Call for papers for the 26th issue of Humanitarian Alternatives

In view of its 26th issue, which will be published in July 2024, the Humanitarian Alternatives review is launching a call for papers for its special feature on a topic with the provisional title of “Humanitarian work today”.

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) before 8 January 2024 to the following email address:

You will receive a reply by 15 January 2024 at the latest.

The final article – to be written in French or English – must be submitted by 21 May 2024. The article should be around 2,400 words (including footnotes). Around six or seven articles will be accepted for this Focus.

For each issue, we also take on article proposals 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.

Humanitarian work today

Issue main theme co-directed by Pascal Dauvin, lecturer in political science, authorised to supervise research, and director of the Master’s in International Cooperation Policies at Sciences Po in Saint-Germain-en-Laye,

and Boris Martin, editor-in-chief.

In the early 2000s, “professionalisation” was the rallying cry in the humanitarian aid sector.[1]“This principle of managerial rationality, currently contested only on the fringes, is, as we well know, a cognitive framework imposed by funding bodies and, to a lesser extent, local partners” … Continue reading Twenty years later, professionalisation has undeniably done its job. It is no longer a process, welcomed by many and criticised by some, but a fact (with a salaried workforce, career structure, standardised practices, increasingly complex division of labour. etc.), even though the term is still used in a way that makes it far from clear whether this indicates a lack of understanding of these developments or empty criticism. We can but wonder, however, if the community of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has not been struggling to find a new lease of life over the past few years. It is as if the structure of the sector – whose benefits are incontestable – has gone on to erase its distinctive character built on activism and vocational values, at times unsettling the “old hands” and disillusioning the “newcomers”.

While the race to “critical size”, the implementation of management techniques inspired by the private commercial sector,[2]Bruno Cazenave, Emmanuelle Garbe and Jérémy Morales, Le management des ONG, La Découverte, 2020. See also: Boris Martin, L’adieu à l’humanitaire ? Les ONG au défi de l’offensive … Continue reading the hiring of managers from the business sector, the introduction of validation and assessment processes, accountability rules, etc. serve to try and make NGOs more effective, have all these concrete expressions of professionalisation not ended up disheartening many professionals in the sector? How does the young generation of future humanitarian workers trained in the many disciplines that have emerged over the past twenty years perceive this sector when, at the same time, it is not immune to accusations of discriminatory practices regarding gender or race? Is the (relatively recent) emergence of trade unions or branches of trade unions specific to the voluntary sector an extension of professionalisation, or a kind of resistance to its effects? Can we talk in terms of “dehumanised human resources in humanitarian aid”, even though the nobility of the struggle and the aura surrounding the humanitarian worker have long been the banner waved by the sector? If activism has been worn out by the strain of professionalisation, what can we do to revive it? Or has it reinvented itself, clearing a way through the increasing demands of funding bodies and the constantly renewed but increasingly critical support of donors?

Even though, just like the rhetoric of professionalisation, the Focus of this new issue of Humanitarian Alternatives draws on the experiences of French NGOs, it must assess this development in light of what the English-speaking NGOs have experienced. How do they deal with the hyper-specialisation, activism and exposure in increasingly complex environments from which humanitarian workers do not always emerge unscathed, particularly in terms of their mental health? What new paths are taken by those who choose to leave the profession and work in social work or on a freelance basis, thus bringing their humanitarian experience to new sectors?

And what about the “Majority World” in this “Global South” where local NGOs have also become more skilled and important? Increasingly present on the front line and invited to become ever more professional, they are asking for a “localisation” which would enable this movement, but which the NGOs and funding bodies from the “Minority World” are struggling to implement.

From French-speaking NGOs, via English-speaking NGOs to the NGOs of the countries where we work, this issue of Humanitarian Alternatives seeks to take stock of what NGO work is like today and of the organisational challenges these structures face. What has changed in twenty years, what is the current sociology of the volunteers – many of whom, by the way, have the status of salaried employees – and what are their expectations, their questions? What effects are governance and management methods having on the way they work and, quite simply, on how they experience their humanitarian commitment?

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1 “This principle of managerial rationality, currently contested only on the fringes, is, as we well know, a cognitive framework imposed by funding bodies and, to a lesser extent, local partners” [publisher’s translation]: Pascal Dauvin, « Être un professionnel de l’humanitaire ou comment composer avec le cadre imposé », Revue Tiers Monde, No. 180, tome xlv, October-December 2004, p. 825–840. This article was a continuation of the work the author had undertaken with Johanna Siméant-Germanos, foremost of which is their publication Le travail humanitaire which paved the way for a political sociology of humanitarian aid “on the ground”: Pascal Dauvin and Johanna Siméant, Le travail humanitaire: les acteurs des ONG, du siège au terrain, Presses de ScPo, 2002.
2 Bruno Cazenave, Emmanuelle Garbe and Jérémy Morales, Le management des ONG, La Découverte, 2020. See also: Boris Martin, L’adieu à l’humanitaire ? Les ONG au défi de l’offensive néolibérale, Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer, 2015.