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Humanitarian Power

Starting from Foucault’s thesis that modern political power “guarantee[s] an individual’s continued existence” and wages war in the name of life (Foucault 1978: 137), many authors interpret humanitarianism as simultaneously caring and authoritative, divided into two seemingly opposing goals: supervision and care (cf., e.g., Andersson 2014; Fassin 2005). Such securitarian-humanitarian logic stems from humanitarian power, and can be detected in many refugee policies today. Humanitarian power, as could be observed on the example of the Balkan refugee corridor, uses a specific management technology that, on the one hand, takes care of the primary needs of migrants and refugees, is sensitive to physical suffering, lack of food, water, cold weather, illness and physical deficiencies, the needs of the family and children. On the other hand, it ensures and supervises the movement of people, supervises the security of space related to movements and detentions, is sensitive to risks, outbursts of violence, unforeseen events, it records, categorizes, closes, detains, documents and counts (Petrović 2018: 51). The ruling powers are not the only ones participating in this kind of management, they are joined by various national and local humanitarian organizations, social groups, and even individuals. As the example of the Balkan refugee corridor from 2015/2016 shows, it often takes place beyond the law or the territory of states and enables the capillary expansion of power to all those involved in the humanitarian space.



Andersson, Ruben. 2014. Illegality, Inc. Clandenstine Migration and the Buissnes of Bordering of Europe. Oakland: University of California Press.

Fassin, Didier. 2005. “Compassion and Repression. The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France.” Cultural Anthropology 20/3: 362–87.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality. Volume I. An Introduction. New York: Pantheon Books. Translated by Robert Hurley.

Petrović, Duško. 2018. "Humanitarian Exceptionalism. Normalization of Suspension of Law in Camp and Corridor". In Formation and Disintegration of the Balkan Refugee Corridor. Camps, Routes and Borders in Croatian Context. Emina Bužinkić and Marijana Hameršak, eds. Zagreb and München: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Centre for Peace Studies, Faculty of Political Science University of Zagreb – Centre for Ethnicity, Citizenship and Migration, e.V., 43-63. 

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