Contemporary Southeastern Europe
Surviving in a Moveopticon: Humanitarian Actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina
This article discusses “humanitarne akcije,” a practice present across former Yugoslav states, whereby relatives of people who need expensive medical treatments abroad, raise large sums of money. Ethnographically exploring three humanitarian actions organized in a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 and 2010, the article critically engages with an issue of how survival and wellbeing were enabled in this context. The simultaneous postwar and postsocialist transformation of healthcare and social security systems in Bosnia and Herzegovina created gaps, in which many people were left without support. The article suggests that survival and wellbeing did not primarily depend on citizenship, ethnicity, nationality, residence, or some other category of identification and differentiation, but on the skill to generate a large network of relations in varied ways. Humanitarian actions can be understood as enactments of a moveopticon – an arrangement in which people have to be known and knowable in order to maintain survival and wellbeing and which does not have a single unifying centre where knowledge is gathered and control organized. Instead, in a moveopticon, people have to keep moving, since survival and wellbeing largely depend on the compassion and goodwill of people and public officials one meets along the way.