Civil Society without Boundaries: Nordic Humanitarianism Facing the Biafra Crisis
This project sheds new light on the Biafra Crisis (1967–70), a turning point in twentieth century history that transformed civil societies in the Global North, especially in the humanitarian sector. We seek to understand how this emergency called forth public engagement and a new humanitarian system in the Nordic countries based on an expanding globally oriented civil society, closely entangled with the media, and in arm’s-length interaction with the state.
The project pays special attention to different types of interaction, interrelated discourses, and varieties of meaning-making ethics across societal sectors and borders. We draw on postcolonial, intersectional, and altruism theories while applying historical methods to analyse largely unexplored archival sources (church aid organisations, Red Cross, foreign ministries) and media (press, TV) on Biafran distress and relief efforts in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
Three carefully timed work packages examine the relevant aid agencies, the media, and the interaction of civil society and governments. Although the Biafra Crisis has been a trending topic in international research, this project is first to systematically examine the high-profile Nordic participation in this relief effort. This is all the more significant as the Biafra Crisis is a formative moment in the history of the Nordic aid sector, raising fundamental ethical issues that continue to be relevant to global civil society today.
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