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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Witnessing Médecins Sans Frontières and the Path From Encounter to Social Action
by Lennon, Elizabeth, Ph.D., Fielding Graduate University, 2017, 358; 10633560
Abstract (Summary)

An unavoidable feature of humanitarian fieldwork is the day-to-day witnessing of injustice, and the suffering of vulnerable people and communities. The existing psychological and sociological research on aid workers largely focuses on the personal impact of their exposure to suffering and injustice, rather than the actual witnessing experience. The focus of this research is to understand the lived experience of field-workers, how they construct witnessing, and the factors that shape and mediate this experience, in particular the role of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) principle of témoignage [speaking out]. The process of meaning making, and the impact of challenging experiences on field-workers, is also considered. The research method predominantly employed narrative inquiry. Twelve experienced MSF staff were interviewed to elicit personal stories about their role as witnesses. The research findings suggest that for those that daily witness suffering, it is an immediate, direct, and intimate experience. There is a reciprocal relationship with the patient or communities, and an entangled empathy mediates this relationship, and its expression. A strong ethic of care is central to the human encounter. The principle of témoignage, and its call to speak out, or engage in social action, is significant in giving direction to witnessing. Research participants often experienced extreme conditions. Impacts such as fatigue, aspects of burnout, a lack of effective coping strategies, and self-care skills were observed. The quality of MSF as a holding environment for witnessing and meaning making is explored. Practice recommendations are made in terms of organizational implications, leadership, and psychosocial support.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Willis, David B.
Commitee: Celermajer, Danielle, Hostrander II, Howard L., Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen, Nelson, Annabelle L.
School: Fielding Graduate University
Department: Human and Organization Development
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social psychology, Organizational behavior, Health care management
Keywords: Humanitarian field workers, Meaning making, Médecins sans frontières, Narrative inquiry, Organizational dynamics, Witnessing
Publication Number: 10633560
ISBN: 978-0-355-25531-7
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