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CfP: Broadening humanitarianism: shifting perspectives, realities, and theorizations

Online Postgraduate Symposium

10-11 June 2021

Humanitarianism is a concept that escapes easy definition. Recent works have contributed to reveal the complexities and diversities behind the term that is generally understood as a drive to alleviate human suffering and an accompanying call for urgent action. In anthropological literature, humanitarianism has been defined as a set of “particular embodied, situated practices” (Redfield, 2005: 330), and as an unstable concept established through contradistinction, that is, according to what it is not (Brada, 2016). The richness of settings in the anthropology of humanitarianism reflects the breadth of its object of study: warzones, natural hazards, refugee camps, migration, all have figured in some form in ethnographies on the subject. Shifts in perspective, from beneficiaries to aid workers, from institutionalized to vernacular humanitarianism (Brković, 2017), from cosmopolitan to domestic roots (Malkki, 2015), from emergencies to bureaucracies (Billaud, 2020), have likewise contributed to expanding the study of a phenomenon that is perhaps best understood in the plural as humanitarianisms.

In the same spirit, this symposium calls for contributions that continue to push and question current understandings of humanitarianism, through investigations into “its complexities, limits, and boundaries” (Ticktin, 2014: 283). By placing the diversity of narratives and practices at the core of studies on humanitarianism, we aim to potentially foster comparative analysis of such realities. How can new shifts in perspective expand current understandings of humanitarianism? How do changes in politics, dominant beliefs, and practices shape humanitarianism? How do these changes affect local contexts of intervention and what effects do they produce? How can shifts in theoretical frameworks help us better understand developments in humanitarianism?

We invite contributions that address these and related questions, while speaking to debates on humanitarianism in anthropology and the broader social sciences. This call welcomes ethnographic and non-ethnographic contributions, as well as pre-fieldwork thinking, on the subject. Proposals may address themes including, but not limited to:

  • Humanitarianism beyond crisis
  • New perspectives on humanitarianism in crisis
  • Vernacular humanitarianism
  • Political change and humanitarianism
  • Bureaucracies of doing good
  • Gendered, racialized, and classed analyses of humanitarianism
  • Theorizing humanitarian governance beyond Foucault
  • Methodological and ethical issues specific to research in humanitarian realities


Early career researchers and postgraduate students are invited to submit their paper proposal in the format of a 250-word abstract with title. Proposals must be sent tothe conference organizers (emails below) by Monday, April 19.


The symposium will follow the format of themed panels, to be defined once the call for papers is closed.

The official languages for the symposium will be English and Spanish, and proposals in either of the two languages are welcome. The first day, June 10, will be dedicated to papers in English, and the second, June 11, to papers in Spanish. The event will take place entirely online, and no registration fee is required.

Confirmed keynote speakers

Julie Billaud, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

María de la Almudena Cortés Maisonave, Universidad Complutense de Madrid


Pedro Silva Rocha Lima, University of Manchester (

Valentina Benincasa, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

The symposium “Broadening humanitarianism: shifting perspectives, realities, and theorizations” is a part of the Anthropology of Humanitarianism Network (AHN) of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA).

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