Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Elizabeth Dunn

Second Advisor

Joe Bryan

Third Advisor

Najeeb Jan


Why is humanitarianism unable to deliver value to the people receiving its aid? During the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, approximately 26,000 people were displaced from South Ossetia into Georgia. In the wake of this disaster, the Georgian government began constructing new settlements for internally displaced people (IDPs) with the help of Western aid agencies. Although these housing projects were intended to create a new sense of community among IDPs, it was soon clear that the residents there felt trapped by their surroundings. As a result, IDPs viewed the settlements as temporary shelters rather than permanent residents. Therefore, what was originally promoted as a new home for IDPs was more accurately regarded as camp.

I argue that this breakdown occurred through the mistranslation of value. On humanitarian terms, value is conceived of in a narrow framework where houses equate basic survival and land a source of economic livelihood. The production of this humanitarian subject and space, however, did not accommodate the broader social impact of displacement. Because the 2008 war disrupted social networks, collective histories, and a longstanding dependence on the land, IDPs are not only economically but also spiritually impoverished. In that humanitarianism is unable to consider these losses, the process by which it tries to reproduce community are hollow. Ultimately, the humanitarian camp and the housing units within it only stand as empty placeholders for a broader sense of value among IDPs living there.