us to be frank and they continue to support us because they trust
I know what I am doing.
Programme manager from the region but not working in mother country, female, 47:
I can be open to the donors, even about the problems I have here with sta […] Drinking in
the eld is a common problem in this country [And] I sometimes have to pay conict actors in
order to get access. Sure, donors know we struggle with those things, but they trust I deal with
it in the correct way and have committed to supporting us nevertheless.
These trustful relations contrast starkly with the experiences of national practitioners, who
indicated that they are not always transparent towards their donors, out of fear of losing
financial support.
Project manager, male, 37:
Of course, we struggle with projects. They don’t work as we expected them to work, recipients
complain because we are late – this happens all the time when they live in remote areas or
during conicts where we have to move slow […] No, I don’t always report [laughs]. That’s not
what donors deem professional. If you’d tell donors how dicult it is to implement their proj-
ect, they will just say you’re incapable.
Country director, female, 42:
You have to be careful in what you report to donors, you understand? Like, what if eld sta
is corrupt? It happens. Our lowest-level eld sta get paid poorly, so this is to be expected …
But if it happens to us, then suddenly our whole organisation is considered corrupt. While it
happens all the time in INGOs, also. But no, of course, this is not typically what you write about
in reports [laughs].
In summary, both national and expatriate practitioners, including expatriates from the
South, struggle with funding and find creative strategies to cope. One example is the
tweaking of language in verbal and written donor reports, another is finding new streams
of money (which is working around the problem, rather than demanding that it be solved).
Both groups commonly adhere to using a specific jargon to impress donors and they
spend resources on communication with donors and upward accountability. Different
strategies are used by expatriates and locals when it comes to openness towards donors.
While expatriates (Northern and Southern alike) indicate they can be honest towards
donors about struggles in implementation of projects, nationals indicate they try to hide
problems and concerns from their funders as they feel more openness would threaten
their finances.
This paper has engaged with a genre in anthropology’s scrutinisation of humanitarian aid –
Aidland – which focuses attention on the perceptions, actions and individual strategies of
‘development professionals’. It also deals with important criticism of this genre which holds
that an overly narrow ethnographic focus on aid actors runs the risk of overlooking the sig-
nificance of the power relations and other structures within which the aid actors are embed-
ded, as well as their impacts on aid. The paper also problematised the fact that much of the
current aid literature fails to distinguish between expatriate and national development work-
ers, or uses vague concepts such as ‘local’ and ‘international’. In line with scholars such as Long,
Hilhorst and Jansen, Krause, Swidler and Watkins, this research aimed to use a mid-range
analysis, emphasising practice and empirical data but also looking for patterns and specific
logics of practice in particular social worlds.
The findings are limited in four main ways. First, there are many different ways in which
individual practitioners cope with problems in their sector. This paper only discussed some
of the patterns and most common strategies: more are discussed elsewhere.43 Second, only
30 experts participated in the panel: that number is far too small to make general statements
but calls for larger, follow-up research. A third limitation of this research was that among the
expatriates, almost all had a Northern background. With more Southern/regional expatriates
in the panel, findings might have been different. Fourth, the research included only formally
hired and paid staff members and did not include the many brokers and other actors who
are typically engaged in aid.
That said, the research did come up with several findings that contribute to the debate
on aid-effectiveness. First of all, while some strategies to cope with problems in the sector
are used by expatriate and national staff alike, it became clear that many problems are per-
ceived and approached in a systematically different way by expatriate and national aid work-
ers. This was reflected in narratives about actual practices (for example, about the ways in
which practitioners try to deal with the difficulties of obtaining funding) and also in expressed
ideas and paradigms about the status of the aid sector (for example, the extent to which
practitioners believe that ‘localisation’ is already occurring, or remains a far-away ideal).
Differences in experience between different groups of aid actors is by no means new:
Apthorpe emphasised that different aiders live with different ‘Aidlands’.44 Scholars like Slim,
Hilhorst and Jansen have also shown that the ‘aid-arena’ is a social world inhabited by many
different aid actors, who negotiate a certain outcome.
These differences are also the reason
why scholars like Ong have criticised the fact that Roth’s article about ‘edge-work’ in Aidland
does not describe the lifeworld of aid actors with Southern backgrounds. This research made
a relevant contribution to the debate by including aid actors from both Southern and
Northern regions and it thus takes account of differentiated experiences. Another contribu-
tion has to do with the fact that this paper problematised the categories ‘local’ versus ‘inter-
national’ – two commonly-used concepts in studies of aid. Acknowledging that many ‘local’
aid actors don’t come from the country in which they provide aid but from neighbouring
countries in the region, and acknowledging at the same time that some international aid
workers don’t come from the Global North (as still often seems to be assumed) but instead
from the South, this paper proceeded with a categorisation that allowed for more complexity,
and distinguished ‘nationals’ from ‘expatriates’ with either a Northern or a Southern back-
ground. This offered a more nuanced perspective on heterogeneous experiences within the
arena of Aidland.46
Regarding the issue of funding access, nationals struggled, for example, with the language
and technical jargon demands of donors, an issue that was also brought up by Southern
expatriates, but not by expatriates from the Global North. This finding resonates with findings
of Fechter and Roth who have both shown that the recent ‘professionalisation of aid work’
has led to hierarchies and has disadvantaged aid actors from the Global South.47
The finding furthermore suggests that practitioners with different backgrounds share
logics that characterise a’ humanitarian social world or ‘field’, but that it would be dangerous
to describe their Aidland as the’ humanitarian field. One clear example of these heteroge-
neous experiences is the behavioural pattern shared by national panellists which is to keep
silent about things that they expected would limit their access to donor funds. Somewhat
in line with what Krause describes, these humanitarians in this study feel forced to report
only on successful or, in Krause’s words, ‘good projects’, and explained that being open about
what might be perceived as a failure by donors, was ‘just not how things work.48 This shared
‘taken-for-grantedness’, as Sidler and Watkins might describe it, wasn’t shared amongst expa-
triate panellists whether from a Northern or a Southern background.49 Perhaps this has to
do with the fact that expatriates who work outside their country of origin have generally
enjoyed greater travel experience and/or interaction with (Northern) donors. Alternatively,
perhaps it has to do with the fact that it is easier for outsiders than for people working in
their country of origin not to feel personally responsible for things that go wrong with local
staff or projects. Future research that goes deeper into the underlying motivations of prac-
titioners would be needed to grasp the reasons for their heterogeneous behaviour. But this
study indicates that it is important to consider the existence of many different humanitarian
fields within the broader humanitarian sector. This research was inspired by scholars like
Krause, and Swidler and Watkins, who emphasise practice and empirical observation, but
go beyond individual opinions and experiences to distil patterns and specific logics of prac-
tice that exist in the humanitarian field.50 Even beyond that, it is also important to keep an
eye out for the different humanitarian fields that may exist between practitioners with dif-
ferent national or ethnic backgrounds. Had Monika Krause broadened her study towards
non-Western organisations or non-Northern managers, she may have found rather different
logics and patterns.
A final finding that is worth mentioning is the consistent difference in perceptions that
was found between expatriate and national actors on the themes of localisation and remote
aid. Perceptions of expatriate staff that the cooperation is perceived by both sides as ‘equal’
appeared incorrect in the light of opinions expressed by national practitioners: if humani-
tarians agree that ‘localisation’ is the way to go, they will have to give ownership and co-
design opportunities to national parties, rather than simply have them implement tasks.
Remote management aid programmes in which local organisations merely have an imple-
menting role and lack ownership, are clearly hardly equal and hence don’t bring the ideal
of ‘localisation’ any closer. A solution to the problem is not easy to provide, but awareness
and wider acknowledgement that a North/South divide still exists (and it may be much
bigger than many humanitarians with a Northern background wish) is one small step ahead.
For national practitioners, it appears important to express their frustration more openly
towards their expatriate colleagues. The fact that many Northern expatriate interviewees
genuinely seemed to believe that their remote control aid projects reflected good examples
of localisation indicates that they are sometimes oblivious to the frustrations of their Southern
One important conclusion is that the rise of securitisation elevates subcontracting as
partnerships in a new orthodoxy of remote control aid that promotes empowerment through
‘localisation’. This vision has the advantage that aid is not fully withdrawn in places where
people may need it the most. But there is also a risk in that by claiming the confluence of
localisation and remote aid, the North/South gap is not only maintained, but endowed with
a moral legitimacy and celebrated as the elusive win-win solution for which the humanitarian
aid community continues to search. The findings of this research thus indicate that it may
be wise for expatriate humanitarian agencies to reconsider the ways in which they cooperate
with national counterparts.
Despite the differences in their logics and practices, the different groups of aid actors also
had things in common. Most importantly, it appeared that all groups had the habit of dis-
tinguishing or ‘othering’ between ‘their own type’ of background and practitioners with dif-
ferent backgrounds. One might say, once more in line with Krauses’ analysis, that this was a
shared logic or practice in the humanitarian work-culture or field. Expatriates would, for
example, generally consider themselves as more ‘neutral’ and knowledgeable about the
humanitarian principles than national colleagues. This was the case for Northern and
Southern expatriates alike; the underlying shared logic or ‘taken-for-grantedness’ seemed
to be that it was easier for outsiders not to become personally involved in a conflict or disas-
ter-setting. National practitioners, however, would often remark that they – exactly because
of their intimate knowledge of the country and context – were better able to act in a ‘just’
way. The advantage of this strategy might be that it helps aid workers keep up an idea about
themselves, that they are ‘neutral’ and hence doing ‘the right thing’. In other words, if the aid
sector is in a crisis, they are not to blame – only colleagues are. This finding suggests that
popular analytical categorisations like ‘local’ and ‘international’ are oversimplified. It appears
more insightful to trace perceptions of insiders and outsiders in an analysis of Aidland(s):
that is, insiders of the social and political context, and insiders of the ‘professional’ aid sector.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
This work was supported by the NWO [grant number 453-14-013].
This research was undertaken as part of the ‘When Conflict Meets Disaster’ research project, NWO grant
number 453-14-013. I am grateful to Dorothea Hilhorst and two anonymous readers for reviewing this
Notes on contributor
Roanne van Voorst is a postdoctoral researcher at the International Institute for Social Studies, Erasmus
University The Hague. Her work focuses on humanitarian aid in conict settings.
1. Bennett etal., Time to Let Go, 4.
2. Ibid., 56.
3. Hilhorst, “Arenas Revisited, 31.
4. Giddens, “Central Problems in Social Theory,” 69.
5. Dueld, Development, Security and Unending War, 7–9: Brown and Grävingholt, The
Securitisation of Expatriate Aid, 3.
6. Bennett etal., Time to Let Go, 3.
7. Aid Workers Security Report, “Behind the Attacks,” 1; Donini, The Golden Fleece, 2–15: Sandstrom,
“Remoteness and ‘Demonitored Space,’” 286–302.
8. Guidero, “Humanitarian, Development, and Private Security, 11.
9. Collinson and Dueld, “Paradoxes of Presence,” 20; Fisher, “Reproducing Remoteness,” 112;
Smirl, “Building the Other, 236–53: Smirl, Spaces of Aid, 2.
10. Hofman and Perache, “From Remote Control to Remote Management,” 1177–93.
11. Bennett etal., Constructive Deconstruction, 12.
12. Barnett and Walker, “Regime Change for Humanitarian Aid,” 130–41.
13. Georoy and Grunewald, “More than the Money, 4.
14. ODI, “Localisation in Humanitarian Practice,” 1–7: Reliefweb, “Localisation of Aid,” 6, 15.
15. UNOCHA, “Global Humanitarian Assistance Report,” 5.
16. Barnett and Walker, “Regime Change for Humanitarian Aid,” 130–41.
17. Melis, “Questioning ‘the Local’ in ‘Localisation,’ 1.
18. Long, Development Sociology. Actor Perspectives, 19.
19. Hilhorst and Jansen, “Humanitarian Space as Arena,” 1119.
20. Artur and Hilhorst, “Everyday Realities of Climate Change,” 530.
21. Hilhorst and Serrano, “The Humanitarian Arena in Angola, 1975–2008,” 184.
22. Jansen, “Between Vulnerability and Assertiveness, 569–87.
23. Krause, The Good Project, 11, 28, 137.
24. Swidler and Watkins, A Fraught Embrace.
25. Apthorpe, “With Alice in Aidland,” 199.
26. Harrisson, “Beyond the Looking Glass?” 264–5.
27. Shutt, “A Moral Economy?” 1529.
28. OCHA, “As Local as Possible,” 1.
29. Ong and Combinido, “Local Aid Workers,” 88.
30. Roth, “Aid Work as Edgework,” 4; Roth, The Paradoxes of Aidwork; Roth, “Linguistic Capital, 38–54.
31. Yarrow, Development Beyond Politics, 238.
32. Schenkenberg, The Challenges of Localised Humanitarian Aid, 23.
33. Slim, “The Continuing Metamorphosis,” 111, 121.
34. Roth, “Professionalisation Trends and Inequality,” 1460–1.
35. Apthorpe, “With Alice in Aidland,” 199.
36. Roth, The Paradoxes of Aid Work, 3.
37. Hilhorst etal., “Aid Relations and Aid Legitimacy,” 1441.
38. Okili and Pawlowski, “The Delphi Method,” 2, 5; Turo and Linstone, The Delphi Method, 3, 33.
39. Van Voorst and Hilhorst, “Humanitarian Action in Disaster and Conict Settings.
40. Donini and Maxwell, “From Face-to-Face to Face-to-Screen,” 389.
41. Hilhorst and Pereboom, “Multi-Mandate Organisations in Humanitarian Aid, 200.
42. Bennett etal., Time to Let Go, 4; Bennett etal., Constructive Deconstruction, 12.
43. Van Voorst and Hilhorst, “Humanitarian Action in Disaster,” 3.
44. Apthorpe, “With Alice in Aidland,” 199.
45. Slim, “The Continuing Metamorphosis,” 121, 111; Hilhorst and Jansen, “Humanitarian Space as
Arena, 1119.
46. Ong and Combinido, “Local Aid Workers,” 33.
47. Fechter, “Living Well, 1476; Roth, “Professionalisation Trends and Inequality,” 1459.
48. Krause, The Good Project.
49. Swidler and Watkins, A Fraught Embrace, 58.
50. Krause, The Good Project; Swidler and Watkins, A Fraught Embrace.
Aid Workers Security Report. “Behind the Attacks: A Look at the Perpetrators of Violence Against Aid
Workers. AWSR, 2017. Accessed June 19, 2019.les/
Apthorpe, R. “With Alice in Aidland: A Seriously Satirical Allegory.” In: Adventures in Aidland: The
Anthropology of Professionals in International Development, edited by D. Mosse, 199–220. London:
Berghahn Books, 2011.
Artur, L., and D. Hilhorst. “Everyday Realities of Climate Change Adaptation in Mozambique.Global
Environmental Change 22, no. 2 (2012): 529–536. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.11.013.
Barnett, M., and P. Walker. “Regime Change for Humanitarian Aid. Foreign Aairs 94 (2015): 130–141.
Bennett, C., M. Foley, S. Pantuliano, and S. Sturridge. Time to Let Go: Remaking Humanitarian Action for
the Modern Era. London: ODI, 2016.
Bennett, C., P. Currion, M. DuBois, and T. Zaman. Constructive Deconstruction: Imagining Alternative
Humanitarian Action. HPG Working Paper. London: ODI, 2018.
Brown, S., and J. Grävingholt, eds. The Securitisation of Expatriate Aid. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2016.
Collinson, S., and M. Dueld. “Paradoxes of Presence: Risk Management and Aid Culture in Challenging
Environments. 2013. Accessed June 19, 2019.les/odi-assets/
publications- opinionles/8428.pdf.
Donini, A. The Golden Fleece: Manipulation and Independence in Humanitarian Action. New York:
Kumarian Press, 2012.
Donini, A. and D. Maxwell. “From Face-to-Face to Face-to-Screen: Remote Management, Eectiveness
and Accountability of Humanitarian Action in Insecure Environments.International Review of the
Red Cross 95, no. 890 (2013): 383–413.
Dueld, M. Development, Security and Unending War: Governing the World of Peoples. Cambridge, UK:
Polity, 2007.
Fechter, A. M. “‘Living Well’ While ‘Doing Good’? Debates on Altruism and Professionalism in Aid
Wo rk .” Third World Quarterly 33, no. 8 (2012): 1475–1491. doi:10.1080/09700161.2012.698133.
Fisher, J. “Reproducing Remoteness? States, Internationals and the Co-Constitution of Aid
‘Bunkerisation’ in the East African Periphery. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 11, no. 1
(2017): 98–119. doi:10.1080/17502977.2016.1260209.
Georoy, V and F. Grünewald. “More than the Money – Localisation in Practice. ALNAP and Trocaire.
2017. Accessed March 19, 2019.les/content/resource/les/main/
Giddens, A. “Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis.
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 41, no. 1 (1980): 246–247.
Guidero, A. “Humanitarian, Development, and Private Security Actors in the Field: A Security Analysis
in Somalia.” IFSH Zeus Working Paper 2. Hamburg, December, 2013.
Harrisson, E. “Beyond the Looking Glass? ‘Aidland’ Reconsidered.Critique of Anthropology 33, no. 3
(2013): 263–279. doi:10.1177/0308275X13490308.
Hilhorst, D. “Arenas.” In Humanitarianism: A Dictionary of Concepts, edited by T. Allen, A. Macdonald,
and H. Radice. London: Routledge, 2018.
Hilhorst, D., and B. Jansen. “Humanitarian Space as Arena: A Perspective of Everyday Practice.
Development and Change 41, no. 6 (2010): 1117–1139. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7660.2010.01673.x.
Hilhorst, D., and E. Pereboom. “Multi-Mandate Organizations in Humanitarian Aid.” In The New
Humanitarians in International Practice: Emerging Actors and Contested Principles, edited by Z.
Sezgin and D. Dijkzeul, 85–103. Abingdon: Routledge, 2016.
Hilhorst, D., L. Weijers, and M. van Wessel. Aid Relations and Aid Legitimacy: Mutual Imaging of Aid
Workers and Recipients in Nepal. Third World Quarterly 33, no. 8 (2012): 1439–1457. doi:10.1080/
Hilhorst, D., and M. Serrano. “The Humanitarian Arena in Angola, 1975–2008.Disasters, 34, no. 2
(2010): 183–201.
Hofman, M., and A. H. Perache. “From Remote Control to Remote Management, and Onwards to
Remote Encouragement? The Evolution of MSF’s Operational Models in Somalia and
Afghanistan. International Review of the Red Cross 96, no. 895–896 (2014): 1177–1191. Retrieved
3 April 2018 from le:///Users/roannevanvoorst/Downloads/irrc-895_896-hofman-perache.pdf.
Jansen, B. “Between Vulnerability and Assertiveness: Negotiating Resettlement in Kakuma Refugee
Camp, Kenya. African Aairs 107, no. 429 (2008): 569–587. doi:10.1093/afraf/adn044.
Krause, M. The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Long, N. Development Sociology. Actor Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2001.
Melis, S. “Questioning ‘the Local’ in ‘Localisation’: A Multi-Local Reply.” blISS. The ISS Blog on Global
Development and Social Justice. 2019. Accessed March 19, 2019.
OCHA. “As Local as Possible, as International as Necessary: Understanding Capacity and
Complementarity in Humanitarian Action.” Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) Working Paper,
November 2018.
ODI. “Localisation in Humanitarian Practice. Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) of the ODI and
International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). 2016. Accessed March 18, 2019. https://www.
Okili, C., and S. Pawlowski. “The Delphi Method as a Research Tool: An Example, Design Considerations
and Applications. Information and Management 42, no. 1 (2004): 30–40.
Ong, J. C., and P. Combinido. “Local Aid Workers in the Digital Humanitarian Project: Between
‘Second Class Citizens’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Survivors. Critical Asian Studies 50, no. 1 (2018): 86–102.
Reliefweb. “Localisation of Aid: Are INGOs Walking the Talk?” Accessed March 19, 2019. https:// 2017.
Roth, S. “Aid Work as Edgework – Voluntary Risk-Taking and Security in Humanitarian Assistance,
Development and Human Rights Work.Journal of Risk Research 18, no. 2 (2015): 139–155.
Roth, S. “Linguistic Capital and Inequality in Aid Relations.” Sociological Research Online 24,
no. 1 (2019): 38–54. doi:10.1177/
Roth, S. “Professionalisation Trends and Inequality: Experiences and Practices in Aid Relationships.”
Third World Quarterly 33, no. 8 (2012): 1459–1474. doi:10.1080/09700161.2012.698129.
Roth, S. The Paradoxes of Aid Work: Passionate Professionals. Abingdon: Routledge, 2015.
Sandstrom, K. “Remoteness and ‘Demonitored Space’ in Afghanistan.” Peacebuilding 2, no. 3 (2014):
286–302. doi:10.1080/21647259.2014.887619.
Schenkenberg, E. The Challenges of Localised Humanitarian Aid in Armed Conict. Emergency Gap Series
03. The Hague: MSF, 2016.
Shutt, C. “A Moral Economy? Social Interpretations of Money in Aidland.Third World Quarterly 33,
no.8 (2012): 1527–1543. doi:10.1080/01436597.2012.698139.
Slim, H. “The Continuing Metamorphosis of the Humanitarian Practitioner: Some New Colours for an
Endangered Chameleon. Disasters 19, no. 2 (1995): 110–126. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7717.1995.
Smirl, L. “Building the Other, Constructing Ourselves: Spatial Dimensions of International Humanitarian
Response. International Political Sociology 2, no. 3 (2008): 236–253. doi:10.1111/j.1749-5687.
Smirl, L. Spaces of Aid: How Cars, Compounds and Hotels Shape Humanitarianism. London: Zed Books,
Swidler, A., and S. C. Watkins. A Fraught Embrace: The Romance and Reality of AIDS Altruism in Africa.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.
Turo, C. and H. A. Linstone. The Delphi Method: Techniques and Applications. 2002. Accessed April 1,
UNOCHA. “Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2018.” Accessed June 19, 2019. https://interactive.
Van Voorst, R., and D. Hilhorst. “Humanitarian Action in Disaster and Conict Settings: Insights of an
Expert Panel. Intermediate Report. The Hague: ISS, 2017.
Yarrow, T. Development Beyond Politics: Aid, Activism and NGOs in Ghana. New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
... In addition to contributing to the humanitarian security literature, the paper participates in unravelling the meaning of the 'local' in contemporary humanitarian action (see Van Voorst 2019;Roepstorff 2020). It examines how the assumptions that the humanitarian security system makes about its subjects -that is, aid workers and other emergency relief personnel -shape the extent to which their needs are taken into account in operational policies and practices. ...
... Further, the local "has been depicted as the problem and the solution" (Mac Ginty, 2015, p. 847): Something, or somewhere, either to be civilised or developed, or romanticised as the "potential saviour" of the deficiencies of international efforts to promote development (Mac Ginty, 2015, p. 841). Such conceptualisations of localisation by international actors, it is argued, run the risk of reproducing existing power relations (Roepstorff, 2020, p. 292), through new forms of "remote control" (van Voorst, 2019(van Voorst, , p. 2117. There is therefore a call for a more 'critical localism' that not only avoids oppositions between local and international dimensions, but that explores vernacular understandings of the local, the agency of different actors and the complex webs of power in which they are located (Mac Ginty, 2015;Roepstorff, 2020). ...
Full-text available
There is a growing recognition of the effectiveness of locally led processes of social change and development. However, most of the case studies that have been discussed in the literature are focused on programs run by international development agencies. This article examines three locally led processes of change in the Pacific. These include the Simbo for Change Initiative in the Solomon Islands, the Voice in Papua New Guinea and a regional process led by the Green Growth Coalition. We explore how local understandings of leadership, preferences for informal ways of working, holistic ways of thinking, the importance placed upon maintaining good relationships and collective deliberation fundamentally shaped each of the cases. We note how these preferences and ways of working are often seen, or felt, to be at odds with western modes of thought and the practice of development agencies. Finally, we conclude by exploring how these initiatives were supported by external agencies, and suggest further research of this type might provide benchmarks by which Pacific citizens can hold their governments and development agencies to account.
Full-text available
This paper aims to explore the ways which expertise is covertly racialized in the contemporary humanitarian aid sector. While there are considerable discussions on the expat-local divide among aid professionals, such dichotomization is still inherently nationality-based, which may be an over-simplified explanation of the group dimensions within aid organizations. This study seeks to uncover that professional categorizations of “expatriate” and “local” are not race-neutral and, instead, colorblind. Organizations within the contemporary humanitarian aid apparatus have come to appeal to what Michael Omi and Howard Winant would characterize as a new racial discourse—one that does not require explicit references to race in order to be perpetuated, as racial subordination has been reconfigured to rely on implicit references to race woven within the everyday social fabrics of the humanitarian profession. The research suggests that embedded under the contemporary professional structure of the liberal humanitarian space is a covert power hierarchy fueled by perceptions of expertise and competency along racial lines—particularly around one’s whiteness.
Humanitarian aid stakeholders increasingly call for localisation: to ensure aid projects utilise, and are informed by, local actors and their ‘local knowledge’. This article explores what this means in practice. Drawing upon the case of Jordan, a major global aid hub, the author shows how national aid workers’ local knowledge is critical for their employers’ projects in at least two ways: they work as ‘vulnerability finders’ to reach communities in need; and as ‘narrative negotiators’ to ensure projects’ designs and evaluations are based on local expertise. However, it was found that workers tailor the ways in which they mobilise their ‘local knowledge’ given their positions and interactions within their workplaces. To make sense of these calculated articulations, the author draws upon Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital to argue that localisation is commodifying and transforming the power workers derive from their local status: from something that relates to their networks and knowledge within the local context to their ability to produce desirable project results. How workers labour in response highlights how localisation and the sector’s prevalent audit culture intertwine, and reproduce inequalities through particular constructions of local workers and their value to aid projects.
Full-text available
This paper examines the experiences of Filipino workers recruited for technology and communications work by international aid agencies involved in the Typhoon Haiyan response. Filipino workers, many of whom were personally coping with the social and economic impact of this disaster, were hired on short-term contracts to test and implement various digital humanitarian innovations such as feedback and hazard mapping technological platforms. These workers were doubly marginalized: first, as tech workers whose work was viewed by aid officers on the ground as less substantial than that of food or shelter programs; and second, as local voices often drowned out by national and international colleagues. Moving beyond the usual figure of the cosmopolitan and adventure-seeking Western humanitarian acting on distant suffering, this paper draws attention to local aid workers’ aspirations for personal and professional mobility as they seize novel opportunities opened up by the digital humanitarian agenda. It outlines how the digital humanitarian project’s ambition to facilitate the inclusion of disaster-affected communities is fundamentally undermined by labor arrangements that doubly marginalize local aid workers.
Globalisation processes and the spread of English as a Lingua Franca are closely related. I consider language skills as symbolic capital and focus on the hegemony of English as Lingua Franca in international aid organisations. I argue that more attention must be paid to the role of language and linguistic capital when analysing global inequality and post-colonial power relations. Humanitarian and development organisations have so far received less sociological attention than other aspects of globalisation processes, whereas in the context of development studies, attention to language usually focuses on the ‘discourse of development’ rather than on the role of linguistic capital in multi-lingual settings. Aid work, which includes the transfer of skills and resources, simultaneously addresses and perpetuates global inequalities. Language structures power relations and inequality within aid organisations, in particular between national and international staff. My article is based on qualitative interviews with multi-lingual and mono-lingual aid workers from a wide variety of aid organisations. My article is innovative by demonstrating how linguistic capital intersects with other aspects of inequality in the global context of aid organisations. It makes an important contribution to the understanding of globalisation processes and to post-colonial sociology.
The physical and social retreat of international interveners behind the walls of ‘bunkered’ aid compounds in (putatively) more remote and dangerous regions of the South has been the focus of growing critical attention in recent years. An increasingly remote and fearful culture of risk aversion and differentiation among Western states and organizations has been largely identified as the driving force behind this set of practices. This article presents a different perspective on the bunkerization phenomenon through focusing on the agency of Southern states in the process. Exploring bunkerization across eastern/central Africa—and in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region in particular—the study emphasizes not only how African states have been key promoters of modern bunkerization, but also how bunkerization behaviour and mentalities have historically characterized how many African borderlands—and contemporary sites of international intervention—have been incorporated into the global state system.
NGOs set out to save lives, relieve suffering, and service basic human needs. They are committed to serving people across national borders and without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, and they offer crucial help during earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, and pandemics. But with so many ailing areas in need of assistance, how do these organizations decide where to go—and who gets the aid? In The Good Project, Monika Krause dives into the intricacies of the decision-making process at NGOs and uncovers a basic truth: It may be the case that relief agencies try to help people but, in practical terms, the main focus of their work is to produce projects. Agencies sell projects to key institutional donors, and in the process the project and its beneficiaries become commodities. In an effort to guarantee a successful project, organizations are incentivized to help those who are easy to help, while those who are hardest to help often receive no assistance at all. The poorest of the world are made to compete against each other to become projects—and in exchange they offer legitimacy to aid agencies and donor governments. Sure to be controversial, The Good Project offers a provocative new perspective on how NGOs succeed and fail on a local and global level.
This book explores what attracts people to aidwork and to what extent the promises of aidwork are fulfilled. 'Aidland' is a highly complex and heterogeneous context which includes many different occupations, forms of employment and organizations. Analysing the processes that lead to the involvement in development cooperation, emergency relief and human rights work and tracing the pathways into and through Aidland, the book addresses working and living conditions in Aidland, gender relations and inequality among aid personnel and what impact aidwork has on the life-courses of aidworkers. In order to capture the trajectories that lead to Aidland a biographical perspective is employed which reveals that boundary crossing between development cooperation, emergency relief and human rights is not unusual and that considering these fields as separate spheres might overlook important connections. Rich reflexive data is used to theorize about the often contradictory experiences of people working in aid whose careers are shaped by geo-politics, changing priorities of donors and a changing composition of the aid sector. Exploring the life worlds of people working in aid, this book contributes to the emerging sociology and anthropology of aidwork and will be of interest to professionals and researchers in humanitarian and development studies, sociology, anthropology, political science and international relations, international social work and social psychology.