The vulnerable humanitarian: discourses of stress and meaning-making among aid workers in Kenya

Houldey, Gemma (2019) The vulnerable humanitarian: discourses of stress and meaning-making among aid workers in Kenya. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (4MB)

Abstract

This thesis makes an important contribution to current debates concerning power and agency in the aid sector, and increasing concerns about the security and wellbeing of staff, by investigating how aid systems, policies and structures influence the behaviour of aid workers and how they respond to stress. Drawing on findings from one year of ethnographic research in Nairobi and Turkana in Kenya, and departing from the majority of development studies literature, it explores the motivations, beliefs and lived realities of national and African staff, comparing these with the dominant narratives of white, western aid workers travelling from a situation of privilege to a situation of poverty.
The thesis investigates the different contexts of aid work in Kenya – from the emergency environment of Kakuma refugee camp to the regional head offices in Nairobi - and considers the ways in which the challenges and emotional upheavals of my informants are determined by the particularities of the sector; including its organisational culture, its moral and humanitarian agenda and its securitised spaces and structures. Through my ethnographic material, I demonstrate the importance of cross-cutting dimensions of identity and positionality, such as nationality, race, gender and religion; all of which have implications for how aid workers approach their jobs and how they are treated in the workplace. I highlight the false universals that are applied to the sector regarding stress, and the motivations and values associated with aid work, and offer alternative conceptualisations of emotional experiences and meaning-making among aid workers. The thesis questions the specific organisational structures and practices that shape and at times restrict the private lives of staff, and proposes diverse methodologies that deconstruct, and reimagine, aid work and staff wellbeing.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Development
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic history and conditions > HC0800 Africa > HC0865 Kenya
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV0544.5 International social work
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2019 09:32
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2019 09:32
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/84087

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update