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Contested Authority, Violence, and Humanity in the Syrian Civil War
This research explores the relationship between the international community and the sovereign state in alleviating human suffering in the Syrian civil war. It investigates the spatial configuration of international humanitarian assistance created through everyday practices, negotiations, and violence in Syria's civil war through Lefebvre's critical theory of space. By doing so, it aims to understand the meanings and forms of sovereignty and its impact on the provision of humanitarian assistance in the conflict. I argue that as the Syrian regime struggles to maintain its grip across the country, violence directed toward humanitarian space has become a feature of the regime as the most visible articulation of sovereign power. Such violence of the sovereign as a means is closely linked to the function of sovereign power that strives to preserve its autonomy in times of crisis. This reconfigures power relations between the state, aid organizations, and vulnerable people in the provision of humanitarian assistance in the conflict. Through a qualitative method, I show that the practice of humanitarian assistance provides a deeper understanding of state sovereignty and its interaction with international humanitarian norms and principles. Specifically, I offer insight on the spatial articulations of sovereign power and its effects on the humanitarian community in the provision of humanitarian assistance. In response to the increasing role of the international community tasked with upholding the fundamental principle of humanity in the conflict, the Syrian regime asserts itself in every possible space, including humanitarian space. Violence, here, becomes an instrument the state employs in an attempt to maintain the effective exercise and application of state power. Also, rather than being unitary and coherent, global governance of humanity that is oriented towards a specific goal of saving lives and alleviating human suffering is rather diverse and actor specific. As an effect of the assertive sovereignty, meanings and practices of humanitarian aid are constantly negotiated and constructed differently by humanitarian relief organizations, despite one common goal.
International Relations/Affairs
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