Above the Fray: The Red Cross and the Making of the Humanitarian NGO Sector

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University of Chicago Press, Jan 24, 2020 - Social Science - 240 pages
From Lake Chad to Iraq, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide relief around the globe, and their scope is growing every year. Policy makers and activists often assume that humanitarian aid is best provided by these organizations, which are generally seen as impartial and neutral. In Above the Fray, Shai M. Dromi investigates why the international community overwhelmingly trusts humanitarian NGOs by looking at the historical development of their culture. With a particular focus on the Red Cross, Dromi reveals that NGOs arose because of the efforts of orthodox Calvinists, demonstrating for the first time the origins of the unusual moral culture that has supported NGOs for the past 150 years.

Drawing on archival research, Dromi traces the genesis of the Red Cross to a Calvinist movement working in mid-nineteenth-century Geneva. He shows how global humanitarian policies emerged from the Red Cross founding members’ faith that an international volunteer program not beholden to the state was the only ethical way to provide relief to victims of armed conflict. By illustrating how Calvinism shaped the humanitarian field, Dromi argues for the key role belief systems play in establishing social fields and institutions. Ultimately, Dromi shows the immeasurable social good that NGOs have achieved, but also points to their limitations and suggests that alternative models of humanitarian relief need to be considered.

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Introduction The Humanitarian Space
The Cultural Origins of Humanitarian NGOs
Two The Réveil and the Founding of the Red Cross
Three The Spread of Humanitarian Culture Across Borders
Four The Spread of Humanitarian Logics into New Domains
Five SansFrontiérisme and the Rise of New Humanitarianism
Conclusion Reconsidering the Culture of the Humanitarian Field
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About the author (2020)

Shai Dromi is a college fellow in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University.

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