African Studies Seminar Week 7

Convener: Rebekah Lee

Speaker: Myfanwy James (University of Oxford)

Humanitarian Fables in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo


This seminar will explore how events are turned into fables in humanitarian organisations, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Myfanwy James explores how fables circulate, the lessons they come to embody, and their influence in maintaining an organisational status quo. She argues that such stories teach new humanitarian employees certain ‘facts’ about ‘the field’ and help form and consolidate consensus about why things are the way they are in an organisation. By describing three such fables circulating amongst foreign humanitarian employees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each of which suggested a need for foreign humanitarians to maintain a certain distance from local citizens (including their nationally hired colleagues) as a means of personal and organisational security, James illustrates how such fables can ‘justify’ certain organisational decisions that ultimately reinforce structures of unequal power relations between different humanitarian employees.



Myfanwy James is a Departmental Lecturer in Development Studies at the Oxford Department of International Development. Her research interests lie in the ethnographic study of power, security and social identity in aid intervention during violent conflict in eastern DRC.