As the world fixates on the novel coronavirus crisis, the Israeli government has inflicted a not so novel disaster on the Palestinians: the annexation of territories in the West Bank. A unilateral step amplifying the predicament present in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there is no doubt that the seemingly ceaseless conflict will have significant and grave consequences.
As a continuation of the “Deal of the Century” presented by the U.S.A earlier this year, the Prime Minister of Israel has repeatedly declared his intention to annex up to 30% of the West Bank from July 1st, with his sights set on the Jordan Valley and many of the illegal Israeli settlements throughout the region. His justification is that it’s merely an extension of sovereignty.
Authority condemned Netanyahu’s plan and promised an array
of measures including severing funding to the unlivable Gaza
Strip and cutting the salaries of thousands of officers and clerks. In
support, Qatar, one of the Strip’s major humanitarian donors, has announced it
may suspend financial aid to the Strip. These measures aim to hold Israel
responsible as a military occupier, in an effort to deter the annexation plans.
However, the consequence of such interventions would be catastrophic for Gaza,
pushing it over the brink into eventual collapse and driving millions of
Palestinians further into the abyss of occupation and blockade.
Efforts to ease the suffering in Gaza has
been regularly strangled. Many humanitarian actors adopt a ‘no contact
policy, minimising their interactions with the de-facto ruling party of
Gaza, Hamas. Major humanitarian organisations are forced to operate in an
environment constructed to keep them out; a significant number cannot deliver
their humanitarian programming. Those that can enter the dwindling humanitarian
space face the threat of being accused of funding terrorism.
Without an immediate change, supporting
the impoverished population will become even more of a mammoth task, with
little resources to support such efforts and vital international backing
absent. Inevitably, many Gazans will feel as though violence is their only
resort. Is Israel and the international community prepared for the prospect of
another outbreak of a third uprising?
The rise of social and economic adversities across
the Middle East has caused nations to turn towards the Palestinian cause.
However, Palestine, and Gaza in particular, has never before experienced such
humanitarian turmoil. As the world faces a unified struggle against Covid-19,
it is crucial that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not neglected. Immediate
action is required to stave off catastrophe. The international community must
act with rigor and intent to alleviate Gaza’s economic and social crisis.
action has been regularly implemented in Gaza – but this is not enough. The
international community should exert pressure on Israel to stop any unilateral
steps. The stagnant peace process must be revived. However, continued lack of political
will to reach a solution provides a gloomy outlook on the political future of
Palestinians. Nevertheless, the international community must strive to achieve
the bare minimum, which is immediately providing effective humanitarian relief to
the depleted Gaza strip. The clock is ticking. Gaza is on the verge of complete
subsistence, never has the need for purposeful and resolute action been
This text first appeared on PK Forum, and is re-posted here.You may access the original post by clicking this link.Marte Nilsen is Senior Researcher at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
I felt like I had defeated the dictators when I walked out of Yangon’s Mingeladon airport for the first time, more than 20 years ago. Unnoticed, I had sneaked out of the que and avoided the mandatory exchange of three new, unfolded, and spotless 100-dollar bills into the FEC monopoly money that the Myanmar military regime made foreigners use. Before arrival, I had gone many rounds with myself considering the ethical dilemma of visiting Burma, or Myanmar, under the repressive regime of the generals. I had seen the leaflets and posters all over Northern Thailand, asking tourists not to go. I knew about the brutal crackdown of the student uprising ten years earlier. I knew about the civil wars, the humanitarian suffering, and about Aung San Su Kyi in house arrest. Yet, I decided to go. I had to see for myself.
Myanmar was something else. The tea leaf salads, the Shan noodles, the cheroot cigars, the green tea and the palm sugar jaggery. Getting conned by black market money changers down at Sule Pagoda. Listening to cheesy Burmese love songs to the tunes of Metallica in coffeeshops serving black coffee with lime. The blasting karaoke on overnight busses. Getting lectured, in secrecy, by school teachers and tour guides about politics and about the radio that was broadcasting from my home town in Oslo. The strange feeling of normality interrupted by the large red billboards in white writing with propaganda from the military regime, reminding me about the repression and the hardship.
Returning to Myanmar 14 years later, it was like arriving to a different country. T-shirts and shoulder bags picturing the Lady was sold openly on the streets. A booming civil society and people speaking freely about politics, about the war and the suffering, and about the peace process. Dissidents returning from exile. In October 2012, together with our local partner, PRIO organized an academic conference about democratization and peace in Myanmar – the first of its kind in many decades. Myanmar was opening up, but international actors engaged in heated arguments and disputes about the reliability of the reforms and the sincerity of the generals.
Building up since the response to Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the politics of aid to Myanmar was reaching a peak of tension. Anyone providing humanitarian relief for people in Myanmar would have to consider the political implications of their approach and be prepared to be met by harsh criticism for their stance. Were any operations dealing with the illegitimate regime in Naypyidaw consequently undermining the struggle for democracy and minority rights, or were such concerns trumped by the humanitarian imperative of providing assistance wherever it is needed?
Was it more effective to pressure the military with isolation and international sanctions, or did these sanctions only hurt the people of Myanmar? Could support to civil society groups inside Myanmar lead to a transformation of Myanmar society and to political changes in the long run, or would this strategy only benefit existing elites with close links to the regime? These were the kind of questions that characterized the heated debate. The different positions were strongly held by the various aid providers and advocacy groups, and they were based on competing theories of change.
In the first years of the transition since 2011, I followed closely the work and the different approaches of the three Norwegian organizations with the largest operations in Myanmar and along the Thai-Myanmar border – The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA).
Norway had become an engine in the international shift from sanctions and isolation to engagement, and initiated a number of humanitarian programs inside Myanmar to support the peace process and the reforms. Some of these initiatives were operated by NRC and NPA, while NCA expressed concern against the initiatives and feared that they would be implemented at the expense of support to refugees on the Thai-Myanmar border. In 2017 I visited some of the key humanitarian projects of these three Norwegian organizations in Myanmar and along the border, and I conducted interviews with staff, partner organizations and aid recipients.
In my study I found that these three organizations exhibited characteristics from three competing humanitarian approaches that are commonly found among aid providers in Myanmar. While NRC strived to operate with a neutral approach aiming to secure humanitarian principles without pursuing any other political agenda, NPA cultivated a more pragmatic approach aiming to work with the government to open up space for local organizations.
This approach was the result of a clear political thinking that the humanitarian suffering can only be stopped through a transformation of the Myanmar Society from below. This political thinking was largely shared by NCA, but while NPA saw a value in expanding its support within Myanmar, NCA maintained an idealist approach aiming to support exile organizations to push for human rights and seek to hold international donors, the Myanmar government, and the military accountable for their actions.
One of the most difficult dilemmas for aid providers working in authoritarian and repressive states involved in violent conflict is the trade-off between getting humanitarian access in the short term and securing human rights for the future. To gain access to the areas where people are in desperate need of outside assistance, humanitarian providers need to bargain and compromise with the regimes that cause the suffering. Where the line between confrontation and collaboration should be drawn is a constant source of debate among aid providers.
The controversies in Myanmar concerned two strategic divides: One between staying neutral (NRC) and having a political agenda (NPA, NCA); and one between maintaining a distance to the old regime (NCA) and seeking careful engagement (NRC, NPA). However, I would argue that despite the competing strategies, the different approaches among humanitarian actors have, unintentionally, contributed to a division of labour, enabling them to address a variety of Myanmar’s humanitarian needs.
Achieving peace, development and democracy in a country like Myanmar, with its complex conflict dynamics and history of injustice and repression, is bound to be a long and winding road, involving a multitude of actors and engagement strategies. There is no simple recipe to progress. My first visit to Myanmar back in 1998, and the journeys of other travellers at the time, didn’t do much either way concerning democratization or repression.
But it did lead to some incredible meetings between people with different experiences and references, to meaningful exchanges of ideas and insights, and to long-lasting friendships. Similarly, it is not the different approaches of various aid providers that is going to determine the success of Myanmar’s peace process or path to democracy and prosperity. That will be the struggle of the Myanmar people. However, the diversity of support that humanitarian actors can provide to people in desperate need and to people with aspirations, abilities and commitment to transform their country and their communities has been crucial in the past and will remain important in the years to come.
COVID-19 pandemic is spreading across the globe, its impact touches all corners
of society. What happens when the pandemic reaches areas that were already
dealing with various sorts of humanitarian challenges, and in what ways are humanitarian
operations being impacted both directly and indirectly? In a time where the
news are being flooded with information related to the pandemic and much of national
authorities’ time and resources are being spent at mapping domestic
repercussions, this post is an attempt to highlight some of the potential
impacts COVID-19 can have or is already having on humanitarian operations
around the world.
areas of humanitarian operations may be critically affected by the pandemic and
related mitigation efforts, four thematic areas have emerged in humanitarian
circles as the most discussed so far: 1) Health infrastructure and health information;
2) Exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities; 3) Refugees and other migrants; and
4) Access and delivery of humanitarian aid.
Health infrastructure and health information
disease has brought some of the world’s most advanced and well resources health
systems to their knees, many humanitarian practitioners have expressed concern
for what will occur when the virus reaches countries with less developed health
infrastructure. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that developed countries must assist those less
potentially “face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the global
South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where
it was previously suppressed”. Coordinated global action is also the key
message of the recently published UN report Shared responsibility, global
solidarity: responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
important lesson from the Ebola epidemic is the importance of accurate and trusted
public health communication to reduce misinformation and distrust amongst the
public, as pointed out by Christopher Wilson and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert in
their 2018 article on communication technology in
humanitarian and pandemic response. Providing accurate information and building
trust in health officials will be a key issue also for combating COVID-19.
Exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities
As with all
emergencies, the repercussions tend to be distributed unequally in society and
exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures
taken to mitigate the spread of the disease are likely to follow the same
pattern. Those without existing safety nets will be hit the hardest. In the
words of Senior Editor at the New Humanitarian Ben Parker during a recent webinar: “we are all fragile, but we are
not all equally fragile”.
economy, which was already weak before the pandemic, is falling into recession.
Reduced fiscal revenues will negatively impact welfare programmes, leaving the
most vulnerable without access to essential services. While a plummeting global
economy and international travel restrictions have severe impacts in their own
rights, they may also create difficulties in obtaining imported goods like food
and medical equipment. Trade-dependent countries will be particularly
vulnerable. In a recently published report, the World Food Programme predicts
that global food insecurity is likely to increase.
on the basis of gender are also likely to be exacerbated, in particular due to
the mitigation strategies employed to fight the pandemic. As Margot Skarpeteig,
Policy Director at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), writes for Bistandsaktuelt, men are more likely to contract
the disease, but the repercussions will hit women and girls the hardest. Based
on lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak, Skarpeteig points out that lockdowns
could lead to an increase in domestic violence, that closure of schools could
result in an increase number of rapes and child marriages, and that rerouting
of resources could lead to worse maternal care, all of which mainly impact
women and girls. Several of these concerns are echoed in the COVID-19 Global
Humanitarian Response Plan.
vulnerable groups who are likely to be severely affected include the urban poor, refugees and other migrants, and groups generally marginalized
in terms of access to economic welfare and health services.
Refugees and other migrants
pandemic is also turning into a mobility crisis, refugees and other migrants
are facing mutually reinforcing vulnerabilities, as they are often housed in
crowded areas with limited health and sanitation facilities and now also
experiencing enhanced immobility.
Bergtora Sanvik and Adèle Garnier have called attention to how the pandemic is reshaping refugee
and migration governance through ‘legal distancing’. Countries hastily adopt restrictive
regulation on migration and asylum processes on the one hand, while
simultaneously slowing down due process mechanisms. The results are further
exclusion and marginalization of already vulnerable groups.
Delivery of humanitarian aid: Access and
humanitarian organizations are working hard to maintain their existing
operations, most humanitarian work is affected by the pandemic and mitigation
efforts in some shape or form. Through travel restrictions, imposed
regulations, and withdrawal of staff, the pandemic is affecting the delivery of
humanitarian aid in multiple countries, and the impacts are cascading as the
disease reaches new corners of the world.
Amongst the effects on aid operations
covered by The New Humanitarian over the past week are: aid access is blocked for ’unsanitary’ quarantine spots in Burundi; transport
bans in Burkina Faso create access challenges for humanitarians; non-essential
aid workers are being evacuated from the Democratic Republic of Congo creating
limits on staff; border closures in Afghanistan threaten supply chains; and flight
bans hamper aid delivery in Yemen. Imposed restrictions on gatherings and
travel are hampering both delivery of humanitarian assistance and general
access to vulnerable populations. On 25 March, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
reported that they were
unable to reach 300,000 people in the Middle East alone.
international organizations are struggling to reach people in need, the
pandemic might turn out to have an unexpected effect on localisation. The
so-called ‘localisation agenda’, and outcome of the World Humanitarian Summit 2016, vowed to increase funding to national
and local partners, and involve them in decision-making and assistance in
humanitarian response. Since 2016, the humanitarian system has been criticised
for failing to support localisation (see for instance Sandvik and Dijkzeul’s blog post
from 2019). The
conditions caused by the pandemic, however, might change how international and
local staff coordinate and operate. Similar to how many enterprises are being
forced to speed up digitalization to keep in touch from various home offices,
the restrictions on travel and limits on international staff might force
international humanitarian actors to increasingly rely on local partners in
delivery, coordination and management of humanitarian assistance, as well as
enhancing communication structures between the local responders and
international assistance providers.
Uncertain outcomes and long-term consequences
four themes mentioned here seem to be the most frequently discussed in
humanitarian circles so far, the range of repercussions caused by the pandemic
and mitigation efforts has yet to be seen.
highly likely that other issues may emerge as the situation develops, and the
long-term consequences remain unknown. Technological measures applied to keep
the pandemic at bay are amongst the issues that might cause severe and
unintended long-term consequences (such as tracking mobile devises, drone
surveillance, collecting biometric data etc.). Humanitarian data governance is
not a new issue (see for instance Katja Lindskov Jacobsen and Larissa Fast’s 2019 article for Disasters), as it often deals with sensitive
data from vulnerable populations. During previous health crisis people with
diseases have faced discrimination and stigma, such as people living with HIV and Ebola survivors. Keeping in mind also future consequences, it
is therefore of vital importance that ethics and privacy is considered, and
that actors employ responsible data governance and management.
The lack of
testing capacities in many countries and overworked international and local
staff may also result in the exact impact of the pandemic being hard to state
specifically at any point. Yet, there is no doubt that the impacts will be
large and long-felt for humanitarian operations and the people already in need
of humanitarian assistance.
This text first appeared on CMI and is re-posted here. Salla Turunen is a PhD fellow at CMI with a research focus on humanitarian diplomacy and the United Nations.
What is usually white, offers short-term solutions and is often misplaced? An international volunteer.
At the age of 20, I spent two months as a volunteer English teacher in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. Like many white, Western, and particularly young women, I too wanted to participate in ‘doing global good’. I too saw images of ‘less privileged’, non-white women, children and men in the ‘Global South’, which in contrast to my home surroundings had an effect. I too felt that there must be something I can ‘help with’.
Recently, I read a blog post of We Aren’t Just Vehicles for your Guilt and Privilege: A View from Nepal by Rishi Bhandari, a Nepali who grew up surrounded by international volunteers. Bhandari’s key criticism surrounds volunteer travel in a post-colonial manner: White savior comes to the short-term ‘rescue’ by pursuing to save the illusion that the white savior has created in their mind of the ‘beneficiaries’ and their surroundings. For Bhandari, and for many post-colonial scholars, the perceived privilege comes along with imagined capability to ‘teach’, ‘help’ and ‘empower’. This is problematic, among others, due to lack of local contextual knowledge, Global North epistemologies and mere naivete.
Having done my graduate degree in gender studies and currently doing a PhD in the field of humanitarianism, I identified intellectually several of Bhandari’s arguments. Mary Mostafanezhad (2014) discusses how volunteer tourism commodifies empathy and stretches our imagination on how neoliberal capitalism articulates in global social relations. Michael Mascarenhas (2017) flags that colonial countries have a long-standing tradition to send, particularly young, people overseas in the guise of goodwill, democracy and charity, which translates into the spread of the Western cultural, political and economic hegemony. As for global politics, Johannes Paulmann (2013) argues that the overall humanitarian commitment from the Global North has safeguarded the moral positioning and superiority of the West and the commitment itself is a kind of postcolonial remedy. Yet, despite such intellectual approaches, the blog post was speaking to me on another level – as addressing the thoughts of the 20-year-old me.
There are several different kinds of volunteering opportunities for those who are interested. Importantly, volunteering doesn’t equal to international volunteering. An example of this are national Greek volunteers in crisis-ridden Greece of the 21st century’s second decade, during which volunteering became a governmental, institutional and social reconfiguration of the new Greek and European Union citizen (Rozakou 2016). Despite having had volunteering opportunities inter alia among the elderly, youth and homeless in my home country, such considerations were swept away by the temptation to combine volunteering with travel.
Back in the beginning of this decade, I remember having had a discussion with another Finnish volunteer on her experiences which eventually created a yearning for myself to do something similar. Many volunteer experiences begin this way – from an intersectional perspective, you hear the side of the story from a person who bears resemblance to yourself and you are attracted to their insight. Alternatively, if the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain: After my volunteering, I received numerous inquiries particularly via Facebook from other interested people from the Global North asking about the NGO I ended up working with and my insight and experiences as a volunteer in Nepal.
When I began my search for my volunteer travel in 2010, the volunteering opportunities through online searches seemed endless, and they still appear to be so. After a quick Google search for key words “volunteer Nepal” today, I was given 26,700,000 results in 0.83 seconds. At the beginning of my twenties, when scrolling through the World Wide Web for these opportunities, I saw a program for an English teacher, which I felt back then to be an area in which I could ‘contribute’ – interestingly enough as a non-native English speaker.
As far as I would like to remember, my intentions for deciding to become a volunteer were ‘good’ from the position and perspective I then had. As many other young Global North volunteers, I was curious about the world and motivated by the opportunity to see another part of it while simultaneously interacting with people from different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Having recently finished my high school studies, I was in the search of directions and interests for my life and somehow the idea of travelling far in order to see near seemed appealing. And as far as I recall, also my social circles in Finland found my thoughts and determination for international volunteering a fascinating discussion topic, inevitably accumulating my social capital.
The program costs (including residence and food in the monastery) and the flights from Helsinki to Kathmandu and back were around 3000 euros altogether. A hefty investment for a high school graduate in a gap year as I was working in the restaurant field at the time, earning approximately 1300 euros per month. But this was a target I felt withdrawn to direct my savings to. Soon enough I was on the airplane heading to Kathmandu, then completing my volunteering and personal soul-searching after which heading home with an experience of a memorable summer. In Finland, I was interviewed by the local newspaper and radio on my experiences of volunteering and living in a Buddhist monastery, broadening my personal spectacular into a public one.
Without going into the details of my volunteer experience itself or the possible usefulness of my work (as these reflections would be only one-sided), I have been reflecting my decision to go in retro-perspective. Particularly, by employing critical thinking tools I have acquired during my years in academia. There I was, a young, well-meaning Western adventurer finding courses for my life at the expense and in the everyday of other people. Simultaneously, I had a sincere feeling of contributing to an enterprise more novel and greater than my individual self. With time and education in social sciences, I become more aware of the history and reproduction of global inequalities which had been embodied in my volunteer experience. My economic situation and overall global positioning as white, Western and travelled individual with English language capabilities (to name a few) enabled me to volunteer in a manner that the majority of the world’s population cannot. With that being said, I am also considering has my new privilege – academic education – somehow overridden my previous privileges in giving me new tools to criticize volunteer travel today in a way which was out of my reach when I made the decision to become a volunteer.
Overall, reflecting volunteer travel from the positionality I have today feels problematic as for me such experience is not an intangible intellectual discussion or societal phenomenon, but a part of my personal and professional past. Later in life, and particularly as a young professional otherwise lacking years of applicable work experiences, I have also stated my international volunteering in my curriculum vitaes, which, undoubtedly, have aided my professional opportunities in my international career. The consideration that I have made professional gains through such volunteering —which grounds and continues to exists on the basis of global inequalities— is a painful one. Expanding from personal agony into systematic structures, both Mary Mostafanezhad and Michael Mascarenhas (2014 & 2017) underline that young volunteers today are also increasingly cognizant of the pressure to gain international experiences to open doors for educational and professional opportunities in which volunteer travel plays a role. Also, prestigious universities and trainee programs have taken such an ‘exposure’ as a part of their programming in ‘qualifying’ young professionals to face the global challenges of today.
In other words, [humanitarian] volunteers began as amateurs. But increasingly the humanitarian enterprise frowned upon such naïfs and began demanding that staff have real expertise and rewarded them accordingly. A CEO or CFO of a major not-for-profit aid agency should not require less training or fewer skills or relevant work experience than a CEO or CFO of a for-profit Fortune 500 company. And if they are experts, they expect to be paid accordingly. (p. 116, emphasis added.)
Volunteer travel does not seem to have an end in sight, rather, it seems to accelerate in an increasing pace, and it has firm structures in its support and maintenance. Seemingly ever-increasing number of NGOs, INGOs and private sector social corporate responsibility programs provide opportunities in which volunteer travel can be deployed. As discussed, it is also now being more and more integrated and formalized in the spheres of education and professional careers. As scholars, activists and journalists argue, volunteer travel remains deeply problematic as individual, small-scale intervention (whether based on morality, empathy, guilt, curiosity, educational and professional development or something else) lack the means and muscles to redress macro level challenges such as poverty and weak governance. Silver bullet solutions, such as volunteer travel, and the framing of global inequalities in their format are perplexing and contested to begin with, posing the question whose interests these bullets actually serve.
Volunteers are motivated by various shades and impressions of other people’s imagined existence which are given illustrations inter alia in media and aid campaigns’ propaganda and images. Regrettably, volunteer travel continues to reinforce global inequalities by offering patch solutions at its best and without adequate means to address the underlying root causes of suffering. What at first glance seems to be a hearty interaction between a volunteer and a host-community member, can actually contribute to bolstering of inequalities. In addition to lacking the desired macro level impact, the micro, individual level effects take place.
– I first encountered international volunteers when I was five, and I loved them! As a five-year-old kid, who doesn’t enjoy being tossed up into the air and given candies? But the irony was that they always only stayed for a short period of time, so the fun interactions were tainted by the knowledge that it was all going to be over soon. And when they would leave I would feel a keen sense of loss.
– When I reflect on it, I feel like the volunteers were treating us like we were from another planet. We were commodities to be used for a short period of time, not children with feelings and aspirations, or who are prone to attachment issues. There is a certain sense of exoticism associated with volunteering with kids overseas, that you can see on the posters that advertise these experiences.
– Volunteers internalise these messages and treat children like toys, who are there to be touched and be tossed around. They didn’t treat us as complex, rounded human beings.
Volunteer travel will continue to exist. Volunteers may be young people in their gap year like I was, or they might be retired couples seeking to ‘give back’. International volunteering like other cross-cultural interactions, can break down artificial barriers between people and plant seeds to a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. The problem with volunteer travel is, however, that the movement in its current format is mostly a one-way street. It is the Finnish girl fresh-out of high school student who uses her gap year savings to go teach English to Buddhist monks in Nepal. It is not the young person from Bangladesh who comes to the United States to educate American children without any professional quaifications equipped only with her or his high school diploma, young enthusiasm and life-experience.
 The term volunteer travel is used in parallel with terms volunteer tourism and voluntourism, commonly referring to international volunteering for short periods of time, usually weeks or some months. Particularly volunteer tourism is often compared to mass tourism in the so-called developing countries, in which the former is seen pursuing to bring positive impacts to the host-communities and destinations whereas the latter has been criticized for the lack of such positive impacts (see for example Harng Luh Sin 2009).
Mascarenhas, M. (2017). New Humanitarianism and the Crisis of Charity: Good Intentions on the Road to Help. Indiana University Press.
Mostafanezhad, M. (2014). Volunteer Tourism. Routledge.
Paulmann, J. (2013). Conjunctures in the history of international humanitarian aid during the twentieth century. Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development, 4(2), 215-238.
Rozakou, K. (2016). Crafting the volunteer: Voluntary associations and the reformation of sociality. Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 34(1), 79-102.
Sin, H. L. (2009). Volunteer tourism—“involve me and I will learn”?. Annals of Tourism Research, 36(3), 480-501.
Weiss, T. G., & Barnett, M. (2013). Humanitarianism Contested: Where Angels Fear to Tread. Routledge.
fresh new funding from the Norwegian Research Council’s NORGLOBAL program in
early 2019 to establish a Research Network on Humanitarian Efforts, it has
truly been an exciting year for NCHS. Through connecting and engaging with
academics, students and practitioners of humanitarianism in Norway and beyond, NCHS
has been able to serve its purpose as a platform for debate and exchange.
Looking back at 2019, three thematic areas stand out as having shaped the work of the Centre, as well as humanitarian agendas more broadly speaking. The themes migration, humanitarianism in conflict, and technologization of aid are likely to continue creating debate in humanitarian forums in the new year.
Displacement and migration
The UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview
2020 lays out how a
record number of people are currently displaced, and displacement typically
lasts for longer periods of time. In early 2019, 70.8 million people were
forcibly displaced, and twenty-eight of the 50 countries with the highest
numbers of new displacements faced both conflict and disaster-induced
policies in Europe and its neighboring regions has continued to be a hot topic
of discussion in 2019, and NCHS associates have contributed to the debate by scrutinizing
the securitization of migration and relatedly humanitarian aid, and the concept
of humanitarian containment. The latter reflects on humanitarian actors
restricting the movement of refugees and other migrants through provision of
certain services in a geographically restricted area, as explored by the
CMI-led project SuperCamp. In Norway, the Norwegian-registered
rescue vessel Ocean Viking operated by Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS
Méditerranée reignited the migration debate,
as explored in this blog post by NCHS Director Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert on whether search-and-rescue (SAR)
operations encourage people to attempt crossing the Mediterranean. A public event co-organized by
NCHS, with PRIO and the University of Oslo, at Litteraturhuset, gathered
academics, humanitarians and Norwegian politicians from various political
parties to discuss whether there is any validity to the claim that SAR in the
Mediterranean act as a pull factor. The topic clearly engages, being amongst our
most highly attended events in 2019.Taking
a step back from air-conditioned conference rooms in a sobering reflection on migrant
deaths at sea after
attending a funeral ceremony at Lampedusa, NCHS co-Director Antonio De Lauri reminded
us all of the immense human tragedy which lays the foundation for this
politicized debate. In his words, “A sense of loss pervaded today’s ceremony.
Not only for the persons who didn’t make it, but also for the idea of Europe,
itself drowned with those who believed in it”.
movements of people are likely to continue shaping policies, humanitarian
response and academic debates also in 2020, we remain committed to gather
different types of interlocutors to learn from each other’s experiences.
political role of humanitarian aid and the relationship between security,
peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts was the main thematic focus of the NCHS Research Network mid-year
meeting at NUPI in
August 2019. Gathering researchers from various disciplines with different
entry-points to what ‘humanitarianism’ means, in particular when applied in a
situation of conflict, we were able to engage in a rich debate about concepts,
definitions, and their interpretations by various actors. Amongst these, an
important point of view is how policies developed by actors external to the
country where the conflict takes place are interpreted by local populations, as
highlighted by the seminar on the EU’s engagement in
external conflicts in the Sahel led by Morten Bøås.
assistance has traditionally been delivered in situations characterized by
instability and insecurity. In order to reach vulnerable populations,
humanitarians have thus had to establish lines of communication with local,
regional and national actors. Importantly, how these relationships are formed
and maintained risk affecting the way the humanitarians are perceived in terms
of upholding the principles of neutrality and impartiality. This balance,
including the concept of ‘humanitarian diplomacy’ and whether independent humanitarian
assistance is possible in today’s conflict, were discussed at length during the NCHS annual meeting at CMI in November 2019. NCHS
co-Director Antonio De Lauri brought up some of the same themes when he gave the NMBU Annual Lecture in Global
Development in December 2019, titled “The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention: Militarization,
conflicts continue to cause an immense need for humanitarian assistance, and
reforms on reducing silos and enhancing cooperation between humanitarian,
development and security efforts continue to play an important role in
humanitarian policy, so too will we continue to focus on analysis on what the
implications of the interlinkages may mean theoretically and in practice.
Data and ‘the digital’.
developments have shaped all corners of society over the past decades,
including humanitarianism and the delivery and governance of humanitarian aid. Yet,
uncritical application of new technologies in the humanitarian field risk unintended
negative consequences that may be harmful to local populations and aid workers
alike. In 2019, NCHS associates have continued examining the effects of
emerging technologies in the humanitarian field. Kristin Bergtora Sandvik’s paper on technologizing the fight against
sexual violence is
a good example, where Sandvik asks critical questions about the turn towards
technology in humanitarian aid, and the rise of ‘digital bodies’. In 2019, Sandvik
has contributed to developing the concept of ‘digital bodies’ further,
including related to children’s rights, and ‘humanitarian wearables’ at a
lecture at Oxford University.
relationship between the humanitarian sector and technology does not have to be
one sided. In a blog post, Sean McDonald argues that the
humanitarian sector has much to offer the technology industry in terms of data
governance, with the caveat of the latter being willing to learn from the
former’s century of experience in building organizational structures. As technological
developments continue to make its way into humanitarian operations, our main
encouragement to academics and practitioners alike is to make thorough ethical
considerations to help avoid misuse and potential negative implications.
Top 3 highly attended events co-organized by NCHS in 2019 (click on link to access seminar recording)
2019 has without doubt been a successful first year for the NCHS Research
Network on Humanitarian Efforts, we see no reason to rest on our laurels. In
late 2019, The Research Council of Norway awarded several projects related to
humanitarianism with funding starting from 2020, four of which are led by colleagues
associated with NCHS.
This year, we vow to continue engaging with academics, practitioners, policy
makers and the broader public on questions related to humanitarianism. As
stated above, we believe migration, the triple nexus and technological
developments will continue to shape the humanitarian agenda in 2020, but these
are by no means the only topics on which we will focus our efforts. As the year
progress, we hope to engage with actors involved in the field of humanitarian
studies on all topics of interest that may arise, and bridge practical and
analytical knowledge by connecting research conducted on specific crises with
practitioners’ own experience. Stay tuned and follow our web page and
social media channels on Facebook and Twitter for more news.
all the best for 2020.
Coordinator Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian
Written by Sean Martin McDonald (Digital Public, FrontlineSMS, Duke Center on Law & Technology, Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab)
Sean McDonald argues that the humanitarian sector has much to offer the technology industry, and explores the relationship between the two. This article first appeared on Centre for International Governance Innovation, and is reposted here.
About the author: Sean Martin McDonald is the co-founder of Digital Public, which builds legal trusts to protect and govern digital assets. Sean’s research focuses on civic data trusts as vehicles that embed public interest governance into digital relationships and markets.
summer, the World Food Programme (WFP) — the world’s largest humanitarian
organization — got into a pitched standoff with Yemen’s Houthi government over,
on the surface, data governance. That standoff stopped food aid to 850,000
people for more than two months during the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Essentially, the WFP accused the Houthi government of redirecting aid to fund
the war and insisted that aid recipients participate in a biometric
identity-tracking system. The government responded by accusing the WFP of being
a front for intelligence operations; this was opportune, given the recent controversy over their relationship with Palantir. In the end, the parties agreed to use
the WFP’s fingerprint-based biometric identity system, despite reported flaws. The dispute, of course, wasn’t just
about data — it was about power, trust and the licence to operate.
While they may
seem worlds apart, the humanitarian sector has much to offer to the technology
industry. One of the things humanitarians and technologists have in common is
an extraordinary power to operate. For humanitarians, power takes the form of
an internationally agreed-upon right to intervene in conflicts – for some, with
legal immunity. And technology companies have the ability to project themselves
into global markets without the need for traditional government approval.
In one sense,
they’re opposites. Humanitarians have had to meticulously negotiate the
conditions of their access to conflict zones, based on non-intervention
principles, the terms of host country agreements with governments and,
increasingly, data-sharing agreements. In contrast, technology companies have
mostly enjoyed the freedom to operate globally without much negotiation,
taxation or regulation of any type. But, in recent years (as illustrated by the
WFP example) humanitarian organizations are starting to face the political and
regulatory implications of collecting, using, storing, sharing and deleting
data. Technology companies, it seems, are following the same path; they face
significant public pushback from nearly every corner of the world, from
international standards bodies and antitrust investigations to privacy fines
and class action lawsuits.
organizations have considerable history and experience negotiating for the
licence to operate in political and unstable contexts – which should inform the
people and companies designing data governance systems. Here are five places to
Licence to Operate
and technology companies can, and sometimes do, operate in places where the
government is actively resistant to their presence. While the stakes are often
lower for technology companies, the costs involved in negotiating licence to
operate country-by-country, and the technical complexity of maintaining product
offerings compatible with divergent political contexts, are high. As a result,
most technology companies launch offerings, and then react to, or defend
against governmental and public concerns. That approach is decidedly
opportunist, sacrificing long-term goodwill for short-term gains. Humanitarian
organizations have extensive debates around their right to access affected
populations, and under what conditions they earn that mandate. One thing
humanitarians can teach technology companies is the importance of contextual
negotiations and compromise to improve medium-term sustainability and long-term
The Political Complexity of Neutrality
The technology industry has become a popular political
scapegoat, often coming under fire for all kinds of bias. Technology companies
arbitrate complex social, commercial and political processes, some without any
dedicated operational infrastructure. The larger companies have built trust and
safety teams, content moderation units of varying types, and online dispute
resolution systems — all of which are designed to help users solve problems
related to platforms’ core functions. Each of these approaches has grown
significantly in recent years, but largely to mitigate damage created by the
technology sector itself – and often without transparency or the ability to
organizations, in contrast, are defined by their commitment to several core,
apolitical principles: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence and to
do no harm. The major humanitarian organizations have built organizations and
reputations for upholding those values, often amid violent conflict, that scale
globally. The technology industry, and in particular those seeking the licence
to provide public digital services or to govern public data — has a significant
amount to learn from the organizational structure of complex humanitarian
an organizational structure that manages common infrastructure and operational
hierarchies. Federation is second nature to technology companies when it comes
to code, but they are just learning how to federate and devolve their
organizational structures. Humanitarian organizations have been working through
devolved, federated organizational structures for decades — the International
Federation of the Red Cross, for example. There is a natural, and well-documented tension between independence and upholding
common standards across networks – especially in technology systems. Yet,
humanitarian organizations have built federated organizations that enable them
to operate globally, while availing themselves of the two most important
aspects of building trust: investment in local capacity and accountability.
In addition to
negotiating a licence to operate with governments, humanitarian organizations
often invest in domestic response capacity, and in recent years, localization
has become a driving strategic imperative. Humanitarians increasingly realize
they need to offer value beyond direct emergency aid, in order to foster more
durable solutions and earn the trust of communities. Technology companies often
make their products available internationally — and they often invest in
countries where they maintain a physical presence, but they rarely set up a
presence for the purposes of investing in local communities or in ways that
extend beyond their business interests. Technology organizations looking to
build trust and public approval in the ways they govern data could learn from
the humanitarian sector’s investments in local capacity, resilience and
humanitarian sector faces a lot of controversy over accountability, their
typical operating practice is to engage in direct negotiations with local
parties, which is different than technology companies, who generally start with
one set of terms they apply globally. The default terms of the technology
industry’s cardinal data governance contracts — terms of service agreements and
privacy policies — enable them to unilaterally change the terms of the
agreement. It’s impossible to rely on the terms of a contract that can change
at the whim of one party – or when the underlying goes bankrupt or gets
acquired. The actors within the technology industry seeking public trust in the
way they manage data can learn from the humanitarian sector about the need for
credible parity between negotiating parties and distributed accountability.
The good news
is that the humanitarian sector and the technology industry are well on their
way to forming deep alliances; the heads of several major humanitarian organizations have placed private sector coordination and co-creation at the centre of their
strategies. The World Economic Forum is laying the foundation for private companies to participate
in international governance bodies. And, private foundations and investors
increasingly play a role in shaping response efforts.
Unfortunately, these relationships may be a double-edged
sword. Technology companies can take advantage of humanitarian organizations’
unique licence to operate to work in regulated spaces, test new products
without repercussions and even justify the creation of invasive surveillance.
This new generation of relationships between the humanitarian organizations and
technology companies offer opportunities for each group to learn from the
other’s structural solutions on problems relating to shared issues of trust,
neutrality and global scale. Let’s hope that the technology industry chooses to
learn from the organizations that have spent the last century building, testing
and scaling organizational structures to deliver the best of humanity.
Written by Kjersti Lohne, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Oslo
This is the first post in a six-part series on ‘Penal Humanitarianism’, edited by Kjersti Lohne. The posts center around Mary Bosworth’s concept and Kjersti Lohne’s development of penal humanitarianism, and how penal power is justified and extended through the invocation of humanitarian reason. The blog posts were first posted on the “Border Criminologies” blog, and are re-posted here. The series start with an introduction to the concept ‘penal humanitarianism’, and an outline of the blog posts to follow.
Introducing the New
Themed Series on Penal Humanitarianism
Humanitarianism is many things to many people.
It is an ethos, an array of sentiments and moral principles, an imperative to
intervene, and a way of ‘doing good’ by bettering the human condition
through targeting suffering. It is also a form of governance. In Border Criminologies’ new
themed series, we look closer at the intersections of humanitarian reason with penal governance, and
particularly the transfer of penal power beyond the nation state.
study of humanitarian sentiments in criminology has mainly focused on how these
sensibilities have ‘humanized’ or ‘civilized’ punishment. As such, the notion of
humanism in the study of crime, punishment, and justice is associated with human rights implementation in penal practices
and with normative bulwark against penal populism; indeed, with a ‘softening’
of penal power.
themed series takes a slightly different approach. While non-punitive forces
have a major place in the humanitarian sensibility, we explore how
humanitarianism is put to work on and for penal power. In doing so, we look at
how muscular forms of power – expulsion, punishment, war – are justified and
extended through the invocation of humanitarian reason.
following post, Mary Bosworth revisits themes from her 2017 article and addresses current developments on UK
programmes delivered overseas to ‘manage migration’. She shows that through an
expansion of these programmes, migration management and crime governance has
not only elided, but ‘criminal justice investment appears to have become a humanitarian
goal in its own right’. Similarly concerned with what happens at the border,
Katja Franko and Helene O.I. Gundhus observed the paradox and contradictions
between humanitarian ideals in the performative work of governmental
discourses, and the lack of concern for migrants’ vulnerability in their article on Frontex operations.
in their blog post they caution against a one-dimensional understanding of
humanitarianism as legitimizing policy and the status quo. It may cloud from
view agency and resistance in practice, and, they argue, ‘the dialectics of
change arising from the moral discomfort of doing border work’. The critical,
difficult question lurking beneath their post asks what language is left if not
that of the sanctity of the human, and of humanity.
outside the European territorial border, Eva Magdalena Stambøl however
corroborates the observation that penal power takes on a humanitarian rationale
when it travels. Sharing with us some fascinating findings from her current PhD
work on EU’s crime control in West Africa, and, more specifically, observations
from her fieldwork in Niger, she addresses how the rationale behind the EU’s
fight against ‘migrant smugglers’ in Niger is framed as a humanitarian
obligation. In the process, however, the EU projects penal power beyond Europe
and consolidates power in the ‘host’ state, in this case, Niger.
beyond nation-state borders and into the ‘international’, ‘global’, and
‘cosmopolitan’, my own research demonstrates how the power to
punish is particularly driven by humanitarian reason when punishment is
delinked from its association with the national altogether. I delve into the
field of international criminal justice and show how it is animated by a
humanitarian impetus to ‘do something’ about the suffering of distant others,
and how, in particular, the human rights movement have been central to the fight against impunity for international
crimes. Through the articulation of moral outrage, humanitarian sensibilities
have found their expression in a call for criminal punishment to end impunity
for violence against distant others. However, building on an ethnographic study
of international criminal justice, which is forthcoming in the Clarendon
Studies in Criminology published by Oxford University Press, I demonstrate how
penal power remains deeply embedded in structural relations of (global) power,
and that it functions to expand and consolidate these global inequalities
further. Removed from the checks and balances of democratic institutions, I suggest
that penal policies may be more reliant on categorical representations of good
and evil, civilization and barbarity, humanity and inhumanity, as such representational dichotomies seem particularly
apt to delineate the boundaries of cosmopolitan society.
next post I co-wrote with Anette Bringedal Houge, we address the fight against
sexual violence in conflict as penal humanitarianism par excellence,
building on our study published in Law & Society
Review. While attention towards conflict-related sexual violence is
critically important, we take issue with the overwhelming dominance of criminal
law solutions on academic, policy, and activist agendas, as the fight against
conflict-related sexual violence has become the fight against impunity. We
observe that the combination of a victim-oriented justification for
international justice and graphic reproductions of the violence victims suffer,
are central in the advocacy and policy fields responding to this particular
type of violence. Indeed, we hold that it epitomizes how humanitarianism
facilitates the expansion of penal power but take issue with what it means for
how we address this type of violence.
final post of this series, Teresa Degenhardt offers a discomforting view on the
side of virtue as she reflects on how penal power is reassembled
outside the state and within the international, under the aegis of human
rights, humanitarianism, and the Responsibility to Protect-doctrine. Through
the case of Libya, she claims that the global north, through various
international interventions, ‘established its jurisdiction over local events’.
Through what she calls a ‘pedagogy of liberal institutions’, Degenhardt argues
that ‘the global north shaped governance through sovereign structures at the
local level while re-articulating sovereign power at the global level’, in an
argument that, albeit on a different scale, parallels that of Stambøl.
posts in this themed series raise difficult questions about the nature of penal
power, humanitarianism, and the state. Through these diverse examples, each
post demonstrates that while the nation state continues to operate as an
essential territorial site of punishment, the power to punish has become
increasingly complex. This challenges the epistemological privilege of the
nation state framework in the study of punishment.
However, while this thematic series focuses on how penal power travels through humanitarianism, we should, as Franko and Gundhus indicate, be careful of dismissing humanitarian sensibilities and logics as fraudulent rhetoric for a will to power. Indeed, we might – or perhaps should – proceed differently, given that in these times of pushback against international liberalism and human rights, and resurgent religion and nationalism, humanitarian reason is losing traction. Following an unmasking of humanitarianism as a logic of governance by both critical (leftist) scholars and rightwing populism alike, perhaps there is a need to revisit the potency of humanitarianism as normative bulwark against muscular power, and to carve out the boundaries of a humanitarian space of resistance, solidarity and dignity within a criminology of humanitarianism. Such a task can only be done through empirical and meticulous analysis of the uses and abuses of humanitarianism as an ethics of care.
Kickoff workshop of the EASA Anthropology of Humanitarianism Network (AHN)
Goettingen, 01-03 November 2019
What does humanitarianism look like when it intersects with the state and the military? Or with the local ways of giving? What sort of help are we dealing with when humanitarian forms of reasoning and practice become intertwined with “that which is not humanitarianism”, to paraphrase Gupta (1995: 393)? Anthropological studies have suggested that a lot of work has to be invested into keeping up the boundaries of humanitarianism (Fassin 2012, Dunn 2018, Gilbert 2016). The result of this work has been a loose network of aid that moves throughout the world and replaces, suspends, or otherwise sidesteps state sovereignties in an attempt to save lives (Redfield and Bornstein 2011, Ticktin 2014, Schuller 2016, Ramsey 2017).
In this workshop, we will focus on what sort of hybrids emerge when, instead of maintaining its boundaries, humanitarianism intersects with other ways of thinking and acting. What kind of politics does this enable or prevent (cf. Feldman 2018)? What types of social dynamics, positions, and exclusions take place in such cases? We invite papers that explore the following five thematic strands:
Humanitarianism and voluntarism: What happens when humanitarianism becomes intertwined with vernacular ideas about how to help others (including activism, solidarity, or charity)?
Humanitarianism and military: how is the relationship between humanitarian aid and the use of military force evolving in the context of transnational securitization and border management?
Humanitarianism and development: How do large-scale humanitarian initiatives relate to developmental projects?
Humanitarianism and human rights: How does humanitarianization of state politics and human rights look like?
Humanitarianism and religion: Which moral configurations emerge as part of humanitarian projects and how are they related to religious orders?
This will be the first meeting of the Anthropology of Humanitarianism Network (AHN), founded in 2018 by the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA), with an aim to provide a platform for a broad discussion on the meanings and practices of humanitarianism and on the possible future directions of an anthropological study of humanitarianism. The kickoff workshop “Intersections of humanitarianism” will provide a venue for the network members to meet in person, share ongoing research, and make plans for the future development of the network.
Please send abstracts of 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org well as a 100 words bio by 30 June 2019.
The workshop “Intersections of Humanitarianism” is supported by EASA, Centre for Global Migration (CeMIG) of the Georg August University Goettingen, and Chr. Michelsen Institute.
Written by Simon Reid-Henry, Associate Professor in the School of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London & PRIO affiliate
By Simon Reid-Henry, Associate Professor in the School of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London & PRIO affiliate
I’m delighted to be invited to the launch of round two of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies today in Oslo, with the establishment of a new network on humanitarian efforts.
There are now over half a million humanitarian professionals and between 2,500 and 4,500 organisations. This according to the event plenary – “Unravelling Humanitarian Concepts” – delivered by Doris Schopper, the director of CERAH in Geneva. Over the past few years, Schopper has been leading an initiative to develop an online “humanitarian encyclopaedia” to try and bring some coherence to this congeries of actors (you can read more about their work here). But does the humanitarian sector actually need more ‘coordinating’ and more uniformity, as we are often told? Well, yes and no. As Schopper points out, there is today more than ever before an almost unmanageable diversity of cultural, disciplinary and organisational backgrounds within the humanitarian sector (just compare the leviathan like ICRC with the niche ‘pop up’ outfits that have arisen in response to the refugee crisis). Her point is that humanitarianism lacks a common “language” by which means these actors might more usefully “communicate”.
But diversity is key too. In a way that is what the humanitarian sector best does: it fills in the cracks. And to ensure that this effort to find a common humanitarian language doesn’t ultimately descend into the usual tropes of global ‘governance’ I think also this felt need for unification and professionalisation needs resisting to some degree. For example, Schopper points out that there are 63 different definitions of resilience. This is a problem, she suggests. Arguably the greater problem here, however, is that resilience, as a meta concept, is so broad and influential that it can sustain 63 overlapping definitions (John Rawls and Martha Nussbaum be warned).
For my money, one of the more interesting things to come from Schopper’s talk was the way to which (a) disciplinary and institutional backgrounds shape the extent to which people agree on basic concepts (anyone who has done interdisciplinary research will confirm that!); and (b) that the sources of people’s conceptual knowledge are worryingly – and conversely – very similar. Over 35 per cent of respondents in the surveys that Schopper and her colleagues undertook in the process of building their encyclopedia, for example, took their understanding of the word “humanity” from Wikipedia (Humanity Journal’s editorial collective also be warned). That’s another away goal for Wikipedia contra the academy.
Surely the more salient point here is that this conceptual confusion – a “lack of coherence” and “blurred messages” as Schopper puts it, or “boundary work” as those schooled in Science Studies would more likely say – is precisely what the humanitarian sector does want. It allows them to get on with their own work as they see fit, not as others see fit: least of all those they seek to assist. Interestingly, in a section on ‘salient concepts’ used by humanitarian actors there was no mention at all of concepts like ‘care’ or ‘assistance’ in the category of most frequently used concepts. Rather, everything was about organisational good practice and ‘accountability’. No surprises there, perhaps – but this is revealing all the same.
As one of the audience members observed at this point, this is also a powerful reminder of the power of institutions to shape the way that knowledge is used – a point my earlier work on institutions and innovation has emphasised. And it raises, in turn, the problem of intellectual language. An example of this, and it also cropped up in the discussion, is the following: is what we are after in humanitarianism more “convergence” or more “understanding”? The former is corporate prattle mostly; the latter is more socially-enframed – and stronger for it. In other words, the question is less ‘who speaks humanitarian?’ but ‘what they are speaking when they do so?’: what is the humanitarian agenda in other words? This was apparent from another question, which raised the point that the emergence and contestation of concepts is not always an intellectual but frequently an ideological process. Both practical issues (one’s institutional standing, the political associations of certain terms) and political matters (e.g. neoliberal demands for ‘efficiency’ or even geo-strategy) play a role. As the audience member added, you can define “civil society” however you want, but a Russian state interlocutor will still likely frown on the term from the get-go.
Nonetheless these are some important findings here and I think this work is going to be a touchstone reference for debates over humanitarianism going forward (it certainly adds to recent scholarly discussions like those in Past & Present on the matter of humanitarian historiography). If you want to find out more you can do so here. The work is based on content analysis of an impressive 478 Strategy and general document publications between 2005 and 2017. One of the things they hope to come out of it is a Humanitarian Encyclopaedia. I can see how that sort of intellectual “field guide” could be extremely useful. Then again, the politics of conceptual knowledge goes somewhat beyond this. The fuller work is available here: at HumanitarianEncyclopedia.org and you can follow updates at @HumanEncyclo.
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: https://jhumanitarianaction.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41018-018-0036-5