ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2022-23
ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2022-23
Eleanor Davey is a historian and writer with interests in the histories of aid and activism, and how historical perspectives can inform current debates. Her book Idealism beyond Borders: The French Revolutionary Left and the Rise of Humanitarianism, 1954-1988 examined how ideas about responsibility for the suffering of others shaped political and humanitarian engagements in France, including the creation of Médecins Sans Frontières. It jointly received the International Studies Association Ethics Section Book Award for 2017. She has also published work on histories of international humanitarian law and other concepts of intervention, humanitarian engagements with anti-colonial armed groups, and aid in situations of displacement and confinement. In 2016 Eleanor received the Fondation Croix-Rouge Française Prix de Recherche.
Eleanor currently works with Humanitarian Advisory Group (HAG) as a research editor and is an Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. She has researched and taught humanitarian affairs in ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) at the University of Manchester. She has served on the Conseil Scientifique of the Fondation Croix-Rouge Française, the British Academy International Engagement Committee, and steering groups for HPG, Merlin, and Save the Children UK, as well as academic projects. She was a member of the Editorial Board of French Historical Studies from 2016-19 and, earlier, Editorial Assistant on Disasters journal.
Eleanor holds a PhD in history from Queen Mary, University of London, and a BA(Hons) from The University of Melbourne.
This project explores how, after a century of work based on the notion of childhood as sacred and outside of politics, the world’s pre-eminent child rights organisation wound up cooperating in the indefinite, traumatic detention of children. It proposes that immigration detention facilities and other sites of racialised violence reveal the fragility of the universal norms of childhood associated with progress in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As the incarceration of asylum-seeker children by democratic countries expands, this project shines a light on the compromises into which humanitarian organisations are drawn when they seek to offer care in such settings.
Specifically, the project analyses the role of Save the Children Australia (SCA) in Australian-run detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru from 2012-2015. Australia has been an influential pioneer in the global trend towards detention and criminalisation of asylum seekers and refugees. SCA’s offshore operations represent a particularly controversial example of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working as service providers within this system. Yet this moment remains shadowy and poorly researched, obscured by reticence, censorship and judgement. The project focuses on organisational decision-making and ethics, tracing the successive challenges that arose as SCA’s operations expanded and the organisation and its staff came into conflict with both their government employers and their own principles.
The project applies concepts from anthropologies of violence and humanitarianism alongside historical methods to create an empirically grounded account, analysing NGO and government materials, personal testimonies, and public debates. It places these within the long arc of histories of humanitarianism and childhood. It aims to shed light on the possibilities and limitations of mitigating damage when governments inflict harm on individuals in the name of national security. The resulting book will contribute to understandings of a perpetual humanitarian dilemma: where is the line between care and complicity?
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