Formulating professional identity
The case of humanitarian aid
Recent scholarly and practitioner research on the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been concerned with questions about the moral legitimacy of humanitarian aid in settings of armed conflict. At issue is the extent to which NGO activities are said to affect the conduct and outcome of warfare, thereby potentially implicating humanitarian aid in the partisan interests which it has traditionally eschewed as a condition of its legitimacy. This paper explores how such issues are taken up in the explanations offered by humanitarian aid operatives in descriptions of the work they carry out in settings of armed conflict. Drawing on a corpus of conversational material recorded in open-ended interviews with representatives of various NGOs that operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), I examine how speakers work to make themselves accountable to demands for sympathetic affiliation with the losing (or vanquished) parties in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while maintaining a non-aligned stance relative to the partisan considerations that animate that conflict’s conduct. Both in first-hand narrative accounts of personal transformation and in descriptions of contrastive examples where professional colleagues are said to maintain a too-sympathetic affiliation with the partisan concerns of the Palestinian population whose needs they service, speakers work to provide for the legitimacy of their professional activities in the context of otherwise conflicting demands for moral accountability.
Keywords: Palestinian-Israeli conflict, accountability, identity, legitimacy, humanitarian aid, non-governmental organization (NGO), narrative
Published online: 13 February 2012
Cited by 1 other publications
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