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HARBOR. Humanitarianism and Refugees at the Border: A Transnational Feminist Analysis of Nonprofit Organizations

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - HARBOR (HARBOR. Humanitarianism and Refugees at the Border: A Transnational Feminist Analysis of Nonprofit Organizations)

Reporting period: 2022-01-15 to 2023-01-14

HARBOR—Humanitarianism and Refugees at the Border—was a feminist project that turned a critical eye towards the humanitarian sector. Given that humanitarian players have become such relevant actors in refugee management—among other things, because of the (neoliberal) privatization of public services—academics have argued that the study of the intersection of border control and assistance to border-crossers needs further research (Bosworth et al., 2018; Gerard and Webber 2019, 267). Within this scenario, HARBOR’s aim was to explore the importance of these organizations within the broader migration regime. Using interviews and participant observation as methods, as well as engagement with secondary sources, news outlets and academic literature, HARBOR has studied how humanitarian organizations influence the construction of border-crossers’ subjectivities; provided an analysis of the ways in which solidarians (humanitarian workers, NGO workers, and/or volunteers) engage with their work; and explored the potential for resistance (within the organizations) and radical change (within a broader structural context). This research has resulted in a series of academic articles, blog posts, conference presentations, talks at different venues with different audiences, and a book (all detailed in the technical report). HARBOR has contributed to the literature on critical humanitarian studies, critical migration studies, critical border studies and its intersection with neoliberal ideology and feminism. Disclosing the ways in which humanitarianism is entangled with border control and how it affects the construction of border-crossers’ subjectivities offers the possibility to redress how aid is framed. Discourses and narratives about those who flee from violence have material consequences—such as confinement, punishment, and/or detention. The struggle against today’s border regimes is constantly refracted through a reformist-humanitarian response that is in conversation with detention to constrain mobilities. Analyzing the way in which humanitarianism co-opts and depoliticizes activist demands—such as border abolition—can shed light in the ways in which struggles for freedom get embedded in reformist responses. In this regard, through the production of knowledge, HARBOR has contributed to illuminating how borders not only do not protect but rather, create violence, and how humanitarian organizations are part of the migration management apparatus.
In the last period of the project, I have continued working the entanglement of humanitarian organizations within the migration apparatus. The following products are a result of this exploration, and many are the crystallization of this three-year project. Dr Hoffstaedter and I organized a writing retreat on Critical Humanitarianisms (May 2022) that deals directly with this project’s topic of research. This writing retreat will result in the publication of a special issue in the Journal of Migration and Society that we are currently working on with Dr Tess Altman. After the 2021 Border Abolition Conference that I organized (with other colleagues), we managed to sign a contract with the Pluto Publishing House for a book that we are finalizing called Border Abolition Now. This edited volume (of which I am the main editor) will come out later this year or early 2024. In regard to HARBOR’s engagement in the analysis of how non-profit organizations influence the decision of those who cross borders and how these organizations influence the construction of border-crossers’ subjectivities, I have published an article with my colleague Dr Paynter that has just recently come out in the Geopolitics Journal. Similarly, I have a forthcoming article written with Dr Parsons that addresses how political rhetoric affects on-the-ground understandings of people who seek asylum. Additionally, one of HARBOR’s objectives is to provide an analysis of the ways in which solidarians (humanitarian workers, NGO workers, and volunteers) engage with their work in two ways: how they deal with the contradictions of their work (including ways to exercise resistance); and the potential for (radical) change these organisations hold. On this topic, Dr Campbell and I have worked on a piece that will be published in a book edited by Bridget Anderson, Nandita Sharma and Cynthia Wright; as well as a solo (under review) article in the Journal of Migration and Society. As a feminist, I try to engage as much as possible in the feminist praxis of collaborative work—such as publishing with colleagues—to produce richer and more nuanced knowledge. Since one of HARBOR’s objectives it to emphasise the effects of neoliberalism, I got together with a group of colleagues to write a piece a piece that deals with reflexivity and the neoliberal academia that is currently under review. One of HARBOR’s objectives (probably the most important one) that runs through my work is to find ways to engage audiences in feminism. In that vein, I have given several talks at different venues that deal with feminism and the importance of including and visibilizing women and their work. In these talks, I try to bring an understanding to wider audiences of what feminism is and its importance to achieve social justice. Feminism is a topic that still requires recognition efforts everywhere, but especially in countries in the South of Europe, and places where far-right populism is gaining ground. Additionally, I have participated in four conferences, four workshops, one activity with a school, one media commentary, and one researchers’ week that deal with my work.
This project has researched the entanglement of humanitarian organizations with the broader border management. The result and dissemination products that have come out of the three-year HARBOR project are the following: four peer-reviewed articles, six forthcoming and under-review peer-reviewed articles, three blog posts, one book chapter, ten conference talks, two media articles, one conference organizing, one writing retreat organizing, eight workshop presentations and invited talks, three media commentary, as well as guest lecturing for an anthropology class, mentoring a PhD student, and participating in various venues to talk about feminism and my work. Through this work, I have advanced the development of a theory and practice that moves towards the goal of border abolition; increased the visibilization of women in general, and in the humanitarian setting in particular; explored the ways in which humanitarian organizations influence the construction of border-crossers’ subjectivities; analyzed the ways in which solidarians engage with their work—including European refugee camps. In short, building on already existing work and on-the-ground research, HARBOR has contributed to the literature on critical humanitarian studies, critical migration studies, critical border studies and its intersection with neoliberal ideology and feminism.
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