We have divided our main theme ‘New Realities of Politics and Humanitarianism: Between Solidarity and Abandonment’  into 5 sub-themes for panel submissions:

1) Health and the Environment
2) Localizing Humanitarian Studies
3) Political Economy and Politics of Humanitarianism
4) Technology and Innovation
5) Migration, Displacement and Refugees

We welcome panel submissions in English, French and Spanish.

Theme descriptions in English below
Theme descriptions in French 
Theme descriptions in Spanish


1) Health and the Environment 

While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought health to the forefront of political agendas worldwide, health issues go well beyond it, and are closely linked to global environmental problems. For instance, COVID-19 has been argued to be the result of increased interaction between human and animal habitats in a context of rapid urbanisation. Overall, there has been a rise of infectious disease in recent decades. Many of the root causes of climate change, such as deforestation, also increase the likelihood and duration of pandemics. The effects of climate change has multiple direct and indirect effects on health, health access, and the ability of actors to respond (direct life threat, psychological problems, emergence of new disease and rise of allergies, growing pollution, worsening of water and sanitary conditions etc.). In addition, climate change heavily impacts social and economic dynamics directly linked to health. The COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional threat in fragile and humanitarian settings as it can cause extra burden to already weak health systems, disrupt supply chains for medicine and basic supplies, and spread quickly in overcrowded spaces and shelters with insufficient hygiene and sanitation facilities. Covid-19 and associated restrictions weaken the resilience and coping mechanisms of vulnerable communities in humanitarian crisis and deepen food insecurity crisis. The number of acutely food insecure people in countries affected by conflict, natural disaster or economic crises is predicted to increase. Recent estimates also indicate that more than 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes as a direct and indirect result of COVID-19 related disruption of health systems and decreased access to food. 

The World Disasters Report 2020, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, relates 83 per cent of all disasters of the past decade to hazardous meteorological conditions exacerbated by climate change, like flooding, droughts or heat waves. Together, these disasters affected 1.7 billion people worldwide. Among several consequences, climate-induced disasters are a direct threat to health by causing diseases, serious injuries and death of people. 

To better understand the links between health and the environment, the stream welcomes panels that explore linkages that present evidence and recommendations for holistic solutions that create synergies and tackle more than one crisis at all levels. We welcome panels that cover but not limited to: health and climate-induced disasters; climate change and pandemic recovery; comparison of C-19 with prior pandemics; the roles of philanthropic foundations, the business sector and local organisations in responding and rebuilding the health sector during COVID-19; innovative health interventions that improve humanitarian programming etc. 

2) Localizing Humanitarian Studies

This stream will host panels, roundtables and other activities at the conference that deal with four interrelated dimensions of ethics, research and research uptake in humanitarian action and humanitarian studies. These are:

Ethics of humanitarian action
Humanitarian action has long been reigned by an ethics derived from the humanitarian principles, norms and the structuration of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Increasingly, we see challenges to these ethics and that humanitarian principles,  more oriented towards the behaviour of the organizations adopting them, can not provide all answers. Even the very core of the principle of humanity (the desire  to relieve suffering wherever it may be found) is being questioned: are lives indeed being treated as equal within humanitarian practice? We also see alternative ethics, for example based on justice, solidarity or feminism, being proposed and the question is how these relate to the classical ethics of humanitarianism. How does new knowledge or prominent debates (e.g. concerning climate change) and subsequent insights influence debates on humanitarian ethics? And what can be learnt from developments in Global International Relations and Post-Western approaches? How is ethical deliberation organized around new questions at all levels (individual, operational and institutional) ? The question is also how humanitarians operate in the moral minefield of humanitarian action and uphold a culture of ethics. What are the various formal and informal processes, mechanisms, structures etc within agencies that foster or hamper ethical practice?

Ethics in research
Research encounters in humanitarian studies are subject to ethical reviews and have to abide by ethical standards. Are the standard ethical practises applicable in conflict-affected areas, and how do we deal with dilemmas that may arise? How about the ethics implied in fieldwork and research methodologies, especially in participatory methods and other techniques to bring views from actors in crisis-affected countries to the fore?

Teaching and humanitarian learning
Teaching on humanitarianism and humanitarian learning has been rapidly growing. The IHSA website provides a directory of more than 200 programmes.  How do teaching programs deal with the ethics of humanitarianism and humanitarian studies? Which ethics related pedagogical models do academic institutions concerned with humanitarian studies apply and to what effect? How do humanitarian actors and systems learn and change (or not)? How are new forms of education, including e-learning and MOOCs changing the educational landscape, and are new collaborations evolving to use education to strengthen humanitarian capacity in crisis-affected areas? How can humanitarian learning best be facilitated?

Ethics in humanitarian studies
Humanitarian studies or the analysis of humanitarian crisis, actors and sector in a disciplinary approach  – and adjacent fields of disaster studies and refugee studies – are increasingly criticized for being centred on the global North. Scholars at the World Humanitarian Summit formulated commitments to break through the hierarchies and inequalities within humanitarian studies, and this stream aims to follow-on to these commitments. In this, in addition to conceptual and analytical contributions, we are especially interested in empirical findings from the Global South, and how these shape (or fail to shape) global humanitarian discourse and practice. Panels are encouraged that deepens our understanding of the political economy of academia including financial flows, publication cultures, access to resources and how this impacts the position of researchers from crisis-affected countries in the Global South in knowledge production processes and the perceived ‘quality’ of knowledge products, as well as the ethical implications of these dynamics.

3) Political Economy and Politics of Humanitarianism

This stream welcomes panels centred around a political economy approach which addresses the political nature of humanitarian crises, the politics of provision of aid or its withdrawal, as well as the politics of humanitarian governance. This stream includes debates around the politicization of International Humanitarian Law, barriers to the negotiation of humanitarian access, the instrumentalization of humanitarian principles, and the politics surrounding humanitarian action in conflicts.

Ultimately the stream asks: What are the political issues at the heart of humanitarian crises? What, indeed, constitutes ‘political’ in the humanitarian context? And how do aid actors engage with and within this political environment?

Key questions include (but are not confined to): How has the politics of humanitarian governance changed over time? How important and relevant is the practice on témoignage – when and how should humanitarian actors speak out? How important is the concept of securitisation when studying humanitarian crises and aid actors? Are we in fact in an era of humanitarian abandonment? Where is accountability located in any humanitarian intervention remains an open question. And how has the legal context within which humanitarian actors work has changed?

Issues which may be explored based on the above questions in this stream may include political negotiations and the state – aid – society relationships. The political economy of state ‘interference’ in aid, the securitisation of aid, and anti-aid narratives. The politics of accountability to affected populations and how  accountability links to developing aid narratives? How the political involvement of national, regional and international governments impacts the legal environment of humanitarian space. Issues around the theme of criminalisation of aid may be explored, as well as the human rights agenda and its interlinkages with humanitarian action. Additional legal issues may include legal jurisdiction; the ‘lawyering’ of humanitarian action; legal barriers to aid provision; and counter-terrorism laws.

All these themes are bound to affect the governance of humanitarian action, but in what ways? That is what the stream ultimately hopes to explore in all its multiple facets.

4) Technology and Innovation 

The digital landscape is rapidly evolving, from the use and normalization of Big data analytics to understand voting patterns and disease transmission, biometrics to register refugees and recipients of assistance, blockchain technologies to advance financial inclusion, and the internet of things to monitor smart homes and smart cities. Especially in a post-COVID-19 pandemic age, digital processes and gadgets likewise shape and reshape the ways that humanitarians respond to and interact with those affected by crisis and conflict, and how individuals and communities interact with, resist, and reshape humanitarian response. These include the use of mobile assessments, mobile health (m-health) applications and interventions, cash transfers, educational technologies targeting children and youth, and interactive voice response (IVR) as well as remote mapping, drones, wearables, and artificial intelligence. Their increasing use have raised questions related to privacy, data responsibility, digital dignity, and how humanitarians should prepare for cyber attacks.

We welcome panels from academics, practitioners and innovators focused on the ways that digital technologies, data, and the innovation agenda are changing the relationships between key stakeholders in humanitarian response, and enlarging our understanding of who counts as a humanitarian and what counts as humanitarian aid. They also change the political economy of aid. 

We invite panels and papers about the processes of data, datafication, the digitization of responses, and the rise of a humanitarian data economy. We particularly solicit contributions on logistics and supply chain management. We also welcome contributions on normative frameworks used to govern new technologies; the relationship between technology and governance; and new methodologies to understand the impact of the digital landscape on humanitarian response. Finally, with respect to crosscutting perspectives, we welcome panels on humanitarian ethics (including the relationship between technology and decolonising aid), gender-based approaches to technology, evolving rights-based approaches to humanitarian technology, how digital inclusion can or should be included in the localization and SDG agendas, the rising prominence of ‘effectiveness’ as a key principle of humanitarian action, the politics of ‘digital bodies’, and initiatives around accountability and transparency.

5) Migration, Displacement and Refugees

This theme focuses on global refugee and migration movements and policy, including the rights of migrants and refugees at any stage in their journey and the politics of protection and assistance.  It also covers the governance of mobility, and of displaced and refugee settlements. Complex migratory movements in fragile and unstable situations often involve exploitation and abuse of refugees and asylum seekers along their journeys in contexts that are poorly regulated by formal legal mechanisms and institutions.

Although forced migration is often conceptualized as temporary and destined to end in return, it is now obvious that political and economic crises tend to last many years and create protracted refugee or displacement situations.  In addition, people may migrate as a result of structural crises in their countries of origin and to meet aspirations.  The theme also aims to cover the range of causes and drivers of migration; including for example conflict and famine but also climate-related destruction of ecosystems.  Refugee contexts are also changing in that many now reside out of camps, a situation that offers opportunities and new challenges.  Migration and settlement to urban areas is accelerating in many African and Asian contexts, requiring new approaches and alliances with for example the business community.

Humanitarian, refugee and migration policies are changing too, for example with the new Global Compacts on migration and refugees, and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) of 2016.  The policies aim to create opportunities for more effective responsibility sharing, more comprehensive responses, and more entitlements for displaced persons to enable economic self-reliance. But they also may impose limitations on the way people on the move have in the past managed their plight, a dynamic about which we know very little apart from anecdotal evidence.

This thematic stream invites panels that examine the challenges that refugees, migrants and host communities face in places of origin, along the journey and in areas of destination. We also invite panels that present findings on the impacts of policies designed to manage migration and refugee flows, and the provision of protection and assistance.  We encourage panels that focus on regional as well as global realities, on the consequences of strengthened border control mechanisms, and detention or returns policies.  Panels on so-called crimes of solidarity and the role on new activist groups are also encouraged.