Special issue :Surviving in a Moveopticon: Humanitarian Actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

This article discusses “humanitarne akcije,” a practice present across former Yugoslav states, whereby relatives of people who need expensive medical treatments abroad, raise large sums of money. Ethnographically exploring three humanitarian actions organized in a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 and 2010, the article critically engages with an issue of how survival and wellbeing were enabled in this context. The simultaneous postwar and postsocialist transformation of healthcare and social security systems in Bosnia and Herzegovina created gaps, in which many people were left without support. The article suggests that survival and wellbeing did not primarily depend on citizenship, ethnicity, nationality, residence, or some other category of identification and differentiation, but on the skill to generate a large network of relations in varied ways. Humanitarian actions can be understood as enactments of a moveopticon – an arrangement in which people have to be known and knowable in order to maintain survival and wellbeing and which does not have a single unifying centre where knowledge is gathered and control organized. Instead, in a moveopticon, people have to keep moving, since survival and wellbeing largely depend on the compassion and goodwill of people and public officials one meets along the way.

Čarna Brković

Čarna Brković

Čarna Brković is a social anthropologist exploring politics of survival and wellbeing, public spheres, and clientelism in former Yugoslav countries. After obtaining a PhD (University of Manchester, 2012), she has held Postdoctoral Fellowships at the CEU Institute for Advanced Study (2013/14) and NEC Institute for Advanced Studies (2014/2015). She is co-editing a book "Negotiating Social Relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina" (Ashgate, forthcoming, with Stef Jansen and Vanja Čelebičić), as well as "Anthropology Matters" journal.

1. Who initiated humanitarian actions (humanitarne akcije) in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in what way? Why did people engage in this time-consuming practice?
2. What led people to help others through a humanitarian action? What was the importance of nationality? What was the importance of gender? What was the prevailing incentive to help?
3. What was the role of the state and public institutions in humanitarian actions? How did they get involved and on what grounds? What does this suggest about statehood in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
4. How was survival and wellbeing organized and maintained in this context? Who was responsible for survival and wellbeing? Who did people think should have been responsible for it? How do humanitarian actions relate to public social welfare programs in other contexts?
5. What are the differences and what are the similarities between humanitarian actions in towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina and international humanitarian initiatives?


Southeastern Europe