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Helping the wounded as heroic mission: Self Organization of Humanitarian Action in Karen state, Myanmar (Alexander Horstmann)

Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Alexander Horstmann is Associate Professor in Anthropology of Southeast Asia,
at the School of Humanities at Tallinn University. His teaching include Current
Anthropology courses, Applied Anthropology “LIFE” project courses, Asian
Politics and Society courses and PhD courses in Cultural Studies.

Crisis, warring, and never-ending suffering propel humanitarian organizations to
the forefront of media attention. Examining the use of témoignage (witnessing)
in the work of MSF, Peter Redfield notes that big NGOs now play a central role in
defining secular moral truth for an international audience (Redfield 2006: 5–6).
Combining medical expression, expert knowledge, public expression, and in the
case of the Free Burma Rangers, mission, health organizations are able to
mobilize both the most vulnerable people as well as substantial financial and
moral support from a great field of followers (Redfield 2013). Moreover, the Free
Burma Rangers also involve Rangers and ethnic minority villagers in witnessing
and fact finding, by training them for independent human rights documentation,
which will then feed the news of their website.

In the following, I look into emergency healthcare for the wounded in the
border zones of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities through the example of the Free
Burma Rangers. First, as a missionary and armed (for self-defence) humanitarian
organization engaged in healthcare and nursing, the FBR represent an
expression of the failure of international organizations and governments in
protecting the most needy villagers. Secondly, I am interested in the mandate of
the FBR, who operate secretif and outside of the existing Border Consortium. The
example of the FBR sheds light on global networks of humanitarian
organizations and their being embedded into political alliances of conservative
Christians in the USA, politicians, and the US army. Finally, the example shows
the important role of international NGOs and their alliances with locals in the
politics of protection. Situating the FBR in a larger empirical context, I ask: how
do these humanitarian health organizations shape new landscapes of
humanitarian assistance and mobilization? How are the most vulnerable
refugees situated in this growing field of voluntary intervention and
mobilization? How does the insertion into these new assemblages situate the
individual self within Christian infrastructures of humanitarian aid? Given the
human rights documentation of the FBR and their accumulation of knowledge
about the Karen etc. where is the place of anthropology and anthropological
knowledge about the figure of the displaced migrant-refugee? Not least: What is
my ethical role as an anthropologist doing fieldwork with vulnerable people?

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Southeast Asia Program, East Asia Program, Anthropology

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James Nagy

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Alexander Horstmann

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Tallinn University

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