Humanitarian Sex: Biopolitics, Ethics, and Aid Worker Memoir


‘Humanitarianism is sexy, or so they say. Unlike other forms of civic aid that go by less glamorous names, such as social work, the word ‘humanitarian’ carries with it a particular glow of grandeur. Because it deploys the language of the human, rather than of the citizen, it is able—indeed compelled—to range promiscuously across national borders in search of bodies to claim as its proper object of attention. This inbuilt distance between the social worlds of the aid worker and of the recipient of aid lends itself to erotics of the exotic that bespeaks polysemous forms of desire. Humanitarianism is sexy, in the sense that it makes humanitarians seem enticingly chic; it is also sexualised, caught up in a romance narrative of endless longing for a strange other.’ (Author’s introduction, p. 43)

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Published 1 June 2011 in Volume 31 No. 1, Volume 26 No. 2. Subjects: Aid workers, Biopolitics, Humanitarianism, Memoirs, Sensationalism, Sexualisation.

Cite as: Black, Shameem. ‘Humanitarian Sex: Biopolitics, Ethics, and Aid Worker Memoir.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 2011, doi: 10.20314/als.215799671e.