Beyond the boxes

Refugee shelter and the humanitarian politics of life

by TOM SCOTT‐SMITH

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Humanitarian agencies often reach for new designs and technologies in order to meet basic human needs. In the field of emergency shelter, one of the most widely publicized new designs is the Ikea refugee shelter: a flat‐packed, mass‐produced structure that can be shipped and constructed wherever it is required. This shelter aspires to be a universal solution, but since its formal launch in 2013, it has met with criticism and many challenges in the field. Deployed in political contexts in which people have very different expectations of basic shelter, the Ikea shelter demonstrates the limitations of universal standards, the inequities of humanitarianism, and the entwinement of biopolitics and the politics of life.