Journeys to the limits of first-hand knowledge: Politicians’ on-site visits in zones of conflict and intervention

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This article explores the practice and political significance of politicians’ journeys to conflict zones. It focuses on the German example, looking at field trips to theatres of international intervention as a way of first-hand knowledge in policymaking. Paying tribute to Lisa Smirl and her work on humanitarian spaces, objects and imaginaries and on liminality in aid worker biographies, two connected arguments are developed. First, through the exploration of the routinized practices of politicians’ field trips the article shows how these journeys not only remain confined to the ‘auxiliary space’ of aid/intervention, but that it is furthermore a staged reality of this auxiliary space that most politicians experience on their journeys. The question is then asked, second, what politicians actually experience on their journeys and how their experiences relate to their policy knowledge about conflict and intervention. It is shown that political field trips enable sensory/affectual, liminoid and liminal experiences, which have functions such as authority accumulation, agenda setting, community building, and civilizing domestic politics, while at the same time reinforcing, in most cases, pre-existing conflict and intervention imaginaries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-76
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Intervention and Statebuilding
Issue number1
Early online date12 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2016


  • Affect
  • Battlefield tourism
  • Conflict knowledge
  • Field trips
  • German bundestag
  • German foreign policy
  • Liminality
  • Lisa smirl
  • On-site visits
  • Parliamentarians
  • Sensory experience
  • Spaces of aid


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