The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 in the Soviet Union. Children born before and after 1986 were at risk of developing different health conditions. For example, instances of thyroid cancer increased 40 times due to release of radioactive iodine. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, borders opened and many Western charities offered recuperation to affected children in host families abroad during summer. The idea was to take children out of contaminated territories and provide them with an environment free from radiation. Belarus was the most affected, having 23.5% of its territory contaminated with radioactive cesium and strontium. Italy was the most active in these recuperation programmes; it has hosted more than half of all affected children from Belarus.
The goal of my Identities article, 'Kinning as intimate disaster response: from recuperation in host families to educational migration of the Chernobyl children from Belarus to Italy', was to uncover what happened to these children and their host families over time. I demonstrate that one of the unexpected outcomes of Chernobyl children’s recuperation in Italy was their educational migration to Italy for further education as they grew up (some went on to attend high school in Italy; the majority of these went on to do their Bachelor and/or Master’s degrees in Italy, as well). I argue that educational migration became possible due to kinning – strong emotional bonds developed between the Belarusian children and their Italian host families over their repeated encounters during the humanitarian programme of child recuperation abroad. The concept of kinning has been used in the studies of transnational adoption (by Signe Howell) and domestic and institutional care work (by Loretta Baldassar and colleagues). My article applies kinning to the studies of disasters, migration and humanitarianism.
Educational migration of Belarusian children to Italy was chosen over other unintended recuperation outcomes (e.g. being adopted by the Italian host family, meeting a life partner in Italy, changing religion from Orthodox to Catholic, choosing a profession related to Italy, or coming to Italy in adulthood with children of Chernobyl children), as it revealed how important a triad relationship between children, their biological families in Belarus, and their host families in Italy was in deciding to study in Italy as these youth came of age. I therefore argue that disaster migration occurred, not because of the damage done by the disaster, but due to the human relations formed between people involved in disaster response.
On the basis of ethnographic interviews I conducted with the grown-up Chernobyl children from Belarus, I examined the relational consensus and conflict between children, their biological parents in Belarus, and their Italian host families, which evolved around frequent contact, material and emotional support, family obligations, co-residence, over-parenting, etc. Educational migration of grown-up children as disaster survivors was not just about aspirations to improve their future career prospects and socio-economic statuses, but was also shaped by social relations with family members in both host and home countries in the negotiation of a simultaneous sense of belonging to different places.
In practical terms, formally recognising and supporting kinning in humanitarian assistance for disaster survivors would do great service to those who have already developed kinning and to those who are restraining themselves because of organisational rules. Kinning as a form of a long-term social support can be beneficial for children in overcoming prolonged consequences of a humanitarian crisis.
Blog post by Ekatherina Zhukova, Lund University, Sweden
Read the full article: Zhukova, Ekatherina. Kinning as intimate disaster response: from recuperation in host families to educational migration of the Chernobyl children from Belarus to Italy. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1686877
Seeing and being the visualised 'other': humanitarian representations and hybridity in African diaspora identities
If we are to assume the Shakespearean platitude that 'the eyes are the windows of the soul', then it is not beyond our comprehension that visual images used by NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in their advertisements are carefully curated ideas over who or what is ‘seen’, and more importantly ‘how’ it is seen, and for whom. In today’s progressively changing and competitive media and communications environment, humanitarianism is now a profitable enterprise in our visual-as-currency economy.
On our television screens, in our social media applications and unsolicited pop-up email advertisements, and even among the rumpled pile of outdated magazines in the doctor’s waiting room, the public faces of the international aid and relief industry are seldom out of sight. Whether it is malnourished pot-bellied toddlers wearing western football memorabilia of seasons past, a despondent refugee mother in a displacement camp, or a vast horde of shaven-headed, undifferentiated Black and Brown masses in conflict zones, these images are the aesthetic currencies of commercialised suffering employed by humanitarian organisations to brand themselves and their strategic ambitions, and imbue western audiences with a philanthropic disposition.
Visual representations are central to – and orbit around – the phenomenon and work of humanitarianism. When we think of humanitarian work, we often visualise much of the non-western, Black and Brown world. As image producers and disseminators, these organisations set the visual tone within which certain people and places are defined and comprehended – indeed, who (and what) they ‘are’, ‘aren’t’ and ‘ought to be’.
Much critical and mainstream international development literature has critiqued the different ways in which NGO representations affect audience’ perceptions, knowledge and dispositions of distant ‘others’. Yet, much of this literature presents white hegemonic interpretations of British audiences of NGO representations, including visions of a singular community of people who are assumed self-evidently white, and seemingly devoid of racial differentiation. These studies further assume audiences interpret and are impacted by such images in largely undifferentiated ways, i.e. audiences do not understand the perspectives of Black African audiences and how they interpret these images. What is it like for those who are ‘seeing’, while also ‘being’, the visualised ‘other’?
Using Nigerians as a case study, my research, as discussed in my Identities article, 'Seeing and Being the Visualised 'Other': Humanitarian Representations and hybridity in African Diaspora identities', reveals how Nigerian subject-making is relative to humanitarian representations. This is most pronounced in the paradoxical relationships that Nigerians have with these images, by their simultaneous resentment for and identification with humanitarian representations. These oxymoronic, 'harmoniously-conflicting' relationships are managed by Nigerians adopting and (re)appropriating new, alternative and preferential racialised identities, or ‘personae’, such as the ‘taking up’ of Afro-Caribbean identities that ‘downplay’ their Nigerian and/or African-ness. Others acquire ‘ambassadorial’ and self-celebratory identities, such as 'unapologetically Black' or 'fiercely Nigerian,' to emphasise their ethno-racial subjectivities.
These Nigerian self-iterations are strategically mobilised in their attempt to make ‘meaning’ legible amid racially-stereotyped and problematic portrayals of Africa(ns) that are mediated by white supremacy. These identities are also class-based: adopted to access and mimic the optics of middle-class statuses, while attempting to disassociate themselves from imagery of ‘the Black African poor’. Not only does this ventriloquise ideologies of whiteness, by appropriating its 'them/us' binary oppositions used to subjugate the non-white, but it also fuels anti-Black racialised sentiments and hierarchical divisions among Nigerians that are undergirded by whiteness.
Blog post by Edward Ademolu, The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Read the full article: Ademolu, Edward. Seeing and Being the Visualised 'Other': Humanitarian Representations and hybridity in African Diaspora identities. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1686878