Chapter 29: How the emotions and perceptual judgments of frontline actors shape the practice of international humanitarian law
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Positioned in a nascent ‘affective turn’ in international humanitarian law (IHL) scholarship, this chapter draws attention to the long-overlooked emotional life and perceptual judgments of those who are expected to enact IHL. With reference to original fieldwork conducted at civil-military trainings in Sweden, Germany, and Italy, the chapter examines the interplay of law and emotions in everyday humanitarian-military interactions. As is shown, military actors are frustrated by the routine efforts that humanitarian actors make to dissociate from them. Complicating matters, humanitarian actors also sometimes call upon military actors for help. The chapter conceptualizes these humanitarian practices as a relational effort to cultivate detachment. The way that military actors experience humanitarian detachment prompts them to assemble an imaginary humanitarian figure actor who is aloof, mercurial, and often feminized. We thus find one soldier likening humanitarian NGOs to an ex-girlfriend who ‘only calls when she wants to cuddle’’. The chapter proposes that these festering sentiments of hostility influence the way in which military actors interpret their legal mandate to facilitate the work of humanitarian actors. The more general claim advanced is that we need to recognize individual conflict actors as people in order to fully grasp how IHL hits the ground.

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