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Theses Doctoral

“We Are Human Beings:” Humanitarian Confinement, Refugee Bodies, and Human Rights

Surie von Czechowski, Aditi

Focusing on humanitarian aid to refugees in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Western Tanzania, this dissertation argues that humanitarianism has shifted from the care of the bodily and immediate material needs to a form of moral care inflected by contemporary human rights discourse. The camp, in operation for over 17 years, became the site of a pedagogical intervention aimed at teaching refugees human rights. Informed by essentialist understandings of Congolese culture, aid agencies enforce a version of human rights in which only women’s rights are human rights. Refugees respond to this in a variety of ways, by contesting, appropriating, or exiting the framework of rights entirely. In reading human rights discourse as a site for an anthropology of ethics, this dissertation argues against simply understanding humanitarian confinement in terms of biopolitics, and looks to black feminist theorizations of the “human” to gesture beyond human rights. It shows how Nyarugusu residents make claims based on bodily vulnerability to decolonize the “human” of “human rights,” and how, in doing so, they point us towards a politics of vulnerability grounded in an ethics of sincerity.

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Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Mitchell, Timothy
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
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