Depoliticizing humanitarian action: motives, practices, consequences

Panel details

Panel organiser(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online
Number of paper presentations 6


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This panel explores the politics of humanitarianism through the less common entry point of ‘depoliticization’. Why do humanitarian actors aim to shape and/or present their interventions as ‘not political’? How do they do it? What are the consequences, including for conflict -and disaster- impacted populations?

The separation of humanitarian action from politics is one of the founding stances of humanitarianism. It aims to maximize humanitarian independence and neutrality, thus increases acceptance and access, including in conflict settings. Yet, humanitarian claims of non-involvement in politics have been dismissed by some as misleading, naive, or counter-productive. Some political scientists have argued that depoliticization is just another form of politics.

Possible themes to be addressed include self-censorship dilemmas, the standardization, technicalization and bureaucratization of aid, and what it means to be ‘neutral’ when intervening in situations of protest and/or authoritarianism. We particularly welcome contributions that discuss the depoliticisation of aid in light of current humanitarian trends, such as localization and the expectations of less powerful civil society actors and populations in need, the increasingly blurred lines between humanitarianism, development and peace-building, or the neoliberalisation of aid and role of private sector entities.

The first panel slot (9-10.30 a.m.) will focus on case studies following an introduction to the topic, with paper presentations by Marina Sharpe, Jasmine Burnley on Myanmar and the Rohingya, and Andrew Cunningham on Belarus.

The second panel slot (11-12.30) approaches the topic of depoliticisation through thematic angles: neoliberalism with a presentation by Bertrand Bréqueville, inclusion of indigenous people in disaster management with a presentation by Anuszka Mosurska, to finally open up with possible alternatives to depoliticisation, with a presentation by Sophie Roborgh on ´humanitarians of the revolution´.

Date & Time

November 4th, 2021
09:00 (GMT +6)
Room 13
Session has ended.

November 4th, 2021
11:00 (GMT +6)
Room 13
Session has ended.

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Isabelle Desportes
Freie Universität Berlin