The Practice of Humanitarian Intervention

Aid Workers, Agencies and Institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Hum Intervention Koddenbrock 01

Source: MONUSCO /​Flickr

This book examines the practices in Western and local spheres of humanitarian intervention, and shows how the divide between these spheres helps to perpetuate Western involvement.

Using the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a case study – an object of Western intervention since colonial times – this book scrutinizes the contemporary practice of humanitarian intervention from the inside. It seeks to expose how humanitarian aid and peacekeeping works, what obstacles they encounter and how they manage to retain their legitimacy. By examining the relationship between the West and the DR Congo, this volume asks why intervention continues to be so central for the relationship between Western and local spheres. Why is it normal and self-evident? The main answer developed here is that the separation of these two spheres allows intervention to enjoy sufficient degrees of legitimacy to be sustained. Owing to the contradictions that surface when juxtaposing the Western and Congolese spheres, this book highlights how keeping them separate is key to sustaining intervention. Bridging the divide between the liberal peace debate in international relations and anthropologies of humanitarianism, this volume thus presents an important contribution to taking both the legitimizing proclamations and local” realities of intervention seriously.

The book will be of much interest to students of statebuilding, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, anthropology, research methods and IR in general.


Conceptually informed and empirically rich, this book is a major contribution to the field.”
David Chandler, University of Westminster 

[…]a fine supplement to the emerging literature that looks beyond and beneath policy statements and headquarter levels and aim for grounded ethnographic approach to external interventions.”
Morten Boas, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

This book is a showcase how empirical depth and up-to-date theoretical reflection can reveal the ambiguity – if not at times the absurdity – of those instances of internationalized rule that we call interventions’.”
Klaus Schlichte, University of Bremen 

It is an excellent resource for all those interested in better understanding the peculiar world that interventional interveners inhabit.”
Séverine Autesserre, Columbia University

Social transformation takes deep social penetration. As Koddenbrock demonstrates in minute detail, half a century of Western intervention amounts to little more than a road trip.”
Iver Neumann, LSE

Focusing on the actual practices of peacekeepers and aid workers, this short and dense book is an important contribution to the understanding from below of contemporary international relations.”
Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study 

The book is now available from Routledge.