The desire to help: Vernacular humanitarian imaginaries in China

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The tremendous growth in search and rescue volunteerism in China of the past decade marks a shift from state monopoly to growing social participation in emergency governance related to disasters and various other forms of emergency. In some respects, the Chinese case can be contextualised in the global rise of ‘vernacular humanitarianism’. This article joins recent anthropologists’ and historians’ attempts to de-centre and pluralise humanitarianism, which has so far been dominated by the paradigms of Northern-led and highly institutionalised international regimes. Drawing on ethnographic research in southeast China, it suggests that the lens of vernacular imaginaries and desire is particularly fruitful for articulating how people act across various social and cultural spheres that go beyond the dichotomous scholarly paradigms of state-centric interpellation and individual compassions/resistance in the Chinese context. It also allows us to rescue the plural political potentials of humanitarianism from cynicisms regarding the major paradigms of humanitarianism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-47
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • vernacular humanitarianism
  • China
  • search and rescue volunteerism
  • emergency imaginaries
  • the desire to help


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