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“Bureaucracy, Sorcery, and the Politics of Humanitarian and Development Aid in Haiti” by Erica James

Friday, March 9, 2012
12:00 AM
411 West Hall

This talk discusses the unintended consequences of humanitarian and development aid provided to traumatized “victims of human rights abuses” during and after the 1991 to 1994 period of political conflict in Haiti, a time of chronic political and economic insecurity.
This talk discusses the unintended consequences of humanitarian and development aid provided to traumatized “victims of human rights abuses” during and after the 1991 to 1994 period of political conflict in Haiti, a time of chronic political and economic insecurity. Despite rhetorics and practices designed to be transparent, rational, and accountable, the aid apparatus provoked practices that I characterize as bureaucraft. The bureaucraft concept describes interactions between phenomena of witchcraft, sorcery, secrecy, and bureaucracy as humanitarian and development assistance developed a social life. I argue that alongside cultural phenomena traditionally associated with witchcraft that occurred among Haitians outside institutional spaces, bureaucraft has also emerged within the foreign aid apparatus in Haiti – exposing the contradictions in rhetorics and practices of transparency and accountability in Western bureaucratic institutions.