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Humanitarian Reason

A Moral History of the Present

Didier Fassin


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In the face of the world’s disorders, moral concerns have provided a powerful ground for developing international as well as local policies. Didier Fassin draws on case materials from France, South Africa, Venezuela, and Palestine to explore the meaning of humanitarianism in the contexts of immigration and asylum, disease and poverty, disaster and war. He traces and analyzes recent shifts in moral and political discourse and practices — what he terms “humanitarian reason”— and shows in vivid examples how humanitarianism is confronted by inequality and violence. Deftly illuminating the tensions and contradictions in humanitarian government, he reveals the ambiguities confronting states and organizations as they struggle to deal with the intolerable. His critique of humanitarian reason, respectful of the participants involved but lucid about the stakes they disregard, offers theoretical and empirical foundations for a political and moral anthropology.

Praise For Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present

“[A] brilliant compilation. . . . One of the most thought-provoking books this reviewer has read in many years.”
— Choice

“Meticulously researched, well balanced and absorbing. . . . Interesting and thought provoking.”
— European Review Of History/Revue Europeenne D'histoire

“A very thought-provoking contribution to the literature. The analysis is precise and persuasive.”
— Mark Welch

“Humanitarian reason constitutes an outstanding study of contemporary Western moral and political economy.”
— Social Anthropology

University of California Press, 9780520271173, 352pp.

Publication Date: October 3, 2011

About the Author

Didier Fassin is the James D. Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author of When Bodies Remember: Experiences of AIDS in South Africa (UC Press) and coauthor of The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood.