Peter Redfield

Viewed from the perspective of an anthropology of secular morality, it becomes clear that the primary judgment faced by aid agencies is a political one. When good and evil present themselves in terms of the politics of commitment, solidarity, and measurable outcomes, it grows uncomfortable to stand to one side. Even when resisting politics in the form of justifications of suffering, those invested in aid face their own political expectations and desires. The political quiescence associated with traditional charity – its implication that poverty and suffering may be an inevitable feature of human experience, its acceptance of inequality – disturbs modern, liberal sensibilities, including those of both aid workers and anthropologists. Within a secular cosmology one must claim political good or risk the torments of near damnation.

Humanitarianism (PDF file)

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