Famine, aid, and ideology: The political activism of Médecins sans Frontières in the 1980s

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This article concerns humanitarian debates in France in the 1980s, in particular as inspired by the activism of the organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). It examines three episodes of debate about compromise and the complicity of humanitarian activism in totalitarian repression: a protest march at the Cambodian border in 1980, spearheaded by MSF; the creation by MSF in 1985 of a political think tank, the Fondation Liberté sans Frontières, with its inaugural conference attacking Third Worldism; and finally, MSF's stand in 1985 against the manipulation of aid by the Ethiopian government. It seeks to demonstrate how the realization of humanitarianism's vulnerability to manipulation emerged from a period of intensified, politically targeted activism. The analysis focuses on two key strands of debate: attitudes to ideology, specifically Third Worldist ideology, and the use of the media as part of the sans- frontiériste practice of témoignage. Copyright 2011 by Society for French Historical Studies.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-558
Number of pages29
JournalFrench Historical Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011