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Cultural Anthropology

THE HUMANITARIAN POLITICS OF TESTIMONY: Subjectification through Trauma in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict

Authors

  • DIDIER FASSIN

    1. IRIS, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Issues, Ecole des
      Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and University of Paris–North
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ABSTRACT

The witness has become a key figure of our time, whether as the survivor testifying to what he has lived through or as the third party telling what he has seen or heard. Publicly bearing witness of suffering and injustice is precisely what departs the first (International Red Cross) and second (Doctors without Borders, Doctors of the World) ages of humanitarianism. Based on an etymological inquiry of the word in Greek and Latin and on an ethnographical investigation into the production of documents on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, this analysis of the politics of testimony shows how the humanitarian agents define the legitimate manner to tell the world the “victims' truth.” In particular, the increasing presence of psychiatrists and psychologists on the field introduces a new vision in which trauma appears less as a clinical category than as a political argument. This process of subjectification of Palestinians but also of Israelis as victims, which institutes their experience and condition as shared, leaves aside both the individual and collective histories of the subjects.

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