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Saving People or Saving Face? Narratives and the Humanitarian Order in Southeast Asia
17 Nov 2020

On 17 November 2020, the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Programme of the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS Centre) at RSIS hosted a webinar titled “Saving People or Saving Face? Narratives and the Humanitarian Order in Southeast Asia”. The webinar was delivered by Dr Kilian Spandler, Researcher, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. The presentation was based on his recently published journal article in The Pacific Review, and the session was moderated by Dr Alistair D.B. Cook, Coordinator of the HADR Programme and Senior Fellow, NTS Centre.

Over the past 15 years, ASEAN member states have invested substantially in HADR cooperation. Despite broad support for the idea of “localising” humanitarian action, the emergence of regional mechanisms has in practice led to uncertainty and friction among the stakeholders.

Dr Spandler’s research investigated why so much uncertainty existed in the regional governance of HADR in Southeast Asia. Using narrative analysis as a theoretical framework, he identified how different agents constructed the role of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre). He then grouped the different narratives into four categories: (i) Affirmative narrative, (ii) Sceptical narrative, (iii) Critical narrative, and (iv) Transformative narrative. In doing so, he argued that the competing narratives hampered the formation of a more coherent regional architecture for humanitarian governance. To foster a cohesive humanitarian community in the region, the various humanitarian networks would require a more unified and overarching narrative for them to coalesce into a community.

His findings questioned traditional, hegemonic, and liberal ideas about the regional humanitarian system, and their implications on authority relations and the roles and responsibilities of humanitarian actors. They also highlighted the fact that strategic narratives were increasingly being recognised as central mechanisms in the re-making of international order – both in the humanitarian field and beyond. The presentation was followed by a lively question-and-answer session involving more than 40 participants.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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