Violence and humanitarianism are conventionally understood to be in opposition to one another. And yet, humanitarianism is also deeply entangled with violence—not only in tending to the after effects of human or natural catastrophe, but, at times, also (re)producing and perpetuating ongoing conditions of violence. Taking up Weizman’s notion critiquing “lesser evil” solutions to human suffering, we extend the exploration of humanitarian interventions to the structural and symbolic violences enacted through the institutions, mechanisms, instruments, and “moral technologies” that are mobilized in the governance of people and spaces deemed in “need.” At the same time we attend to the thresholds within humanitarian forms of engagement where slippage into assaultive violence condenses—often through the spatial policing of circulation, the drive toward legibility, and/or opaque processes of conditional vetting. These moments and spaces shed light on the multiple, hierarchical visions of humanity that animate humanitarianism.
keyword: Humanitarianism, humanitarian present, lesser evil, “humanitarian violence”