Supplementary Material

A Dog’s Life: Suffering Humanitarianism in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

ABSTRACT In the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, most residents are dependent on humanitarian and foreign assistance for food, services, aid, and jobs. Yet, some residents feel that the conditions under which such aid is provided actively blocks their ability to live a life they find meaningful. In this article, I explore how some Haitians theorize this humanitarian condition through the figure of the dog, an animal that exemplifies, for Haitians, the deep history of violence, dehumanization, and degradation associated with foreign rule. I then contrast this with how foreign aid workers invoke the figure of the dog to illustrate their compassionate care for suffering others. Drawing on research among Bel Air residents and foreign aid workers in the years after a devastating earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, I show how the figure of the dog is central both to Haitian critiques of humanitarian aid and to the international humanitarian imaginary that responds to forms of suffering it deems cruel.


There is a growing literature on the earthquake in Haiti and on the subsequent humanitarian intervention. For an excellent account of the problematic reconstruction effort, see the documentary Fatal Assistance, by the award-winning Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck. (View the trailer here.) Peck had unprecedented access to the Haitian government, the UN mission, and leaders of the humanitarian response. His film explores the tragedy of humanitarian aid in Haiti during the first two years of post-quake response. For a detailed account of the symbolic and material aspects of feeding relations, which is so central to Haiti culture, see to Alta Mae Stevens’s classic article “Manje in Haitian Creole: The Symbolic Significance of Manje in Haitian Creole.” For a related discussion of the issues of representation in anthropology and of the question of who gets to speak for Haitians or about Haiti, see Mark Schuller’s discussion of the politics of engagement. And for a complementary account of the moral economy of humanitarian aid in Haiti, see Pierre Minn’s discussion of interest, credit, and debt in transnational healthcare.

1) A resident of the Bel Air neighborhood in Haiti recounts the 2010 earthquake. Her house and those around it were completely destroyed.

2) A woman cleans her floor in the community-run relief camp in Bel Air.

3) The new normal—a “street” in the community-run relief camp in Bel Air.

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