The “phantom local” and the everyday distinction practices of humanitarian actors in war: A socio-legal perspective

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Abstract

This article is concerned the everyday practices of international humanitarian actors who deliver assistance in armed conflict zones. Drawing on original fieldwork conducted in South Sudan, it elucidates how humanitarian actors engage with the principle of distinction in international humanitarian law (IHL). The article considers how the desire to enforce distinction impacts humanitarian actors’ relationships with others, and introduces the concept of everyday distinction practices. These practices have an important performance component, designed to appease the “phantom local.” It is proposed that such practices may have adverse implications for the humanitar-ian–beneficiary encounter. By positioning war-affected populations as an audience for distinction, everyday distinction practices reconfigure the victims of war from being receivers of aid to perceivers of aid. By lumping beneficiaries together with armed actors as part of the “phantom local,” distinction practices also paint the victims of war as an object of mistrust, fear, and potential danger.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-657
Number of pages18
JournalNew Political Science
Volume40
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2018

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