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Humanity: a new journal

Humanity is a new periodical published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, which describes itself as an “international journal of human rights, humanitarianism and development.”  These topics have been a central interest for many anthropologists of late and indeed anthropology is well represented among the members of the editorial collective and contributors to the journal’s first issue.  Here’s how the editorial collective begins the statement of purpose for the journal:

“In recent decades, the traditional politics of ideological contest has been displaced by a politics of humanity. In many realms, left and right have given way to life and death. In both domestic and international contexts, the languages of human rights and humanitarianism are often spectacularly marshaled as moral claims to bolster multifarious policies and practices. And development—a central Cold War discourse—has evolved beyond strictly economic or institutional concerns to encompass matters once targeted in human rights activism and has expanded to address the acute humanitarian crises once treated as more episodic and temporary conditions. The goal of Humanity is to provide a single forum for the dispassionate, analytically focused examination of these trends and the political transformations that have reshaped the terms of liberation and idealism as well as the practices of domination and control,” (Editorial Collective, 2010).

All of the articles in the journal’s inaugural issue are available free of charge, although I’m not clear on whether that will continue for subsequent issues.  The journal also has an impressive-looking website, with a blog, which has already featured some interesting pieces, like Andrew Lakoff’s consideration of a recent profile of virus-hunter Nathan Wolfe in The New Yorker.

As you’ll see in the list of article titles and abstracts below, the first issue of Humanity includes an impressive range of scholarship on issues surrounding humanitarianism and human rights.

Table of Contents:

Statement of the Editorial Collective

In recent decades, the traditional politics of ideological contest has been displaced by a politics of humanity.


Lynn Festa
, Humanity without Feathers

The title of this essay is not simply an echo of Woody Allen’s neurotic reversal of Emily Dickinson’s ‘‘Hope is the thing with Feathers’’; it alludes, of course, to the venerable enumerative definition, as old as Plato, of man as a ‘‘featherless biped capable of speech and reason.’’


Editorial Collective, Kael Alford
, Unembedding War Photography: An Interview with Kael Alford

The Iraq war has certainly blurred the distinction between reporting and waging war, turning information into a strategic weapon. It also triggered the beginning of ‘‘embeddedness’’ as a new military practice of control, ?rst with journalists, but now extended to civilian researchers such as anthropologists. Kael Alford tells us how her ‘‘unembedded’’ project was conceived.

Michel Agier, Humanity as an Identity and Its Political Effects: A Note on Camps and Humanitarian Government

Agier offers an assessment of contemporary humanitarianism and appeals to humanity that juxtaposes a survey of camps with ethnographic reportage. According to Agier, contemporary humanitarianism must be understood as a new and unprecedented form of government that nevertheless leaves room for unsuspected political action.

Andrew Lakoff, Two Regimes of Global Health

The movement for global health is an increasingly prominent rationale for action across a range of organizations, including philanthropic foundations, development agencies, and biomedical research institutes.

Martin Koskenniemi, Human Rights Mainstreaming as a Strategy for Institutional Power

This essay is a comment on the proposal by human rights activists and lawyers, made in various international and domestic contexts, for ‘‘mainstreaming’’ human rights into an aspect of the regular business of (international) governance.

Didier Fassin, Ethics of Survival: A Democratic Approach to the Politics of Life

What is the human? One way to confront this question has been, since antiquity, to distinguish the human from the animal, or rather to ask how humans are not just animals. It is well known that Aristotle’s answer was to affirm that ‘‘man is by nature a political animal’’ and that speech—or language—yields him this exclusive quality by giving him ‘‘a sense of good and evil, of just and unjust.’’

Jan Eckel, Human Rights and Decolonization: New Perspectives and Open Questions

In the global history of human rights in the twentieth century, decolonization is one of the most interesting fields to study. The independence of practically all of Africa’s and Asia’s nations, gained in the almost miraculously short span of the two decades after the Second World War, was one of the most dramatic processes of political emancipation in world history.

Julian Bourg, On Terrorism as Human Sacrifice

In the weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it has become easy to forget, large parts of the world were grappling sympathetically with the victims of the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Center and other devastation of that day. A spontaneous outpouring of compassion and empathy was palpable during those early days, both within the United States and outside its borders. ‘‘We are all Americans,’’ the French and Italian dailies famously declared.

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