The Paradoxes of Aid Work: Passionate Professionals, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

The Paradoxes of Aid Work

Passionate Professionals, 1st Edition

By Silke Roth


212 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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This book explores what attracts people to aidwork and to what extent the promises of aidwork are fulfilled. 'Aidland' is a highly complex and heterogeneous context which includes many different occupations, forms of employment and organizations. Analysing the processes that lead to the involvement in development cooperation, emergency relief and human rights work and tracing the pathways into and through Aidland, the book addresses working and living conditions in Aidland, gender relations and inequality among aid personnel and what impact aidwork has on the life-courses of aidworkers.

In order to capture the trajectories that lead to Aidland a biographical perspective is employed which reveals that boundary crossing between development cooperation, emergency relief and human rights is not unusual and that considering these fields as separate spheres might overlook important connections. Rich reflexive data is used to theorize about the often contradictory experiences of people working in aid whose careers are shaped by geo-politics, changing priorities of donors and a changing composition of the aid sector.

Exploring the life worlds of people working in aid, this book contributes to the emerging sociology and anthropology of aidwork and will be of interest to professionals and researchers in humanitarian and development studies, sociology, anthropology, political science and international relations, international social work and social psychology.


"Silke Roth provides us with a candid insight into the life-world of aid workers in humanitarian and development programmes. She connects their personal experiences to the contemporary context of neo-liberal societies and lays bare how the multi-layered and ethnicised hierarchies within 'aidland' - notwithstandig the good intentions -reproduce existing global privilege and inequalities. The book addresses (aspiring) aid workers and is both sobering and inspiring, encouraging aid workers to reconsider the boundaries of 'aidland', and seek to break the cycles where global inequalities are being produced."–Dorothea Hilhorst, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

"This is a first rate book. Silke Roth has written the best description to date of contemporary aid workers. Her analysis is rigorous, evidence-based and rich with the testimony of aid workers of all kinds. She has described aid workers to themselves and to others with limpid clarity. At last we have a book on aid from a critical scholar that is accessible and constructive." –Hugo Slim, University of Oxford, UK

"It is people, both staff and volunteers, who deliver the missions of aid organisations. By exploring the biographies of those working in the sector this book offers insights into factors, and perceptions, of essential interest to practitioners and employers: staff equity, gender issues, career motivation, and the impact of conditions of service."–Jonathan Potter, Executive Director, People In Aid

"Silke Roth brilliantly analyzes the paradoxes of aid-work. She discusses how aid is structured through North-South inequalities and neoliberal agendas. Despite the commitment and passion of people who are engaged in such work, aid-work does not live up to its promises. A path-breaking book."–Bandana Purkayastha, University of Connecticut, USA

"This book is an important and wide-ranging contribution to the growing literature on international aid as a form of work. Drawing on research with professionals from both the Global South and North, the book impressively highlights what characterises this work, and how people stay involved despite its often challenging and sometimes dangerous nature."–Anne-Meike Fechter, University of Sussex, UK

"The best book on the aid world as it is today brought to life through a series of life histories. Written with crystal clear clarity. Well researched and a great read. I will buy a copy for each of my team of tutors and I will recommend it to all of my students."–Larry Hollingworth, Fordham University, USA

"Roth reveals the contradictions of development professionalism. In doing so she opens up a space for a more productive dialogue about the possibilities of this type of work and the merits of its growing sense of professional expertise."Voluntary Sector Review, Jack Corbett, Griffith University, Australia

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Mapping Aidland 2. Theorizing (Aid)Work 3. Entering Aidland 4. Living and Working in Aidland 5. Doing Gender in Aidland 6. Othering and Otherness 7. Should I Stay or Should I Go Conclusion

About the Author

Silke Roth is Associate Professor in Sociology, University of Southampton, UK.

About the Series

Routledge Humanitarian Studies

The Routledge Humanitarian Studies series in collaboration with the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) takes a comprehensive approach to the growing field of expertise that is humanitarian studies. This field is concerned with humanitarian crises caused by natural disaster, conflict or political instability and deals with the study of how humanitarian crises evolve, how they affect people and their institutions and societies, and the responses they trigger.

We invite book proposals that address, amongst other topics, questions of aid delivery, institutional aspects of service provision, the dynamics of rebel wars, state building after war, the international architecture of peacekeeping, the ways in which ordinary people continue to make a living throughout crises, and the effect of crises on gender relations.

This interdisciplinary series draws on and is relevant to a range of disciplines, including development studies, international relations, international law, anthropology, peace and conflict studies, public health and migration studies.

To submit proposals, please contact the Development Studies Editor, Helena Hurd ([email protected]).

Series Editors:

Alex de Waal, Tufts University, USA

Dorothea Hilhorst, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Economic Development
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Volunteer Work
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disasters & Disaster Relief
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries