Cite as: Stavinoha, L. and Ramakrishnan, K., 2021, 11, Approaching biographical life. In Citizen Humanitarianism at European Borders. Routledge Humanitarian Studies.
This chapter expands on nascent debates on grass-roots humanitarianism in Europe by exploring the social relations volunteers enact in their everyday encounters with refugees and the possibilities of enacting alternative modes of humanitarian practice. Based on ethnographic research on the Greek island of Chios and in Paris, we focus on how these interactions move beyond short-term humanitarian relief to foreground exchanges of “biographical life” – personal accounts of people’s pasts and subjectivities – that allow volunteers to reimagine a more dignified provision of care. These forms of care, we find, subvert the twin effects of depoliticization and dehumanization identified in long-standing critiques of humanitarianism.