Ruben Andersson, postdoctoral research fellow, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics and associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

The danger zone: Risk and fear in the new landscape of international intervention

In May 2014, a vehicle carrying two aid workers is blown up in northern Mali; a week later, a suicide bomber rams his way into a peacekeeping camp, killing four soldiers. Since then, attacks have escalated. In Mali – like in Syria, Somalia or Afghanistan – these are the new rules of the game in the world’s most insecure zones, where no one is any longer safe. This complex security environment is the topic of my paper and new project, whose starting point is a rather under-theorised phenomenon: that is, how rampant insecurity and extreme risk aversion have led to a re-mapping of international intervention as staff are ‘bunkered’, subcontracted or remotely managed. Yet this fear of engagement is accompanied by an increasing Western concern with remote and impoverished regions as senders of refugees, havens for terrorists or channels for contraband and drugs. The geopolitical map is paradoxically being ‘re-blanked’ in precisely the areas where Western governments are most politically invested. Drawing on recent fieldwork in Mali, I will sketch some features of this new landscape of international intervention and the fear that underpins it. I will conclude by reflecting on the extent to which the relationship between the West and its poor ‘backyards’ is being reconfigured around concerns with threats and risk, and on the wider sociopolitical consequences of this shift.

All seminars in the series.