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Humanitarian fables: morals, meanings and consequences for humanitarian practice

James, Myfanwy ORCID: 0000-0001-7194-1287 (2022) Humanitarian fables: morals, meanings and consequences for humanitarian practice. Third World Quarterly, 43 (2). pp. 475-493. ISSN 0143-6597

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Identification Number: 10.1080/01436597.2021.2023318


This article describes how events are turned into fables in humanitarian organisations. It explores how these fables circulate, the lessons they come to embody and their influence in maintaining an organisational status quo. The article argues that such stories teach new humanitarian employees certain ‘facts’ about ‘the field’ and help form and consolidate consensus about why things are the way they are in an organisation. By describing three such fables circulating amongst Médecins Sans Frontières ‘international’ employees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each of which suggested a need for foreign humanitarians to maintain a certain distance from local citizens (including their nationally hired colleagues) as a means of personal and organisational security, the article illustrates how such fables can ‘justify’ certain organisational decisions that ultimately reinforce structures of unequal power relations between different humanitarian employees.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 Global South Ltd.
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social Sciences
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2023 16:12
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2024 06:42

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