Category Archives: Call for papers

Call for papers for the 19th issue of Humanitarian Alternatives

For its forthcoming 19th issue, due out in March 2022, Humanitarian Alternatives is launching a call for papers for its Focus, provisionally titled The place of the child in humanitarian action and communication: moving away from the cliché of the childhood icon”. If you are an actor, researcher or observer in the international humanitarian community and wish to submit an article proposal on this subject, please send a summary and a draft plan  (two pages maximum) to the following email address by 20 December 2021: contact@alternatives-humanitaires.org. You will receive a reply by 24 December 2021 at the latest.

The final deadline for submitting the article is 31 January 2022. The article should be around 15,000 characters including spaces (around 2,400 words). Six or seven articles will be selected for this Focus.

For each issue, we also study article proposals on themes related to humanitarian action other than the one of the Focus; these are published in the “Perspectives”, “Transitions”, “Innovations”, “Ethics”, “Reportage” or “Tribune” sections. We invite you to send us your proposals.

The place of the child in humanitarian action and communication:
moving away from the cliché of the childhood icon

A Focus codirected by Valérie Gorin, teaching fellow and researcher at the Centre of Humanitarian Studies, Geneva (University of Geneva and Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies),
and Boris Martin, Editor-in-Chief of
Humanitarian Alternatives

On 23 February 1923, the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted in Geneva. Under the aegis of the International Save the Children Union, it established a global movement in the wake of the First World War, ranging from the large-scale opening of canteens to the expansion of the market for powdered milk by way of transnational action to limit child labour. Almost a century later, the image of the child dominates the communications media issued by humanitarian organisations, which rely heavily on the figure of the innocent, hungry or wounded child to raise funds. In doing so, they often promote a reductive vision of childhood, part idealised, part martyred – the figure of a child as icon.

Although this trope has long been criticised, it shows no signs of going away. Indeed, the figure of the child in danger has given rise to notorious abuse, from the scandal of stolen children in Chad by members of L’Arche de Zoé in 2007 to the trade in fake orphanages in Nepal that emerged following the earthquake of 2015, encouraged by the growing and lucrative business of “voluntourism”.

The use of the iconography of childhood in humanitarian work has already been the subject of numerous research projects over the past twenty years, but with the recurring problems it raises today in the face of multiple humanitarian issues, it merits further examination. The exploitation of childhood-martyrdom as a front for compassionate geopolitics has indeed increased in recent years, thanks to numerous cases of social media hype. The photograph of Alan Kurdi, the Kurdish child found dead on a Turkish beach in September 2015 (whose photograph was shared on Twitter by the emergency director of Human Rights Watch), remains the most striking example. Since then, many responses have been issued by other parties with different motivations. We remember, for example, the controversial cases of Omran Daqneesh, a young Syrian boy whose bloodied face in an ambulance was broadcast by local photographers in August 2016, or of the photograph featuring the Turkish president Erdogan with Bana Al-Abed, a 7-year-old Syrian girl who told the story of the war from Aleppo before being evacuated by Turkey in December 2016. Two media cases in which the image of children at risk – reposted ad nauseam on social networks – has been exploited for the benefit of a political regime directly involved in the Syrian armed conflict.

The use of the image of childhood has led humanitarian organisations to develop or review codes of ethical conduct to take into account the over-representation of children in humanitarian appeals, including the issue of consent and accountability. In addition, multiple sectors of international aid consider the identity, autonomy and participation of young beneficiaries. Many projects are flourishing in the areas of natural risk reduction and post-conflict demobilisation and disarmament, which include an active approach with regards to children, from needs assessments to the setting up of specific activities in spaces adapted to young people.

Yet is this wholesome development commensurate with the social, legislative, and emotional changes taking place in other social spheres, such as education, care or the family environment, which bear witness to new sensibilities and representations of the child? Implicitly, this global transformation questions a phenomenon that is still all too frequent in the humanitarian field: an over-exaggeration of children perceived as figures of otherness and reduced to a victimised and protective vision inherited from the nineteenth century, at the expense of a more realistic representation of children as thinking and active beings, including of course all due consideration for the constraints inherent in their condition. This issue was given serious consideration in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognised autonomy and the right to expression in childhood, but which has struggled to impose itself in light of new ways of regarding childhood as suffering or childhood as fighting. Consider the issue of child soldiers, whose image is still largely reduced to one of boys fighting and girls turned into sex slaves, whereas the reality is more complex, as well as the reintegration of children into the communities involved. The same goes for NGO action in favour of the deradicalisation of child soldiers of the Islamic State or the children of jihadists, detained in Iraq or Syria, which remains hesitant and seldom discussed. We should also mention the aid programmes on gender and sexual violence, which have benefited from wide exposure in recent years, even though they make women victims of abuse a priority, to the detriment of children. Humanitarian organisations are effectively more reluctant to directly mention the sexual exploitation of children, or the abuses committed by some of their staff, even as denunciations of paedophilia are multiplying in Catholic circles, as evidenced by the latest report of the Sauvé Commission in France.

This new Focus aims to take stock of what has become of the figure of childhood in the humanitarian field today, proposing to move beyond the question of the child as an image in an effort to address the issues mentioned above: to what extent does the elevation of the child to the status of icon not serve the humanitarian project? How can we transcend the traditional attributes of children in danger (innocence, disempowerment) to explore and empower a participatory and resilient form of childhood? How is it possible to overcome the taboos linked to the classical vision of idealised childhood?

Translated from the French by Juliet Powys

Call for Papers for the 6th International Humanitarian Studies Conference

Every other year, the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) organises a conference on humanitarian studies. IHSA Conferences bring together a wide range of academics and practitioners that exchange knowledge on different topics within the field of humanitarian studies.

After Groningen, Boston, Addis Ababa, Istanbul and the Hague, the 6th International Humanitarian Studies Conference will be held on 3-5 November 2021 in Paris, France, in collaboration with Sciences Po, with a significant scientific implication of the Centre for International Studies (CERI) at Sciences Po. The Conference’s main theme will be:

New Realities of Politics and Humanitarianism: Between Solidarity and Abandonment

Following its Call for Panels, the IHSA has now opened its Call for Papers, which runs until 1st September 2021. The IHSA invites papers that address the proposed panels available here.

For more information on how to submit a paper (steps, presentations, style), click here.

Humanitarian Alternatives will be a media partner to the event.

Call for papers for the 17th issue of Humanitarian Alternatives

In view of its 17th issue, to be published in July 2021, the Humanitarian Alternatives review is launching a call for papers for its Focus on a topic whose provisional title is “Research and humanitarian aid: the challenges of a collaboration”. If you are a participant, researcher, or observer of the international humanitarian field, and wish to submit an article proposal on this topic, please send a summary of your argument and a draft plan (2 pages maximum) to the following email address before February 15th 2021: contact@alternatives-humanitaires.org. You will receive a reply by March 1st 2021 at the latest.

The final article must be submitted before May 31st 2021, with the average length being around 15 000 characters, including spaces (or approximately 2 400 words). Around six or seven articles will be accepted for this section.

As for every issue, your proposals are also welcome for the “Perspectives”, “Transitions”, “Innovations”, “Ethics”, “Reportage” and “Tribune” columns.

Research and humanitarian aid: the challenges of a collaboration

Section co-directed with Valéry Ridde, head of research at the IRD (France) and ISED/UCAD (Senegal), and Daouda Diouf, executive director of Enda-Santé (Senegal)

Despite noteworthy collaborations and the joint work that has been carried out over the last few years, a persistent wariness remains between researchers and humanitarian actors. The former are still sometimes seen as lesson-givers, comfortably settled in their ivory towers, whereas the latter are, in the eyes of the researchers, incapable of thinking before acting. However, few would dispute the respective qualities of each group. It is acknowledged that research teams display methodological rigour, knowledge of theories and expertise in fields (nutrition, health, transport, cities, etc) and contexts (areas, countries, societies, etc) that has been built up over the course of their long-term involvement. No one denies that humanitarian actors have significant capacities for action and reaction, long-term field partners, and expertise in the management and follow-up of projects, as well as humanist values. But the problem lies in the merging of these qualities in order to work together and collaborate. This dichotomy of skills and knowledge is all the more caricatural given that it still too often contributes to reciprocal ignorance or to the undervaluation of joint work.

Those who are familiar with these two worlds know that these caricatural visions are out-of-date. People from both worlds navigate between the two. Many current researchers in the field of humanitarian action were formerly volunteers or employees of NGOs. Partnerships between research teams and NGOs have proven fruitful. We have even seen universities create units to implement humanitarian interventions, and we can no longer keep count of the number of NGOs that have created departments or foundations devoted to research on humanitarian action. The boundaries between these two worlds, formerly real or artificially maintained, have thus become very permeable, especially if we focus less on institutions than on the way in which people from the two worlds collaborate.

Yet the fact remains that these collaborations have not been exploited to their fullest potential, beyond persistent prejudices. Indeed, the organisation of partnerships between humanitarian workers and researchers is never easy. But this collaboration will only really bear fruit if each party realises that it would enable them to go beyond what has already been achieved. Research can give humanitarian actors the means to base their actions on proven theories and conclusive data in order to maximise their efficiency in the field. It can produce knowledge about their actions to go beyond the accountability of the monitoring and evaluation required by sponsors, and become more generalised, to better share the lessons learned and to better capitalise on experiences. Humanitarian actors can be partners for research teams seeking to test interventions whose potential for efficiency and equity has been demonstrated by their research. They can be involved in the sharing of data and field results, but also in processes of advocacy in order to change practices and policies. Yet there are many pitfalls, and the challenges of this partnership remain complex. These problems are clearly institutional, since these two kinds of organisation have opposing cultures, which does not facilitate collaboration between them. Their members also follow very different training routes. Whilst they often share a critical view of the world, they see its transformation on very different timescales which ought to be complementary. Finally, we must not neglect the fact that the possibilities of negative influence, and even manipulation, are also numerous, especially when we take into account the importance of sponsors in the financing of the two domains.

It is on this relationship between the worlds of humanitarian aid and research that we would like to invite you to reflect in this special Focus of the Humanitarian Alternatives review. We want to allow actors from both of these worlds, and their observers, to suggest practical and theoretical reflections on these issues. We especially hope to come up with answers to the following questions:

  • What are the challenges of collaboration between research and humanitarian aid?
  • Which processes might reinforce collaboration between research and humanitarian aid?
  • How can we better train the actors of these two domains in order to better collaboration?
  • Which influences (positive/negative) can emerge from these partnerships?
  • How can research collaborate with humanitarian action whilst maintaining its independence and rigour?
  • How can humanitarian aid collaborate with research without being hampered by the slow pace of knowledge-production?
  • How are power issues taken into account in these collaborations?
  • What are the particularities of partnerships driven by researchers and humanitarian actors from the Global North, of those driven by researchers and humanitarian actors from the Global South, and of those occurring at the intersection of these two poles?
  • What are the institutional and individual issues involved in these collaborations?
  • How are reciprocal influences and links/conflicts of interest taken into account?

The articles that we are looking for are intended to share experiences, as reflexive texts enabling the authors to share the lessons drawn from their experiences. We do not expect theoretical articles, but authors must ground their analyses in a rigorous approach based on field data.