Critique of Humanitarian Reason

Critique of Humanitarian Reason | Didier Fassin

Didier Fassin
Institute for Advanced Study
February 17, 2010

Humanitarianism, which can be defined as the introduction of moral sentiments into human affairs, is a major component of contemporary politics—locally and globally—for the relief of poverty or the management of disasters, in times of peace as well as in times of war. But how different is the world and our understanding of it when we mobilize compassion rather than justice, call for emotions instead of rights, consider inequality in terms of suffering, and violence in terms of trauma? What is gained—and lost—in this translation? In this lecture, Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Science, attempts to comprehend humanitarian government, to make sense of its expansion, and to assess its ethical and political consequences.