Published on February 13, 2023
It wasn’t written in the stars. Far from it.
Launching a review is very much a bold gamble. In 2016, when four organisations (Action Against Hunger, the French Red Cross Foundation, the Handicap International Foundation, and the Mérieux Foundation) completed a process of reflection that had begun three years before, it was only the start of an adventure. Our first issue already focused on an epidemic – the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. We christened it the “inaugural issue”, a cautious yet confident wording. The enthusiasm aroused by this first issue made us take a big step forward: we moved on to issue 2. Seven years on, we are now up to issue 22.
No matter how much belief we had in the review, it was not a given that an international review thinking about and discussing humanitarian action would make its way in the world. In the publishing world, “reviews” get such a good press that they are destined, so it is said, to remain niche products.
The authors, readers, financial partners and academics joined forces to help us to ensure that this prophecy did not come true. In fact, we patently and quickly convinced them about the humanitarian sector’s pressing need for a new discussion forum. Our review joined the ranks of the existing ones, started by non-governmental organisations or research centres. Maybe we have successfully achieved our aim of creating a setting that would enable actors and researchers to dialogue, humanitarian issues to be tackled through feature articles and reports, interviews, photographs and Brax’s drawings, both French and English speakers to be addressed, and print and online editions to be published. We were no doubt right to set up a professional editorial team, who have raised the form to the level of the content, a major requirement if we did not want to remain a low-level publication; with editing being a real vocation, as the devil is very much in the detail.
From Ebola to COVID-19, Syria to Ukraine, from migration to the growing hold of entrepreneurial rationales, from associative freedoms in danger to sexist and sexual violence, from climate change to the demographic challenge, not forgetting the impact of new technologies, we have placed humanitarian aid at the heart of our examination of these issues. From Jean-Christophe Rufin to Jonathan Littell, from Reza to Plantu, from Dominique Kerouedan to Jean-François Delfraissy or Florence Thune, from Philippe Rochot to Barbara Hendricks, and including William Daniels, Véronique Geai, Agnès Varraine-Leca, Laure Stephan and Rony Brauman, their writings, opinions and voices have helped us to grow the review. Their involvement demonstrates that all the authors who provide us with their thoughts do so with talent and commitment. Together, they help to enlighten the work of humanitarian stakeholders, highlight the contribution made by researchers, and advance the cause of populations hit by crises or by the deeply ingrained workings of our extremely unequal societies.
This concern protects us from the pitfall of self-satisfaction which emerges when celebrating one’s own birthday. Anniversaries and birthdays are often a chance to take stock. We can look back on the 400 or so articles, photographs and drawings that we have published to date, and that help us to understand a little better the constraints of humanitarian action and the fate of beneficiaries. This is our vocation. It has not wavered for seven years.
Boris Martin, Editor-in-Chief
The emergence of a valuable shared asset
In the early days, we were just a few seasoned humanitarian workers who dreamt of launching this review. We had observed that for a long time English-speaking stakeholders had been drawing on high-quality publications, with no equivalent in the French-speaking world. Our ambition was to bring to the international stage the unique voice of humanitarian thinking with resolutely French-speaking roots, a recognised source of breakthroughs and innovations that had contributed to a new approach to humanitarian action over the past decades.
Seven years on, it is clear that we have risen to the challenge. The original nature of the Humanitarian Alternatives project is to channel an initiative developed by several institutions that are representative of a sector and its diversity, where differing points of view, both integral and constructive, are very much the rule. This review is now viewed by all the partners as their shared asset.
A bilingual bridge with English-speaking colleagues, Humanitarian Alternatives is a forum in which humanities and social sciences researchers and grassroots practitioners can meet and debate; these two worlds are certainly interested in each other, but paradoxically all too often know little about each other.
The review’s main achievement is to give material substance to a community of practitioners and researchers who are intent on moving forward humanitarian concepts and ensuring that the issues discussed are relevant and feasible in practice. The current stalemates and necessary changes are analysed uncompromisingly in the review; while concerns and responses are put into perspective.
For researchers, being published in Humanitarian Alternatives is a “breath of fresh air” as they are able to state their views freed from the usual constraints of academic reviews. For humanitarians, their involvement invites them to share their experience, delve into the implications of their work and think about its development, while listening carefully to local stakeholders.
Over time, authors from the Global South have been appearing on an increasingly regular basis on the contents page of the three annual editions; this trend is enhancing the review, and we want to further develop it in the future.
There are pathfinders in any adventure, and the authors of the first 21 issues definitely fall into this category. Working with each of them, we have developed issues that reflect humanitarian work: a sector in a state of constant renewal, with strong foundations, but determined to stride forwards towards important new horizons.
On our anniversary, we are inviting you to share with us your opinions and recommendations about the review, both its format and content: they will be invaluable to us. And, of course, we are also inviting you to join us in order to support and enhance this collective initiative, increase its impact, and contribute to its long-term future.
Jean-Baptiste Richardier, co-founder
Making a choice inevitably involves difficult decisions. And this selection of articles, interviews and reports is no exception to this rule. It is an invitation to go further. So, open these doors and take the time to look around the review, read and listen to the stakeholders, authors, readers, researchers and founders who are all taking part in this collective adventure. This selection of articles gives an overview of the work that the review mobilises, disseminates and conveys.
- Humanitarians in the age of counter terrorism: rejected by rebels, co-opted by States
- The future of humanitarianism
- “The Kamaishi miracle”: lessons learned from the 2011 tsunami in Japan
- How the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing the need for an operational approach in health anthropology
- Are humanitarian standards scientific? What sociology of science can teach us about the Sphere standards
- Russian civil society put to the test by the invasion of Ukraine
- Improving collaboration between humanitarian and research actors to strengthen the evidence base for water, sanitation and hygiene interventions
- Tale of a mission to Liberia, unlike any other
- In the closed door of Eastern Ghouta
- Perspectives on a fractured world
- Afghanistan: eternal turmoil
- Yemen: living with bombs and landmines
- Interview with Bruno Cabanes : “Humanitarian Photography”: an historian’s point of view
- Interview with Reza: An eye on the world
- Interview with Plantu and Reza: “Infuriating doves of peace”
- Vidéo – Entretien avec Rony Brauman – Ancien président de MSF et directeur d’études au Crash (in french)