Living with transience in high-risk humanitarian spaces: Gendered experiences of international staff and policy implications for building resilience
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Strohmeier, H. & Panter-Brick, C. (2020) Living with transience in high‐risk humanitarian spaces: Gendered experiences of international staff and policy implications for building resilience. Disasters (In Press).
Being deployed in crisis zones is perilous business. To-date, little is known regarding how humanitarian workers relate social and professional goals to lived experiences of high-risk environments. In South Sudan, ranked as the most dangerous country for aid workers globally, we interviewed international humanitarian staff (n=20) to examine, using thematic and interpretative phenomenological analysis, their sense of place, wellbeing, and vocation. Subjectivities of humanitarian spaces hinged upon negotiating physical hardships and social relationships: Juba was described both as a "prison" and "party hot spot." For expatriate staff, making sense of spatial, social, and professional transience was sharply gendered and rooted in subjectivities of risk-taking, crisis-managing, and career-building. We highlight two policy measures to address the implications of transience for human wellbeing and organizational effectiveness. Efforts to support teams and structure work environments, altering the humanitarian and vocational bubble, will help build resilience at the heart of humanitarian systems.