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Wolfmeier, Darja

Research Interests:

History of Africa 

Geographical Area:

France, Switzerland, Belgium, Senegal, South Africa

Current Project:

Voices on race and power in the humanitarian sector. A critical historical sociology of Médecins Sans Frontières, c. 1990s to 2000s

This PhD project combines already existing postcolonial work on humanitarian aid as well as humanitarian history. It gives an account for a specific organisation and its struggles to question its character as an international entity to create equality within and navigate a world full of borders. The organisation that I focus on is Doctors without Borders, an international medical humanitarian aid organisation. Recent public intervention and personal encounters showed how MSF and the humanitarian sector at large are grappling with their entanglements in global postcolonial (racial) hierarchies and the postcolonial heritage Western-based non-governmental organisations carry on.

MSF is structured by national sections that belong to one international association. The operative work is coordinated through six Operational Centres based in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva, Barcelona/Athens and West and Central Africa (WaCA). Referring to their work as an association of volunteers, MSF's work is carried out by people on a variety of contracts and tasks, differing most often with regards to their status as 'international' or

'locally hired' staff. This represents one of the biggest grievances of actual staff, as (historically rooted and based on the principle of neutrality) positions with decision-making power and positions in higher ends of the work hierarchy have most often been reserved for international staff. As preliminary insights by staff have shown, the status of international staff only by the nature of their contract could lead to a higher estimation of their expertise or knowledge, regardless of their position or experience. Therefore, the PhD project focusses on the construction of postcolonial hierarchies in this humanitarian organisation, seeking a more nuanced understanding of current revendications in a long-term and global perspective.


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