‘Sometimes Fear Gets in All Your Bones’: Towards Understanding the Complexities of Risk in Development Work


Thorpe, Holly. 2020. "‘Sometimes Fear Gets in All Your Bones’: Towards Understanding the Complexities of Risk in Development Work." Third World Quarterly 41 (6): 939-57.

Author: Holly Thorpe


In the context of increasing risk for aid workers, a growing body of scholarship is focused on risk management in contexts of humanitarian assistance and development work. Much less attention, however, has been given to how staff and volunteers experience such risks. This paper adopts a feminist geographical approach to explore how development workers make meaning of risk in specific contexts. Adopting a qualitative approach, it draws upon 14 semi-structured in-depth interviews with international (7) and local (7) staff of an international educational and sporting non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Afghanistan. After exploring differences between local and foreign staff perceptions of risk, it also offers a gendered analysis of risk for women development workers in Afghanistan. In so doing, this paper contributes to the growing body of literature in ‘Aidland’ studies by revealing the complex understandings of risk and fear by both foreign and local staff in the same geographical and organisational context. For NGOs seeking to make life-saving decisions based on the calculation of risk, this paper evidences the need to also create space for the voices of local and foreign staff whose experiences of risk will be highly relational, embodied, gendered and context specific.

Keywords: Aidland, risk, Afghanistan, development work, culture, gender and feminism

Topics: Conflict, Feminisms, Gender, Humanitarian Assistance, International Organizations, NGOs Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan

Year: 2020

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