THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF EX-PATS: Double Binds of Humanitarian Mobility



This article addresses legacies of national origin within global forms. Focusing on tensions related to human resources, I consider the case of the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders). Since 1971, MSF has grown into a large, transnational NGO sponsoring a variety of medical projects worldwide. Amid recent efforts to “decolonize” its human profile, MSF has debated the appropriate role, motivation and remuneration of both international volunteers and local support staff it hires at mission sites. Given the different degrees of ease with which situated persons can travel, the organization's conflicting impulses place it in a classic double bind: to remain mobile it must limit local attachments, while to achieve equality it must embrace them. The figure of the ex-patriate thus suggests a mundane but precise measure for the threshold of inequality.