Fifty years after the Biafra war, which set the stage for the “without borders” movement, humanitarian aid has become a resolutely strategic sector, both in terms of action and of image, encompassing an increasing number of players with ever more diverse profiles and practices. This double movement of expansion and diversification has profoundly affected the conceptual frame of humanitarian action. In this context, participants will explore contemporary reconfigurations on humanitarian action by exploring how concepts central to humanitarian action have evolved across time and spaces.

This event will see the launch of the ninth issue of Humanitarian Alternatives : “1968-2018: disruption and continuities”  and confront the perspectives of seasoned practitioners and researchers and doctoral on humanitarian practice, taken as a field of investigation.


Marie Luce Desgrampchamps, Lecturer, History Department, University of Geneva

Duncan Mc Lean, Senior researcher, The Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices (UREPH or Research Unit) of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Switzerland – “A reassertion of state sovereignty? Humanitarian implications”


Fabien Cottier, Post doctoral researcher, Department of political science and International Relations, University of Geneva “A Climate of Exclusion ? Environmental Migration, Political Marginalization and Violence”


Despite alarmist claims in the public discourse about the consequences of environmentally-induced migration for security, little empirical research has attempted to evaluate the contention. My Ph.D. dissertation, therefore, sets out to examine the linkage between environmental change, rural-urban migration, and nativist violence. To do so, I present new data on rural-urban migration for 17 Sub-Saharan African countries. The findings unambiguously indicate that climate change does affect rural-urban migration flows, but only to a limited extent. In turn, these migratory flows may cause a moderate increase in the probability of nativist violence, particularly when the native population is marginalized by the central government. The findings, thus, reject the alarmist predictions. Climate change is unlikely to cause mass migration and, as a consequence, to substantially destabilize states.


Janine Bressmer, PhD candidate in political science and international relations, Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, “The Spatiality of Risk Management in Aid: Manuals, Walls, and (In)Visibility”


Over the past two decades, humanitarian action has arguably experienced a shift in terms of its conceptualization and physical manifestations on the ground. Debates over a shrinking ‘humanitarian space’ levy accusations against an increasingly dangerous environment in which aid is not given the physical space to operate and humanitarian principles are not respected. Rather than siding in this argument, it can be said that the space in which humanitarian organizations operate, characterized by warfare and violent non-conflict settings, has generated an environment in which such organizations work (conceptually and practically) reactively vis-à-vis the security and risk implications on the ground. Changes in humanitarian discourse and norms, practices such as remote- and risk-management and the separation of aid workers and beneficiary through material and space provide an interesting entry point, this presentation argues, through which to better understand some of the spatial considerations attached to delivering aid in volatile environments


Claudio Todisco, PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, The Graduate Institute Geneva  “So far and yet so near: the production of difference in humanitarian action”

The most diverse international stakeholders who operate in South Sudan display different understandings of humanitarian action, peace- or state-building and development, and through a variety of policy frameworks. This notwithstanding, they share a common heritage of representations about the indigenous people which, while readjusted to the current globalization of politics, can be traced back to the colonial state. Drawing on long-term professional experience with Médecins Sans Frontières and on ethnographic research among the Murle people of South Sudan, this talk will examine processes of differentiation among aid actors who negotiate definitions of humanitarian concepts and related practices within a common system of international governance. The call is both for practitioners and scholars to review current paradigms of knowledge and practice.


Chairs and moderators

Sadio Ba Gning, Assistant Professor, Université Gaston Berger, Saint Louis (Sénégal), Co-Chair of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia Scientific Committee

Clara Egger, Research lead, Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action

Doris Schopper, Director, Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action

The inscription to the conference is free but mandatory, please do not forget to fill-in the inscription form available here :

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