This article examines the experience of Congolese humanitarians negotiating access with armed groups in eastern DRC. It describes how humanitarians become shapeshifters: they play different roles for different audiences as a tactic of social navigation in a context of uncertainty. Because humanitarians encounter risks related to their perceived identity, they play upon identity categories and personal histories, situating themselves tactically during encounters with different armed actors through creative modes of self-fashioning.

Whilst there remains a focus on performing a distinct humanitarian identity, NGOs in practice draw upon the embedded local knowledge and skills of employees to work in conflict areas.