Rolling-in ‘Technological Aid’ to Roll-out Remote Control: Post-earthquake Haiti and the West

Rolling-in ‘Technological Aid’ to Roll-out Remote Control: Post-earthquake Haiti and the West

by Ioana Cerasella Chis

Haiti and the Development-industrial complex

In a world organised and shaped by a colonial matrix of power (Mignolo 2007:455), events such as the Haitian Earthquake in 2010 underscore the processes at work within this matrix. One of the tools used to maintain developing countries’ dependency upon the West is through the development-industrial complex; its ‘developmentalist’ ideology has ‘taken several forms – evolutionism, modernisation theory, development thinking – which correlate with different epochs of western hegemony’ (Pieterse, cited by Braidotti et. al. 1994:20). Within the development-industrial complex and development studies’ framework, the reluctance of mainstream scholars, policy-makers and practitioners to admit the socially situated and political dimension of knowledge and ‘development’ blocks the growth of knowledge and undermines its social value (Harding 2004:2). Their unstated positionality and self-proclaimed ‘impartiality’ is charged with violent epistemic bias and domination which are hidden from sight, justifying their enforced universalistic claims and top-down policies (Young 1990:97). Thus, an analysis within the framework of development would only reproduce the knowledge marked by biased, discriminatory epistemologies and systems. Research, aid, technology and representation are always partial and political – they do not exist in a socio-political vacuum and never have ‘neutral’ effects.

For the purpose of this paper, it will be argued that both the human body and the body politic (i.e. the nation-state) are self-constituted, but also externally inscribed and shaped by (hetero)sexist, gendered, racialised, colonial, anthropo-narcissistic and classed signifiers[1]. I regard bell hooks’ notion of ‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ (2004) most adequate to describe the interconnectedness between the aforementioned markers and their interplay. Attempts to isolate these constructions and forms of domination risk being apologetic for the status quo[2]. The assemblage of discourses, policies, lines of reasoning, attitudes, (re)presentations and economic investments prevailing the development industry have contributed to the furthering of these hierarchies. Within this system of apparent binary oppositions, the ‘developing’ Haiti stands in for the helpless, dependent, agency-less, feminine victim, whereas the ‘developed’ West is the ‘masculine’, colonial force[3].

(Hetero)sexist Gendering of Haiti

Within the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, Haiti is maintained as ‘the poorest country in the Western hemisphere’ (Central Intelligence Agency 2014), although shortly after the 1804 independence, the Haitian peasantry ‘had the highest standard of living in the Americas after the United States’ (Bellegarde-Smith 2010:139). Haitian revolutionaries asserted their autonomy, abolished slavery and formed an independent country in 1804, after 13 years of revolution. Instead of receiving reparations from the colonisers post-independence, between 1825 and 1947 Haiti was forced to pay annual ‘compensations’ of 150 million francs to France for the ‘loss’ of colonisers’ wealth and ‘ownership’ of enslaved individuals, in addition to reducing the import and export taxes by half (Farmer 2004). By 1900, the payments amounted to 80% of the national income (Gillam 2010), and between 1915-34 Haiti was occupied by the US military forces (Farmer 2004). Financial control was maintained throughout decades by corrupt governments backed by the West. Aristide, the first democratically elected president of Haiti, demanded reparations from France of $21 billion for the period of slavery, but was opposed and destabilised by Western forces, and forced to flee the country in 2004 (Farmer 2004; Pina 2010).

The earthquake in 2010 is emblematic for making visible the legacy of colonialism and the continued antagonistic relationship between Haiti and the West. It highlights the role played by the development-industrial complex in, on the one hand, ‘helping’ Haitians, but ultimately, it (1) legitimises global power relations (Murithi 2009:4), (2) sexualises and effeminises Haitian people, (3) and penetrates the geopolitical space of Haiti with technology with an underlying ideology of anthropocentrism and phallocentrism. On the 12th of January 2010 an earthquake of 7.0M magnitude struck Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and killed more than 230,000 individuals, injuring over 300,000 and displacing over 1.3 million. The city’s infrastructure, state buildings and personnel had been severely affected, 80% of the justice sector’s buildings being badly damaged (2010:3); 25% of government staff members perished (Gender Action 2010:1-3). Within hours, international organisations mobilised their material forces and shifted their attention to Haiti – a helpless, weak nation in need of being ‘rescued’ by the West – so the story went.

However, the earthquake had been ahistoricised and rendered ‘apolitical’[4] by international actors, policymakers and the Western media. They obscured the way in which the West had damaged Haiti’s material stability and memory through colonialism and imperialism (McAlister 2012:30). For instance, Calhoun (2010) ignorantly pathologises the country’s poverty and blames Haitians for the loss of lives by only looking at the surface of the problems, and Sassen (2010) discusses Haiti’s debt without acknowledging its origins and the West’s under-developing of Haiti. Within the development framework of analysis, the earthquake pushed Haiti ‘backwards’, whilst at the same time it provided opportunities (Fan 2013) for a ‘fast forward’ neoliberal move, strengthening neo-colonial powers and structures over what they saw as an effeminised, disempowered Haiti.

Policy Analysis[5]

Filtered through white, Western eyes, post-earthquake reports stressed the opportunity for ‘reconstruction’, the main humanitarian slogan being ‘building back better’ (Sontag 2012). However, technology (Landström 2007:9) and disasters are ‘anything but neutral’ as they are unevenly distributed and affect social relationships (Gender Action 2010:1). The mythical image of ‘disaster’ surrounding Haiti can be traced back to the 18th Century, when the colonisers refused to see the Haitian Revolution as a revolution, calling it a ‘horror’ (Fischer 2004:ix); slave insurrections were compared to ‘figurative earthshaking, seismological upheavails as literal earthshaking’ (Jenson 2010:104). Metaphors used by aid organisations such as ‘shifting ground or standing still?’ (Fan 2013:19) sensationalised the event, and created a context within which disaster could be used to further ‘shock doctrines’ and neo-colonial policies (Klein 2010). This dystopian, apolitical, ahistorical representation of ‘disaster’ was undertaken by Western modernisers/donors/corporations to advance remote imperial control through technologisation, claiming that a ‘digitally empowered’ population would create an ‘information revolution’ (Meier 2011:1239). I here present four ways in which Western technologies (of power) were deployed:

  1. ‘crisis mapping’[6] of areas (Meier 2011) and population tracking via texts and internet check-ins (Bengtsson et. al. 2011); 80,000 text messages were translated from Creole to English for assistance and 3,000 were directly used for response to requests for aid (Humanitarian Information Unit 2010:4);
  2. ‘aid’ to maintain Haiti’s dependency, and furthering Western economic growth (Roberts 2014);
  3. telethons and their (re)presentation of the Haitian population and the earthquake (McAlister 2012);
  4. broadcasting distorted information regarding the causes and effects of the earthquake as well as the historical involvement of the West in Haiti (Scott 2014). 

Technological Governmentality: Aid Bureaucracy and Digital Mapping

Technology has been incorporated in strategies of creating and reproducing subject identity and power relations, shaping social life (Wacjman 2000:451-4) and providing new ways for governing knowledge and generating economic surplus. Thus, the rolling-in of aid and technological innovations (online ‘crisis mapping’ of areas affected by the earthquake with the use of mobile phones), constructed a racialised and heterosexist identity (Peterson 1999) of a passive, dependent, not-yet-modernised Haiti. Using mobile devices, users can track themselves and self-govern, furthering the West’s appropriation of information. The data generated through these technologies can be capitalised, monitored, mapped, controlled remotely and used to engage the Western consumer/’stakeholder’ in consumption and to create work opportunities in the industry. Digital humanitarian work was outsourced to the West, big data giving ‘the sort of 24/7 workforce’ (Jasmine, cited by Burns 2014a). Only 1% of the USAID[7] development contracts and grants of $1.5 billion was directed to Haitian organisations (Fauset 2015), and the largest contracts were signed by unaccountable for-profit firms (Johnston 2012; Roberts 2014:3). The consequence of ‘selling access to telecommunications-as-empowerment’ (Spivak 2002:77) is the ‘capitalist penetration by global computing and telecommunications industries’ (Kapoor 2004:634).

Aid organisations form what McAlister calls ‘humanitarian adhocracy’[8] (2013:17), presenting themselves as ‘experts’ and technocrats who engage in ‘aid colonisation’[9] (Murithi 2009:3) and treat Haitians as objects, not subjects of policy. Mobile phones are used as technical solutionism to much wider structural problems to ‘compensate for inadequate infrastructures’ (The Economist 2009); internet platforms and ‘open source’ software applications are presented as the new commons of knowledge. Indeed, ‘there is no commons without a community’ (Mies 2014:i106) – the internet and digital humanitarianism in effect perpetuate enclosures and new divisions (Burns 2014b:51), hiding the exploitation of data and manipulation of algorithms by private owners. For the production of technological devices, minerals are extracted and E-garbage is produced, affecting the environment and the labourers (Mies 2014:i114). An aid worker rightly asks: ‘but who’s this for? who’s consuming it?’ (cited by Burns 2014a).

Cosmeticised Historical Amnesia and the Reaffirmation of Western Hegemony through Pity

Sensationalism defines the Western reporting of the earthquake. In short, ‘the suffering body is figured not as a site of self-determination’ (McAlister 2012:30) but as a sign of passivity, dependence, victimhood, hopelessness, agency-less static being. Through Western media (re)presentation, Haitians were fetishised, pitied, gazed at, commodified, and used as reminders to the West of Haiti’s ‘backwardness’ on the one hand, and the West’s power to ‘look after’ the victimised country (McAlister 2012:29) in a patronising, racist and patriarchal manner[10]. This practice was framed within an economy of empathy[11], nurtured and coupled with consumerism (Pedwell 2014:x). For instance, the economist Rifkin stated that ‘the entire human race was in an empathic embrace coming to the aid of Haiti’ (2010), although in essence, the earthquake re-affirmed a racialised pity towards black sufferers (Balaji 2011), deliberately distorting the responsibility of the West to pay reparations for colonialism and neo-colonialism[12].

The ‘Hope for Haiti Now’ telethon on 22nd January ‘was the most widely broadcast telethon in history’ (McAlister 2012:23). The industry rested on a simulation and consumption of images, and on performances of victimhood as conditions for aid (Horton 2012:303); these images are what Haraway would call ‘copies without originals’ (1991). The spectacle was orchestrated as follows: impoverished, injured and hyper-aestheticised bodies were asking for help, alongside celebrities who were performing and romanticising the situation, muting the sufferers and turning them into objects of compassion (McAlister 2012:34). Donations became the currency in which the individualised self was involved in practices of commodification and bad faith, boosting their self-esteem through consumption and erasing the urgency of responsibility for the suffering of the ‘othered’ Haitians. The telethon, prioritising the maximisation of financial gains, encouraged rationalisation and the calculus of viewing injury and pain alongside visual beauty and auditory pleasure’ (McAlister 2012:31).

The call for aiding the sufferers in Haiti was based on a problematic view of distributive social justice which individualistically and atomistically moralises the transfer of material goods and investments as an end in itself, without recognising the normative necessity of eliminating domination and oppression (Young 1990:15). The remoteness granted by technology creates a new way in which the individual ‘philantropist’ can ‘give back’ to the world[13].

Within such an architecture of power, Haiti stands in for the signifiers ‘femininity’, ‘nature’, ‘victim’, ‘irrationality’ and ‘passivity’, a place and population to be explored, domesticated and governed: ‘Haiti is seen to have failed at self-governance and so requires significant international influence and leadership’ (O’Connor, Brisson-Boivin and Ilcan 2014:326). The ‘masculine’ West acts with an androcentric, white, violent force, whilst also being the ‘saviour’ and ‘moderniser’ of Haiti. Power-relations within the system of imperialist white supremacist patriarchy involve the mobilisation of modernising technologies[14] and techno-utopian[15] policies marketed as the solution for unilinear development and progress (Morozov 2013; Scott 2014). Technology is used by ‘donors’ for reconstruction in a context in which neoliberalism prevails through (1) the imposition of structural adjustment policies, (2) the reproduction of the legacy of imperialism through epistemic violence, (3) the international division of labour, (4) and the exploitation of the environment for profit and information gathering (Spivak 1990:14). All these processes underscore the link between technology, aid, development and their Western, patriarchal, anthropo-narcissistic and heterosexist dimensions and ideologies.

Tackling the imbalance of power imperatively requires struggling for material and epistemic de-colonisation: ‘de-linking from the most fundamental belief of modernity’ and its abstract universals (Mignolo 2007:500), and for dismantling patriarchy. As Harding argues, development is translated into ‘dedevelopment’, whereas ‘progress for humanity’ is translated into regress for women (1998:149) and, I add, for the feminised objects of focus. Coupled with governmentality and the neoliberal system of capital accumulation, Haiti has successfully been (re)positioned within the colonial nexus of power whose development-industrial complex represents the continuation of the European expansion that began in 1492 (Harding 1998:154; Dussel 2000:474).

It is partly the case that for development to ‘work’, it is not only the coloniser who needs to see the ‘positive’ aspect of development, but also the colonised (Mies 1993:151). However, resistance and calls for reparations instead of aid have not ceased in Haiti. Self-sufficiency, anti-foreign-aid, anti-dependency resistance and critique have continued after the earthquake (McAlister 2013:11), as well as actions of challenging negative representations in the media. As a grassroots Haitian woman leader stated,

We are working and we have prestige and capacity. It’s not a question of [receiving] money; it’s a question of conviction and the need to be active (cited by Horton 2012:305). 


[1] The ‘natural body’ vs ‘body politic’ distinction can be seen also in medieval political theology: the king was supposed to have two bodies: (1) the biological body and (2) the political authority to represent ‘his’ people (Kantorowicz 1957:8-11).

[2] The white supremacist feminist framework sees gendered oppression reflected solely through sexism and domination performed by the masculine body over the feminine body, without acknowledging imperialism, racism and classism as gendered oppression.

[3] (Hetero)gender binaries create false and hierarchical dichotomies which freeze ‘femininity’ as the ‘sex object’ without taking the ‘subject function except in terms of those definitions or as “imitators” of men’ (Spivak 1981:181).

[4] However, ‘neutral’ objectivism is always biased and cannot escape politics.

[5] ‘Policy’ is here used loosely, as an element of the complexity and assemblage of discourses, representations and practices mobilised around the earthquake’s impact on Haiti in 2010.

[6] Real-time geo-referenced data (Meier 2011:1241)

[7] The United States Agency for International Development

[8] ‘humanitarian aid based on guesswork, failed coordination, and “satisficing”’ (McAlister 2013:17).

[9] Aid colonisation is ‘the premeditated utilisation of aid to manipulate, control and coerce the recipient into fulfilling the donor agenda’ (Murithi 2009:3).

[10] George Clooney, appealing to his audience: ‘it’s a big world out there and we all have a lot of responsibility to look out for people who can’t look after themselves’ (cited by McAlister 2012:29).

[11] In a World Economic Forum Report it was claimed that even companies are able to be driven by compassion, voluntary self-regulation and a desire for ‘data philanthropy’ (2012:7).

[12] Fanon put it perfectly: ‘So when we hear the head of a European state declare with his hand on his heart that he must come to the help of the poor under-developed peoples, we do not tremble with gratitude. Quite the contrary; we say to ourselves: “It’s a just reparation which will be paid to us”’ (Fanon 1965:81).

[13] Mogul Bill Gates declared that ‘technology means that everyone can be a philanthropist’ (2014).

[14] Here technology is to be understood as aid, socio-economic policies and the media.

[15] Morozov adequately stated that ‘techno-humanitarianism is much more techno than humanitarian’ (2012).


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What about the Women: The Missing Voice at the Peacemaking Table

What about the Women: The Missing Voice at the Peacemaking Table

By Sthelyn Romero

As war and conflict continue to plague our world and the international community attempts to negotiate peace, an important question to ask is where are all the women? It is clear that what is missing from the negotiating table is women. This highlights the growing gap between global commitments to peace and the harsh realities of the peace process itself. Many countries are starting to incorporate women into peace negotiations but is female participation effective? Can women influence the language that goes into these peace agreements?

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Q & A with Annick T.R. Wibben: Feminist Security Studies and Today’s Challenges

Q & A with Annick T.R. Wibben: Feminist Security Studies and Today’s Challenges

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Annick T.R. Wibben is an Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, California and an expert in Feminist Security Studies. She has written extensively on feminism and security and has published a very influential book on the field of Feminist Security Studies, ‘Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach’. On the first Q&A Session of The Globalized World Post she talked with Marianna Karakoulaki, editor of the magazine, about Feminist Security Studies in general as well as specific issues that have been under discussion recently. The discussion began on a more theoretical level but then moved to more specific issues, from the importance of specific UN resolutions to rape as a weapon of war, from the gang rapes in India to third wave feminism, and finally to women in combat in the USA. Continue reading

Gay Marriage and HIV Increase?

Gay Marriage and HIV Increase?

by Javier Betancourt

On February 16th 2013, a series of articles were published in the British media regarding the findings of a study conducted by the Health Protection Agency and the University College London on HIV, that mentions among their conclusions an increase in HIV among homosexual men caused by a fall in condom use.  The research paper in question was published in February 15th, 2013, and used data from 1990-2010 to demonstrate trends shown in the HIV in the United Kingdom Report 2012. This research came into light after the House of Commons approved the Marriage Bill on February 5th, and is currently on the Committee Stage .

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Abortion and Women’s Rights in the USA

Abortion and Women’s Rights in the USA

By Marianna Karakoulaki

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1973 is marked as a very important year for women’s rights in the USA. It was that year that abortion became a constitutional right and was legalized on a federal level across the USA with the historical Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade. Since then, however, the conservative right and religious leaders across the states have been trying with every means they have to overthrow the decision. With every chance the republican controlled legislatures have, they change their state laws in order to make it more and more difficult for a woman to have an abortion or even take contraceptives. Especially this year, abortion and contraception in general became one of the most discussed issues on the agendas of the republican primaries due to the Birth Control Mandate that the Obama Administration tries to push forward.

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Explaining Chechnya’s ‘Black Widows’: An Organisational Analysis

Explaining Chechnya’s ‘Black Widows’: An Organisational Analysis

By Jeff Collins


Ever since 22 year-old Khava Barayev and 16 year-old Luisa Magomadove blew themselves up at separate Russian check points on June 7, 2000 a great deal of attention has been paid to the large number of young women who have carried out suicide attacks in Chechnya’s long running conflict with Russia.[1] Labelled ‘Black Widows’ by the Russian press much of this coverage has tended to focus on the individual and societal factors underpinning this phenomenon. In particular, scholars and journalists alike have focused on the traumatization of women brought about by the loss of male family members and the prevalence of Salafi Islamic ideology in various terrorist groups as the key sources driving women into participating in suicide attacks.[2] In contrast, there has been little in the way of an organisational analysis on the use of female suicide bombers in the on-going Second Russo-Chechen War (1999-present). As such, this article argues that a combination of influences ranging from the operational advantages of using suicide attacks, to the effects of Russian counter-terrorist policies, and, finally, internal and external group dynamics within the various Chechen terrorist groups are the prime driving force behind not just the use of female suicide attacks specifically but Chechen suicide terrorism generally.[3]

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Labeling Human Rights

by Marianna Karakoulaki

“Is there such a thing as “Women’s Rights”, and if so which rights are “Men’s Rights”? Can “Gay rights” be considered as men’s rights? And if so, does not that apply to gay women? And what about transgendered people? And in the end, what about everything? And if there are so many divisions why do we keep saying “human rights” after all?

The answer should come natural to anyone: “there are human rights, not women’s or men’s rights”. Some argue that women have separate rights because they suffer more in some regions of the world. Some argue that human rights are universal and the same for everyone. Indeed, people tend to create so many labels for human rights that sometimes forget to talk about their universality. Continue reading