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Making Sense of (Humanitarian) Emotions in an Ethnography of Vulnerable Children: The Case of Bangkok Slum Children

  • Giuseppe Bolotta
Chapter
Part of the Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences book series (THHSS)

Abstract

This chapter aims to illustrate the epistemological importance of the researcher’s emotional reflexivity in ethnography conducted among vulnerable groups exposed to humanitarian interventions. I draw upon my research on the everyday experience and identity processes of children who live in the slums of Bangkok and who are supported, as disadvantaged “slum children” (dek salam), by several local and international aid organizations. In the first part of this chapter, I will retrospectively analyze my first humanitarian encounter with the dek salam. I will specifically show how reflexively investigating my feelings of a priori pity towards the slum children helped localize these feelings’ historically and culturally specific origin in a western political framework—a humanitarian ethos of compassion—and, ultimately, helped me avoid an ethnocentric interpretation of these children’s emotional experiences. In the second part of the chapter, by means of ethnographic case studies, I will show the role of “humanitarian emotions” in molding specific patterns of inter-affective interaction between sympathetic social operators and pity-seeking slum children. Finally, I will stress the scientific and ethical importance of the ethnographer’s scrutinizing his or her affective experience in order to identify the subtle, yet important, differences among the multiple and interconnected polarities and sources of both the researcher’s and local social actors’ emotional lives.

Keywords

Humanitarian emotions Compassion Children Anthropology Bangkok 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I owe special thanks to the protagonists of this chapter, the children I’ve been doing research with in the slums of Bangkok. Being a (participant) witness to their life trajectories is a tremendous privilege. I would like to thank the section editors of this volume for their thoughtful suggestions and comments during the composition and revision of this chapter. Finally, I would like to thank the editors of this volume Thomas Stodulka, Ferdi Thajib, and Samia Dinkelaker for their invaluable insights and editorial dedication to the project.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giuseppe Bolotta
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Social ResearchUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Theology and ReligionDurham University’sDurhamUK

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