How humanitarian relief 'works': international aid organizations and local labor in crisis contexts
Ward, Patricia S.
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This dissertation explores the changing organization of work in the transnational humanitarian aid sector. I specifically examine aid localization: a sector-wide strategy to increase the role of local labor in humanitarian aid projects. What does the aid sector’s localization look like in practice? What are the effects of localization on local labor? To answer these questions, I conducted a qualitative study of aid operations in Jordan, a major global aid hub. I find that localization creates a particular structure of work in which tasks, resources, and expectations are formally and informally organized and premised upon particular meanings associated with ‘the local’ as a category. This structure subsequently creates new forms of precarious labor and challenging work conditions for national employees under the framing of humanitarian aid, and also shapes how workers make sense of their own positions within the aid labor hierarchy. These effects are indicative of the tensions and contradictions embedded in conceptualizations of ‘the local’ in the aid sector. It is these tensions and ambiguities that subsequently become sources of productivity for aid employers: a space to generate new forms and relations of work that ensure successful project outcomes. I subsequently contend that localization ruptures and reinscribes Global North-Global South inequalities through ambivalent constructions of who local workers are, and how they should and can provide value to their organizations.