Heidi Mogstad

Cambridge University

Heidi Mogstad

Affective interventions: volunteer humanitarianism at home and abroad

My PhD project explores the relationship between humanitarianism and border politics at home and abroad. I study this relationship ethnographically through an extended case study of the Norwegian volunteer-based humanitarian organisation Drop in the Ocean (Dråpen i Havet). Through 15-months fieldwork in Greece and Norway, I follow the everyday work of the organisation at home and abroad as it responds and adapts to political events, European governance and changing humanitarian need. Moving beyond simplistic analyses suggesting that volunteers either challenge or simply reproduce neoliberal regimes of care and control, I examine how the volunteers understand and respond to the moral dilemmas imposed by human rights law and Norwegian/European governance and what this can tell us about the possibilities and limits of these humanitarian engagements, as well as the recent humanitarian turn to technology and innovation more broadly (see Jacobsen, 2015; Sandvik et al. 2017; Collier et al. 2017). I also trace volunteers’ personal pathways to and experiences of their humanitarian work and encounters, as well as how these experiences shape volunteers’ moral and political subjectivities, imaginations and everyday life in Norway.

On a theoretical level, I intend to place anthropological and philosophical work on humanitarianism and nationalism in conversation with the subfield of border studies and feminist work on the politics of emotions. Doing so enables me to explore how cultural boundaries and emotions shape humanitarian mobilization and contour internal tensions both amongst and within volunteers. In addition to contributing to scholarly work on humanitarianism and volunteerism, I anticipate that my research will speak to anthropological debates on care, hospitality and the state/sovereignty (and the Nordic welfare state more specifically). By attending to how volunteers negotiate and rework liberal and social-democratic ideals and dilemmas, I particularly wish to contribute to a more nuanced, pluralistic and ethnographically sensitive understanding of liberalism and egalitarianism.