The “humanitarianization” of urban violence

In the article ‘The “humanitarianization” of urban violence’, NCHS members Simon Reid-Henry (PRIO) and Ole Jacob Sending (NUPI) discuss how international humanitarian organizations accommodate their operations when working in urban settings. The research on which the article is based has been carried out under the NCHS project Armed Violence in Urban Areas: New Challenges, New Humanitarianisms, funded by the Norwegian Research Council. The article is published in one of the world’s most highly ranked environmental and urban studies journals, Environment and Urbanization.


This paper describes how international humanitarian organizations (IHOs) are adapting their operations to working in the urban environment. When levels of armed violence in urban areas are sufficient to trigger international humanitarian law, organizations such as the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) may argue that they have an important contribution to make by offering a set of skills and experience gleaned in conflict and non-governed settings. This paper reflects on this humanitarian turn to the city and uses it to problematize certain assumptions within the existing understanding of “urban violence” and the nature of humanitarianism itself. What does it mean to “humanitarianize” urban violence? What is the value-added that humanitarians might bring? And in what ways might such engagements be changing the nature of the problem itself? Drawing upon a wide range of literature that sets the local structures of violence in light of wider national and international processes, we analyze the “humanitarianization” of urban violence as a cross-scalar governmental assemblage that is likely to play an increasingly important role in cities in the global South in the future.

The article, published in Environment and Urbanization, is available here.