The Good ProjectHumanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason

The Good ProjectHumanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason

Monika Krause

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226131221

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Since the late 1980s humanitarianism – the immediate relief of suffering in the name of respect for human dignity – has come to dominate western responses to distant suffering. Whether it is a sudden disaster or a long-running crisis, we look to NGOs like the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, CARE, and Save the Children to help. Based on interviews with managers in the headquarters of the largest Western relief NGOs, The Good Project describes the organizational routines and practical constraints that determine who gets aid and who does not. The book argues that humanitarian NGOs have come to inhabit a shared social space, the field of humanitarian relief NGOs. This field produces both the assumptions that are common across agencies and the debates agencies have with each other about what it means to be a humanitarian. Agencies share practices of project-management that are geared towards one primary output, the “project.” They produce projects for a quasi-market, in which donors are consumers. The pursuit of the good project develops a dynamic that is relatively independent of the values of humanitarian relief and relatively independent of the needs of the populations on the ground. This dynamic is also relatively independent of the interests of donors, including donor governments. In addition to the benefits for those in need emphasized by liberal observers and the forms of direct domination highlighted by critics, humanitarian relief also produces a form of indirect domination mediated by the market for projects.