Shelter technologies in Action

By the end of 2021, 84 million persons across the world—equivalent to the entire population of Germany—had been forcibly displaced from their homes because of crises, conflicts, and disasters (UNHCR, 2021). Overall, countries in the Global South host the majority of disaster-hit persons, a trend likely to increase in the coming years. Nevertheless, climate change-related events, such as storms, floods, and wildfires, the “slow crisis” of tightening housing markets, and most recently, war, also force growing numbers of people out of their homes in many countries of the Global North.

Following shelter technologies from ideation to utilization
In the face of such a “future of permanent emergencies” (Sandvik, 2016, p. 97), humanitarian concerns have provided a powerful ground for the emergence of new forms of governance and intervention, new humanitarian actors, and innovations for disaster response technologies (Fassin & Pandolfi, 2010; Jacobsen, 2015; Redfield, 2016). In this project, we investigate the humanitarian spaces of precarious housing by focusing on the material design, distribution, and use of humanitarian shelter technologies. Through ethnographic fieldwork, we follow selected emergency shelter technologies from their design and production sites through their distribution networks to different sites of deployment and everyday use in the Global South and North.

Co-producing humanitarian geographies
Our aim is to critically engage with the effects of these technologies and to examine in how far they reflect an increasingly “technical management of living beings” (Collier & Lakoff 2021, p. 11), thereby giving rise to new modes of humanitarianism and biopolitics. Thus, building on recent scholarship concerned with the role of technologies in (co)constituting social phenomena, we do not understand shelter technologies and humanitarian supply chains as neutral means to humanitarian ends but rather seek to foreground them as artifacts and infrastructures that coproduce the social worlds of humanitarian aid.

Project team:
Julia Verne, Astrid Matejcek