Privileging Forces in the Humanitarian System: Power and Marginalization


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"Humanitarianism started off as a powerful discourse; now it is a discourse of power, both at the international and at the community level." (p. 190)
--Antonio Donini "Humanitarianism, Perceptions, and Power" in In the Eyes of Others (Abu Sada, editor; 2012)

Our premise is that Donini is right. Debates focused on humanitarian action have turned to a more detailed analysis of power since the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. Some lines of inequality in the humanitarian system are increasingly clear, with examples including pay grade discrepancies between international and national staff, the ongoing #MeToo/#AidToo revelations, and the now global #BLM movement with links to decolonisation debates in the aid sector. Many now doing analyses of power are starting to name (and shame) the systemic structures of inequality plaguing humanitarian work. The humanitarian system is a product of and functions within the larger (mostly global North dominated) sociocultural world, and hence shares a complex array of ‘baked in’ structures that systematically create and maintain mechanisms that marginalize many. Some have called this the 'privileging forces' of power and point out the way these forces are wielded along the lines of sexism, ageism, ableism, hetero/cisnormativity, classism, racism, and colonialism/paternalism. This panel aims to convene a group of presentations that will unpack the ‘privileging forces’ at play in the humanitarian system while at the same time highlighting the inherent intersectionality of these forces. We welcome any paper that addresses ongoing ‘privileging forces’/power dynamics in humanitarian action, for example examining meaningful organizational charges and changes leading to both inward and outward behavioral and policy modification. Ideally, this panel will attract papers which (1) mix case study with a robust theoretical examination of one or more elements of the privileging forces, (2) provide substantive and specific examples of how these marginalizing forces are in play, (3) suggest actionable and specific policy change solutions as to how the sector can move forward proactively addressing these forces, and (4) model a reflexive understanding of the issues involved.

Date(s) & Time(s)

November 4th, 2021
09:00 (GMT +1)
Room 15
Session has ended.

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Olivia Wilkinson
Thomas Arcaro