February 13, 2009
A Nexus of Suspicion: On the Ethics of Humanitarianism and Trust
A dynamic tension exists in practices of giving: while impulsive philanthropic giving allows no claims on the donor by the recipient, welfare-oriented giving transforms the recipient into a claimant with rights. These conflicting pressures on giving frame this examination of contemporary humanitarian and philanthropic practice in New Delhi, and its relation to sacred Hindu conceptions of dān (donation) in light of the response to the 2004 tsunami disaster. The February 13, 2009 talk, part of an ongoing series The Anthropology of Religion, Money and the Economy, co-sponsored by the Anthropology Department and the Berkley Center, drew upon a nexus of institutions and individuals: schools raising money for tsunami relief, NGOs delivering charitable goods, and individuals giving donations, to show how humanitarian efforts mirror larger ethical struggles about how money should be spent and tracked, how need is identified, and what constitutes a worthy recipient.
Erica Bornstein is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has conducted research on philanthropy, charity, religious humanitarianism, and non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe and India. Her first book, The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe (2005) focused on transnational Christian non-governmental organizations. Her other publications include Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi (2012) and Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism between Ethics and Politics (2011, co-edited with Peter Redfield). She is also the author of scholarly articles that have appeared in American Ethnologist, Ethnos, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, and the Journal of Religion in Africa .