Call for papers: Citizen Humanitarianism – Refugee Aid and Borders in Europe

Call for contribution to edited volume, edited by Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO) and Elisa Pascucci (University of Helsinki)

Synopsis: Immediately after the European Union (EU)-Turkey deal on refugees was negotiated in March 2016, as number of arrivals from Turkey dropped and the Balkan route was supposedly “closed”, the so-called “European refugee crisis” seemed to fade away from public attention. The summer of 2018, however, was again marked by a seemingly new escalation in the conflict between states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in migrant search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean. The newly elected right-wing Italian government announced that it would “close off” the country’s harbours to search and rescue ships, and promised a crack-down on what was defined as the “welcoming business” of NGOs, charities, cooperatives and associations active in the field of asylum seekers reception.

This development, like many others across the continent, highlighted the struggle of the EU and its member states’ to govern the many emerging manifestations of compassion and solidarity towards migrants at Europe’s borders (Pallister-Wilkins, 2018). As such, it can be read as a manifestation of the European geographies of what scholar William Walters, already in 2011, defined as “humanitarian borders”: border spaces characterized by the confluence of security mandates of ‘control’ and humanitarian concerns of ‘rescue’ (see also Pallister-Wilkins, 2018). Characterized as they are by complexity, heterogeneity and polymorphism (Walters 2011, p. 153; see also Burridge et al., 2017), the humanitarian borders of contemporary Europe are not merely instruments for the control of mobile bodies. As recent research has highlighted, they are also sites of resistance, solidarity, aid and activism, and indeed spaces of discipline and repression of these forms of political agency (Kallio et al., 2019; Stierl, 2017; Pallister-Wilkins, 2018; Tazzioli, 2018). In recent years, humanitarian borders have become new sites of intervention for traditional humanitarian actors and governmental agencies, but also, increasingly, for volunteer and activist initiatives by ‘ordinary’ citizens.

In this project, we set out to explore these citizen-led forms of helping others emerging at the humanitarian borders of Europe. Our starting hypothesis is that whereas humanitarian regimes of intervention have historically responded to situations where the state is unable or unwilling to assist crisis-affected communities; the emergence of what we call citizen-humanitarian spaces at Europe’s borders unfolds as a result of an expanding security apparatus set up to ‘protect the borders’ (see Pallister-Wilkins, 2016). Theoretically, we set out to interrogate the shifting relation between humanitarianism, the securitization of border and migration regimes, and citizenship. In doing so, we are inspired by literature that has critically expanded notions of citizenship to include practices and subjects that are traditionally excluded from institutionalized representation and formally defined polities (Ehrkamp and Leitner, 2006; Isin, 2008; Staeheli et al. 2012; Kallio and Mitchell, 2016).

By using the term “citizen humanitarianism”, we thus refer to the dispersed actors that promote practices of refugee aid “from below”, autonomously from established humanitarian organizations. We are thus interested in critically examining the “do-it-yourself” character of refugee aid practices performed by non-professionals coming together to help in informal and spontaneous manners, often with limited and unsophisticated resources, and the trajectories these initiatives may have, be they NGO-ization and co-optation by institutional humanitarianism, politicization or disappearance. How, if at all, do these new humanitarian practices challenge established conceptualizations of membership, belonging and active citizenship? Is humanitarianism being politicized by its proximity to securitized border spaces, and how? We are notably interested in processes of criminalization of humanitarian aid in these European border spaces.

Our aim in this work is to advance empirical knowledge by bringing together rich, in-depth qualitative studies of a number of such actors operating in different European countries, across the North-South and East-West divide. We particularly welcome case studies focusing on the following three interrelated categories of humanitarian practices:

1. Activist humanitarianism, in which refugee aid constitutes a form of contestation of border regimes. 

2. Local and international volunteering for refugees, emerging spontaneously in emergency contexts, or building on pre-existing religious and civic charity traditions (e.g. sanctuary spaces etc.)

3. Diaspora and migrant humanitarianism, encompassing not only networks of mutuality and solidarity among refugees and migrants, but also new engagements with activism, volunteering, and no-border political mobilization by diaspora groups.

For each of these emerging forms of humanitarianisms, we seek contributions that focus on two main aspects: their relation with states and European governmental agencies, including the tensions evidenced by the recent trends towards the criminalization of humanitarian aid, and conflict, cooperation and co-optation by established, professionalised humanitarian actors.


Deadline for submitting paper abstracts (300 words): 10 May 2019

Response from editors: 29 May 2019

Full papers to be submitted by 30 August

Send paper abstracts to and

Open Position as Coordinator of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies


PRIO and NCHS invites applications for a 50% part-time position as Coordinator of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS).

The NCHS is creating a network connecting relevant ongoing research on humanitarian efforts, in Norway and internationally. In this connection, the centre will form a platform for exchange among researchers and establish stronger and more tailored mechanisms for mutual exchanges with policy makers and practitioners, as well as the broader public, thus improving the quality of research and better analysing challenges raised in the humanitarian sector. The NCHS started in 2012 as a collaboration between CMI, NUPI and PRIO. The new NCHS Research network on humanitarian efforts is funded by a grant from the Research Council of Norway.

The successful candidate will join a vibrant team of researchers across the three institutes and work closely with the NCHS Director in the development, planning and management of Centre activities.

Further information about the position, required qualifications and how to apply (including link to online form, by which applications should be submitted), can be found here.

Deadline for applications: 25 February 2019.

For further information, please contact NCHS Director Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (, tel. +47 41 02 27 76. For further information about the recruitment process or the submission of your application, please contact Institute Adviser Cathrine Bye (, tel. +47 22 54 77 15.

New funding to establish Research network on humanitarian efforts


The Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS) has received funding from the Norwegian Research Council’s NORGLOBAL program, to create a network connecting relevant ongoing research on humanitarian efforts, in Norway and internationally.

It will create a platform for exchange among researchers, and establish exchanges with policy makers and practitioners, as well as the broader public, improving the quality of research and better addressing current challenges raised in the humanitarian sector.

The NCHS network will bridge practical and analytical knowledge, by connecting research conducted on specific crises with practitioners’ own experiences. Facts and findings from research projects will be brought to bear on concrete, and evolving, policy challenges. The focus will be on five pillars: the humanitarian-security-development nexus; the humanitarian system; humanitarianism and health; humanitarianism and refugee protection; and humanitarianism and gender.

The network will have its first kick-off meeting on 7-8 March 2019 at PRIO, gathering researchers from the three partners institutes, CMI, PRIO and NUPI, as well as international partners and other Norway-based researchers interested in humanitarian issues.

Follow here or on our social media channels for further updates.

Anthropology of Humanitarianism Network (AHN) established

Convenors of AHN are Carna Brkovic (University of Goettingen) and Antonio De Lauri (Chr. Michelsen Institute Bergen).


EASA (European Association of Social Anthropologists) established Anthropology of Humanitarianism Network (AHN) as a platform to initiate a broad (inter-)disciplinary discussion on the meanings and practices of humanitarianism and on the possible future directions of an anthropology of humanitarianism. The AHN brings together social anthropologists who explore all sorts of humanitarian undertakings, including humanitarian aid in emergencies; humanitarian law; humanitarian projects of return, development, and peace-building in post-conflict contexts; humanitarian management of refugee camps and/or borders; humanitarian military interventions; grassroots humanitarian projects; post-war reconstruction; post-natural disasters; reception and care for the displaced people, and so forth.

The AHN promotes anthropological studies of humanitarianism within the context of European anthropology and anthropology of Europe, as well as within historical and political studies of humanitarianism. It connects the work of anthropologists who focus on global international humanitarian emergencies with the work of anthropologists who explore the more grassroots, voluntary, and vernacular forms of humanitarian support, which are mushrooming globally.


The AHN aims to:

  • connect social anthropologists who conduct ethnographic research of humanitarianism;
  • foster connections between social anthropologists and historians, sociologists, political scientists, lawyers, philosophers and practitioners of humanitarianism;
  • initiate a discussion on the meanings and practices of humanitarianism in contemporary Europe;
  • provide a platform for sharing relevant information on anthropological research of humanitarianism;
  • create opportunities for scholars to collaborate through meetings and joint research projects;
  • connect the network with other relevant centers and networks in Europe;
  • raise visibility of anthropological research on humanitarianism in Europe within EASA as well as within social science studies of humanitarianism.



To join the AHN please send a brief email to

Call for applications for PhD course on ‘The Anthropology of Humanitarianism’ – Deadline 16 september 2018

The Research School on Peace and Conflict is welcoming applications for the PhD course ‘The Anthropology of Humanitarianism’, which is to take place at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) from 28-30 November 2018. The deadline for applications is 16 September.

The course is designed for interdisciplinary students studying humanitarian studies or peace and conflict studies, and will focus on key topics such as the anthropology of forced migration, and the thematic and methodological challenges of studying conflict and crisis in anthropology. The course will be an overview of the field and an introduction to the possibilities and challenges that arise with using ethnographic approaches to the study of humanitarian action and humanitarianism.

For more information, and to apply for the course, follow this link:

International Humanitarian Studies Association: Conference call for papers

Deadline extended: 30 June 2018

The 5th bi-annual IHSA conference, entitled “(Re-)Shaping Boundaries in Crisis and Crisis Response”, will take place in The Hague, The Netherlands from 27 to 29 August 2018.

Crisis and humanitarianism has always been about boundaries. The classic view of a crisis is an exceptional moment, bounded in time and space. Humanitarian action was therefore seen as a necessarily limited endeavor which has a narrow but principled focus on saving lives and alleviating suffering. Setting clear boundaries around crisis were meant to distinguish crisis from normality and legitimate extraordinary measures to accommodate its effects.

The full call and information about how to submit a paper proposal can be found here:

See also the call for papers for the panel on Media and Humanitarianism, organised by Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert and Timothy Wolfer:

Deadline extended until 30 June 2018.

New article: Digital communication technologies in humanitarian and pandemic response

In their newly published article, The new informatics of pandemic response: humanitarian technology, efficiency, and the subtle retreat of national agency, in the Journal of International Humanitarian Action, Christopher Wilson and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert, review empirical uses of communications technology in humanitarian and pandemic response, and the 2014 Ebola response in particular, and propose a three-part conceptual model for the new informatics of pandemic response.

Digital communication technologies play an increasingly prominent role in humanitarian operations and in response to international pandemics specifically. A burgeoning body of scholarship on the topic displays high expectations for such tools to increase the efficiency of pandemic response. The model proposed in this article distinguishes between the use of digital communication tools for diagnostic, risk communication, and coordination activities and highlights how the influx of novel actors and tendencies towards digital and operational convergence risks focusing humanitarian action and decision-making outside national authorities’ spheres of influence in pandemic response. This risk exacerbates a fundamental tension between the humanitarian promise of new technologies and the fundamental norm that international humanitarian response should complement and give primacy to the role of national authorities when possible. The article closes with recommendations for ensuring the inclusion of roles and agency for national authorities in technology-supported communication processes for pandemic response.

The article can be read here:

New book series on Humanitarianism and Security: submissions welcome

Kabul, Afghanistan. © Antonio de Lauri

Submissions are welcome for the new Berghahn Books’ series “Humanitarianism and Security”:

Amid the growing convergence between the politics of aid and policing, emergency and military governance, securitization and the production of collective fear, this series examines humanitarianism and security as both ideology and practice. To this end, it offers ethnographic and theoretical analyses that contribute to the development of critical approaches at the intersection of anthropology, sociology, geography, international relations, and other disciplines.



Formal submissions should be sent directly to Berghahn Books:

However, initial enquiries are encouraged and should be sent to Antonio De Lauri, Senior Researcher at CMI and affiliated with NCHS (, who will be able to advise and help you through the formal procedure.

General Editor:

Antonio De Lauri, Chr. Michelsen Institute

Editorial Board:

Reece Jones, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Chowra Makaremi, CNRS, Paris

Mark Maguire, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Vanessa Pupavac, University of Nottingham

Peter Redfield, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Tazreena Sajjad, American University, Washington D.C.

PRIO Research Featured at Conference on Development Research

Presenting a newly funded research project on refugee education

23 January, Research Director and Professor Cindy Horst presented the newly-funded REBuilD project to an audience of government representatives and NGOs invited by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the Research Council of Norway (RCN). The aim of the conference, launching the new projects funded under the NORGLOBAL-2 program, was to improve the communication between researchers and practitioners, in order to guarantee that research results are better informing development policy and practice. The REBuilD project asks how we can best support refugee children and their communities to build durable futures, when it is unclear where those futures will be. The project focuses on two of the largest populations of refugees: Somalis and Syrians, and involves fieldwork in cities and refugee camps in Kenya and Lebanon, as well as in Somalia with returnees from Kenya.

Horst’s presentation can be found here:
NORAD Jan 2018 (Horst)

New PRIO Policy Brief – Colombia as a Case for Rights-Based Approaches

Given the transient nature of humanitarian assistance, durable solutions for forced displacement and exit strategies for humanitarian actors require careful engagement with a host state. This highlights a central challenge for the humanitarian sector: how to relate to states? Drawing on a case study of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s use of rights-based approaches (RBA) in Colombia, Julieta Lemaitre (Universidad de los Andes) suggests in a new PRIO Policy Brief that the importance of RBA in humanitarian aid lies in fostering the mutual dependency between beneficiaries and states. In this way, the humanitarian actor’s work is focused on enhancing state capacity to provide for its citizens, as well as supporting and empowering community engagement. This is particularly relevant when humanitarian aid is provided in the context of relatively strong states with the capacity to provide humanitarian aid.

You can read the policy brief here.