Paper: When neoliberal rationality transforms humanitarianism into an ideology that depoliticizes

Paper details

Paper authors Bertrand Bréqueville
In panel on Depoliticizing humanitarian action: motives, practices, consequences
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


The research question is: how does the impregnation of neoliberal rationality within humanitarianism make it a vector of depoliticization?
The intellectual environment of the 1970s - based on anti-totalitarianism - allowed humanitarianism to take off and neoliberalism to become hegemonic concomitantly. There is a historical relationship between the two. Humanitarian NGOs are increasingly permeable to the influences and interests of neoliberalism.
We analyse different situations: those bringing social rights into a humanitarian logic, those inducing an uninhibited relationship with the profit sector, and those imposing on humanitarian NGOs concepts that neoliberalism has appropriated and shaped (social protection, resilience, empowerment…).
Resilience is a good example of a concept, seemingly neutral, but which tends to depoliticize. Resilience refuses to see the systemic nature of crises. It places responsibility for their own situation on the people concerned.
Humanitarianism is even more easily influenced as its doctrine, based on neutrality, is a factor of inertia. In contact with neoliberalism, the humanitarian doctrine turns into ideology in the pejorative sense of the term.
Humanitarian actors may well present their interventions as “not political”. The main problem is the depoliticization that humanitarianism itself generates in different ways.
It is time for the humanitarian sector to question the underlying nature of its relationship to neoliberalism.
Bibliography: Bertrand Bréqueville, L’humanitaire sous l’emprise du néolibéralisme, Editions Charles Leopold Mayer



Bertrand Bréqueville