Aid work as moral labour

Fechter, Anne-Meike (2016) Aid work as moral labour. Critique of Anthropology, 36 (3). pp. 228-243. ISSN 0308-275X

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial No Derivatives.

Download (434kB)


This paper argues that some of the engagements and practices of international aid workers can be productively understood as forms of moral labour. Taking Hardt’s concept of ‘immaterial labour’ (1999) as a point of reference, the paper examines the moral practices that aid workers engage in the course of their work and personal lives. Much of the relevant literature focuses on the humanitarian imperative – that is, the implied moral responsibility of better-off nations and individuals to assist others in need. Less extensively, some development literature has adopted the understanding of aid and development assistance in moral frameworks of the gift, or ‘doing good’. What happens, though, in terms of experienced and practiced moralities in the concrete situations and scenarios generated by such helping imperatives? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among aid workers in Cambodia, the paper examines some of the perhaps inevitable moral entanglements which these workers find themselves in, and have to negotiate. The analytical benefits of framing these efforts as ‘moral labour’ include a broadened understanding of how morality matters in aid beyond the helping imperative, as well as a recognition that the significance of this labour does not rest on products that may result from it, but lies in the performance of the labour itself.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Aid work, development, immaterial labour, moral labour, Cambodia
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology > GN357 Culture and cultural processes Including social change, structuralism, diffusion, etc.
Depositing User: Anne-Meike Fechter
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2016 09:49
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2020 14:57

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update