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The unintended consequences of emergency food aid: neutrality, sovereignty and politics in the Syrian civil war, 2012-15

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Martinez, Jose Ciro 
Eng, Brent 


This paper dissects the role of emergency food aid during the current Syrian conflict. Drawing on Autesserre’s concept of frames and Agamben’s theory of sovereignty, we argue that the neutrality frame, which undergirds the majority of humanitarian relief efforts in Syria, obfuscates emergency food aid’s impact, both on sovereign power relations and local political dynamics. Through close scrutiny of various case studies, we trace how humanitarian efforts reinforce the bases of sovereign politics while contributing to a host of what Pandolfi (1998) terms “mobile sovereignties.” We then analyze how and why ostensibly neutral emergency food aid has unintentionally assisted the Assad regime by facilitating its control over food, which it uses to buttress support and foster compliance. The article concludes by examining the political and military impact of emergency food aid during Syria’s war before discussing possible implications for the humanitarian enterprise more broadly.



4404 Development Studies, 4408 Political Science, 44 Human Society, 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 2 Zero Hunger

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Oxford University Press (OUP)