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The domestic humanitarian: Responsible neighbours, fairness and ambivalence in urban Australia

Altman, Tessa; (2019) The domestic humanitarian: Responsible neighbours, fairness and ambivalence in urban Australia. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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This dissertation explores the political and moral subjectivities of volunteers providing humanitarian assistance to people seeking asylum in urban Australia. Drawing upon the anthropology of humanitarianism and the anthropology of citizenship and welfare, the dissertation develops a new term: the “domestic humanitarian.” This term describes the infusion of a generalised humanitarian impulse to give to a distant stranger, with more situated feelings of obligation as a citizen within a nation-state and a neighbour within a community. The relationship between domestic humanitarianism and responsibility is considered through ethnographically examining the political and moral strategies of volunteers providing aid and advocacy in Melbourne, against the backdrop of Australia’s hostile deterrence policy. Four main examples are presented: an NGO campaign before the 2016 Australian election, a grassroots group providing neighbourly support and practicing the feminised domestic arts, a decolonisation movement, and a foodbank. The examples illustrate that volunteers mobilise national and local cultural idioms of fairness, mateship and neighbourliness in order to make meaning and relationships through their volunteering and to generate broader support for people seeking asylum. However, ambivalences about the structural power imbalances inherent in the provision of humanitarian aid arise. Such ambivalences are exacerbated by an ingrained discourse of egalitarianism, and a climate of sensitive racialised politics in a multicultural settler colonial state. This manifests in diverse volunteer positionalities on how to address issues of need and difference. The thesis concludes that volunteers as domestic humanitarians exhibit a heightened sense of responsibility towards people seeking asylum within Australia. This responsibility can be harnessed to effect political and social change more broadly as a form of inclusive, accessible and intimate politics that may appeal to a wide range of voters. Domestic humanitarians could therefore potentially encourage the development of more positive attitudes towards excluded others in hostile policy climates.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The domestic humanitarian: Responsible neighbours, fairness and ambivalence in urban Australia
Event: UCL
Language: English
Keywords: Humanitarianism, Voluntarism, Citizenship, Forced migration
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10072567
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