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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complexities Of War, Enemies, Famines and Aid, 11 Feb 2009
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This review is from: Complex Emergencies (Paperback)
David Keen has written an impressive and wide-ranging book on 'complex emergencies' - a somewhat messy shorthand for the interaction of violence (usually war) with humanitarian disasters and, by extension, with policies of intervention, aid and development. Since wars almost always go with humanitarian crisis, and since most contemporary war happens within the 'developing world', this means that complex emergencies include pretty much all 'civil wars' - Rwanda, Darfur, the DRC, Sierra Leone and, to an extent, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on his popular lectures at the London School of Economics, Keen's book manages to be both broadly introductory and hugely rich in theory, evidence and thought. Each chapter takes on a particular facet of complex emergencies (war, famine, aid, peace), surveying existing approaches and their weaknesses. Sudan and Sierra Leone, as the sites of Keen's major contributions (in his landmark works 'The Benefits Of Famine' and 'Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone') form the basis for most of the in-depth case study work, which is balanced against the frequent use of other examples from the DRC, Vietnam, Guatemala, Rwanda, Nazi Germany and the 'war on terror'. This illustrations are in turn balanced against a modest, but effective, deployment of social theory - Foucault, Baudrillard and Arendt all get a look in.

Given the nature of the book, these motifs can tend to the impressionistic and multiple examples from different contexts sometimes suffer from a lack of deep exposition. Specialist scholars may be frustrated by these relatively broad brushstrokes. Some will pine for more empirics or greater historical depth in the case studies. Others might feel that 'famine' is neglected somewhat. For my part, I would have loved to see more theoretical development of the propositions on emotion, psychology, grievance and extreme violence. But these complaints speak not so much to any failure on Keen's part as to the rich vein of inquiry that he is tapping and the stimulating questions he places in the reader's mind.

Theoretical and empirical development is the task of other works. Indeed, the major strength of 'Complex Emergencies' is precisely that it manages to survey so much terrain in its 200-odd pages. Moreover, Keen side-steps those standard textbook pitfalls - over-definition, neutrality on competing theories and artificial separation of closely inter-related issues for the sake of presentational economy. The problems of generality and scope are almost completely remedied by extensive endnotes and a clear set of central messages: that thinking of war only in terms of 'rebel greed' is deeply unhelpful; that 'greed' and 'grievance' interact with each other; that psychology and emotion are central to understanding these relationships; that we should pay attention to the functions of violence and look beyond apparent 'failure'; and that the language we use is deeply implicated in who gets to speak about war and who gets attention.

In this, as in the persuasiveness and cogency of his analysis, David Keen has achieved a rare and impressive balance. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introductory textbook for anyone entering the field, 18 Dec 2009
This review is from: Complex Emergencies (Paperback)
Complex Emergencies provides an excellent overview for anyone who is seeking to enter the fields of international development and conflict resolution. Keen, a professor at the London School of Economics, observes a wide variety of issues, explaining them in clear detail and viewing them from an entirely different angle from many other academics. Topics include the effects and functions of famines, the greed vs. grievance debate, the debate over peace, and whether or not ethnic conflicts are actually ethnic.

This book is highly recommended -- a must read for all aspiring development workers and academics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book and an excellent professor!, 29 Nov 2012
This review is from: Complex Emergencies (Paperback)
The book helps clarify the complex nature of many emergencies in the developing world. Professor Keen, teaches a course with the same name at the London School of Economics. The book and the course are amazing. I would defiantly recommend it for anyone interested in the developing world.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read!, 20 April 2012
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This review is from: Complex Emergencies (Paperback)
first off this book is well done and thats why i have it 4 stars, however i got this book as from what i could see it was a very one sided view on 'complex emergencies' I would have to say as a manager in humanitarian disasters its important to be aware of all sides to one topic and this book is a intersting read however some of its ideas are not main stream and should be read with a pintch of salt for lack of a better word! What i like about this book is that over all it highlights the bad sides as well as the good! overall its fine read well worth getting. just keep an open mind!
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Complex Emergencies
Complex Emergencies by David J. Keen (Paperback - 11 Nov 2007)
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