Through an historical ethnographic analysis of Sri Lanka’s oldest charity, the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society, this article explores changing modalities of humanitarian “relations” in colonial and post-colonial contexts. For two hundred years, “the Society” would provide a model of liberal humanitarianism premised on “friendship,” a civil and secular relation that the organisation distinguished from “kinship” on the one side and “religion” on the other. Sorting and ranking kinds of charitable practice according to their relations became a project through which the elite could establish the relative values of different forms of mutuality and autonomy and their contribution to colonial and post-colonial development. Paying attention to the Society’s role in this process also helps to reveal the historical contingencies of “relation” as a foundational anthropological concept and analytical objective.
Widger, T. (2022). Kin, friends, philanthronationalists: “Relations” as a modality of colonial and post-colonial charity in Sri Lanka. Ethnography, https://doi.org/10.1177/14661381221134402