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World conference of humanitarian studies

Faez al-Ajrami, a Palestinian medic injured during the Jabalya incursion, being taken to hospital.
(Muhammed Ali/IRIN)

Academics, humanitarian analysts, practitioners and students are gathered in the Netherlands this week at the first conference of its kind.



The World Conference of Humanitarian Studies is hosted by the University of Groningen and features over 60 panels and dozens of papers on a very broad range of humanitarian topics.



IRIN interviewed the organiser, Joost Herman, by email.



Herman said the conference had four main aims:



- to provide a meeting ground for academic communities and practitioners concerned with in-depth research on humanitarian issues;



- to take stock of the current theory, debates, and issues of humanitarian studies;



- to reflect on current practice and identify opportunities for improving humanitarian practice; and



- to involve Southern scholars and practitioners more strongly in humanitarian politics, responses, debates, and studies.



He makes the case that academic study to underpin and inform humanitarian action is essential – “refusing to think and reflect upon your own course of action is a dead end street”.













Joos Herman is organiser of the World Conference of Humanitarian Studies and is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and International Organizations at Groningen University

Joos Herman is organiser of the World Conference of Humanitarian Studies and is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and International Organizations at Groningen University
Groningen University
Joos Herman is organiser of the World Conference of Humanitarian Studies and is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and International Organizations at Groningen University
http://www.rug.nl
Thursday, February 5, 2009
World conference of humanitarian studies
Joos Herman is organiser of the World Conference of Humanitarian Studies and is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and International Organizations at Groningen University


Photo: Groningen University
Joos Herman is organiser of the World Conference of Humanitarian Studies and is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and International Organizations at Groningen University

Fostering interdisciplinary debate




Q: Tell us about the upcoming conference. Is it a first? What's the purpose?



A: The World Conference of Humanitarian Studies is indeed the first one of its kind and we do hope to embark upon a scheme of bi-annual follow-up conferences. Our conference creates a meeting ground of different scholars, policy-makers and, very importantly, practitioners from around the globe. As a World Conference, we very much want to establish a truly global representation of humanitarian studies and foster interdisciplinary debate on a grand scale.



This is so necessary, this concerted qualitative input into humanitarianism. Look around and see how many humanitarian crises there are, see how many conceptual mistakes are made, see how difficult it is for many humanitarians to take a pause and reflect.



Q: How is the academic field of humanitarian studies?



A: The field has been quite dispersed so far. ...If only because of the growing occurrence of humanitarian action worldwide, the seeming increase in man-made and natural disasters has led to the growth of a new discipline. Humanitarian studies are typically of the 1990s, where scholars like Thea Hilhorst and Dennis Dijkzeul in Europe, Larry Minear and Peter Walker in America, Mihir Bhatt in India and I have created interdisciplinary programmes or institutes with a singled out topic: humanitarianism.



We have secured interdisciplinary trained staff from various departments (law, international relations, psychology, management, rural economy, etc) who were willing to come together, and to devise new methodologies to study and explain the rising phenomenon...



...In Switzerland, the UK and the USA there are such [MA] programmes; in Wageningen there is the Unit of Disaster Studies, but in all I would say the number is limited. The most recognisable [MA] programme is the European NOHA Programme (Network on Humanitarian Assistance). This is one of the first networks to have a truly international Masters’ programme, having been labelled by the European Union as an Erasmus Mundus Master Programme of Excellence.



Hot topics



Q: What are the hot topics, current research trends - who are the pioneers?



A: The number of scholars engaging in humanitarian research (and therefore also the urge to build new similar programmes) is growing. By only looking at the hot topics that surround humanitarian action today, it is no small wonder.














Photo: DVIC
A US soldier talks with Iraqi children during a patrol in Baghdad. How soldiers and aid workers interact is a hot topic in humanitarianism

Let me mention:



- The interaction between the military and “civilian” humanitarian workers and the “principled” friction if not outright danger this creates in Iraq, Afghanistan, DRC, Sudan, Chad, Georgia, etc.



- The call for further professionalisation of humanitarian workers and their sensitivity for transparency and accountability [given the] the billions and billions of euros spent on humanitarian aid.



- The shrinking humanitarian space in which humanitarian organisations have to operate and the ensuing dangers, thanks to the increase of benevolent and malign agents (competing NGOs, the military, rebels, crooked governmental forces, war lords, transnationally organised criminal groups).



- And finally, but perhaps I should have mentioned that as the first issue: the role of the local participants of aid and often the neglect of this group and their amazing local capacities and capabilities, their knowledge production and their inventiveness. It is all too often that we in our urge to do good and to commit ourselves to the humanitarian imperative, simply neglect the true needs of the recipients to whom we simply do not listen and who are not involved in project implementation.



Interesting fields of research are: the relationship between aid and local participation (or the neglect towards it); the focus on preparedness in those areas prone to disaster; as I said, shrinking humanitarian space in combination with new developments in the area of international (humanitarian) law, leading to the ever-growing support for the R2P concept: the responsibility to protect. Indeed, civil-military interaction in broad peace support operations where mandates nowadays are so all-encompassing that nobody knows what they themselves and the others are doing...



Thea Hilhorst, Peter Walker, Mary Anderson, Dennis Dijkzeul, Dirk Salomons, Hugo Slim, Paul Harvey - these are all important researchers who couple their academic skills with profound field experience.



These are the people who think and act, who take in empirical evidence and forge that into deep analysis. They provide the material based upon which students can study, policy makers can make policy and practitioners can practice.



bp/cb

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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