Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 September 2020
This chapter examines one of Ireland’s longest-lasting sources of engagement with the global South, namely the set of ethical dispositions and embedded practices that we traditionally call “humanitarian aid.” For much of the twentieth century, Ireland’s sense of itself as both a postcolonial nation and an advanced Western democracy found expression in an intense preoccupation with humanitarian aid for newly independent African countries. Over the last two decades, this history of humanitarian action has become a prominent motif in Irish fiction, featuring centrally in fiction by Anne Enright, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle, and J. M. O’Neill. In the hands of these authors, humanitarianism has emerged as a vehicle for reflecting on Ireland’s place in the world – from the ethical attunement to suffering bodies that has dominated Irish representations of the global South to the political stakes involved in refracting such sentimentalized images through the language of anticolonial nationalism.
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