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Keywords:

  • nongovernmental organizations;
  • crisis;
  • medical humanitarianism;
  • biopolitics;
  • Médecins sans frontières

The politics of life and death is explored from the perspective of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières [MSF]), an activist nongovernmental organization explicitly founded to respond to health crises on a global scale. Following the work of Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, I underline key intersections between MSF's operations that express concern for human life in the midst of humanitarian disaster and the group's self-proclaimed ethic of engaged refusal. Adopting the analytic frame of biopolitics, I suggest that the actual practice of medical humanitarian organizations in crisis settings presents a fragmentary and uncertain form of such power, extended beyond stable sovereignty and deployed within a restricted temporal horizon.