Volunteers from AmeriCorps in Louisiana

Humanitarianism is an ideology centered on the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans to reduce suffering and improve the conditions of humanity for moral, altruistic, and emotional reasons.

One aspect involves voluntary emergency aid overlapping with human rights advocacy, actions taken by governments, development assistance, and domestic philanthropy. Other critical issues include correlation with religious beliefs, motivation of aid between altruism and social control, market affinity, imperialism and neo-colonialism, gender and class relations, and humanitarian agencies.[1] A practitioner is known as a humanitarian.

While humanitarianism on a local and national level can be traced far back in history, scholars of international politics tend to identify the advent of global humanitarian impulses to the 19th century.[2][3] The creation of the International Red Cross in 1863 is considered a key juncture in global humanitarianism.[2] The scope of humanitarianism has expanded over time alongside shifting perceptions of who counts as "human" and whose lives are worth saving.[2][3]

A universal doctrine

Any insult or oppression of a man because he belongs to another race, another language or another social class than me, I regard as barbaric. L. L. Zamenhof on Homaranismo.

Scholars have generally observed that humanitarianism has increased in scope over time, as individuals and groups have expanded their definition of human life to groups beyond their immediate environment.[4][2][3] Humanitarian governance has become increasingly complex and institutionalized over time.[5]

Jean Pictet, in his commentary on The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross, argues for the universal characteristics of humanitarianism:

The wellspring of the principle of humanity is in the essence of social morality which can be summed up in a single sentence, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. This fundamental precept can be found, in almost identical form, in all the great religions, Brahminism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. It is also the golden rule of the positivists, who do not commit themselves to any religion but only to the data of experience, in the name of reason alone. It is indeed not at all necessary to resort to affective or transcendental concepts to recognize the advantage for men to work together to improve their lot.[6]

Historical examples and periodization

Humanitarianism was publicly seen in the social reforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s, following the economic turmoil of the Industrial Revolution in England. Many of the women in Great Britain who were involved with feminism during the 1900s also pushed humanitarianism. The atrocious hours and working conditions of children and unskilled laborers were made illegal by pressure on Parliament by humanitarians. The Factory Act of 1833 and the Factory Act of 1844 were some of the most significant humanitarian bills passed in Parliament following the Industrial Revolution.

In the middle of the 19th century, humanitarianism was central to the work of Florence Nightingale and Henry Dunant in emergency response and in the latter case led to the founding of the Red Cross.

The Humanitarian League (1891–1919) was an English advocacy group, formed by Henry S. Salt, which sought to advance the humanitarian cause.[7]

Various suggestions of distinct periods of humanitarianism exist, drawing either on geopolitical or socioeconomic factors that determine humanitarian action. The first approach is exemplified by Michael Barnett's proposition to distinguish ages of "imperial humanitarianism" (late 19th century to 1945), "neo-humanitarianism" (1945–1989), and "liberal humanitarianism" (post-1990).[2] Norbert Götz, Georgina Brewis, and Steffen Werther are advocates of the socioeconomic and cultural approach, arguing that there have been ages of "ad hoc humanitarianism" (up to c. 1900), "organized humanitarianism" (c. 1900–1970), and "expressive humanitarianism" (since 1970). They suggest we might currently be entering "a novel kind of defensive humanitarianism with roots in the expressive age, with automated interfaces, and with thick 'firewalls' between donors and recipients."[8] However, a neat separation between donor and recipient is conventionally difficult to draw. The employment of 'local staff', the active call for help from people in need and the surge in local humanitarian organizations all suggest the intimate relation between donor and recipient.[9]

Emergency response

Today, humanitarianism is particularly used to describe the thinking and doctrines behind the emergency response to humanitarian crises. In such cases it argues for a humanitarian response based on humanitarian principles, particularly the principle of humanity. Nicholas de Torrente, former Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières USA writes:

"The most important principles of humanitarian action are humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality, which posits the conviction that all people have equal dignity by virtue of their being human based solely on need, without discrimination among recipients. Humanitarian organizations must refrain from taking part in hostilities or taking actions that advantage one side of the conflict over another, the action serves the interests of political, religious, or other agendas.

These fundamental principles serve two essential purposes. They embody humanitarian action’s single-minded purpose of alleviating suffering, unconditionally and without any ulterior motive. They also serve as background document to develop operational tools that help in obtaining both the consent of communities for the presence and activities of humanitarian organizations, particularly in highly volatile contexts."[10]

Digital humanitarianism

See also: Digital Humanitarian Network, Internet activism, and Relief 2.0

In 2005, a question was raised as to whether Wikipedia can be seen as digital humanitarianism.[11][12]

Patrick Meier used the term 'digital humanitarianism' to describe crowdmapping for the 2010 Haiti earthquake.[13][14][15] In 2011, Paul Conneally gave a TED talk on digital humanitarianism in which he states that humanitarianism's "origins are firmly rooted in the analogue age" with "a major shift coming".[16][17] In 2015 he authored the book Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response.

Vincent Fevrier notes that "social media can benefit the humanitarian sector... by providing information to give better situational awareness to organisations for broad strategic planning and logistics" and that "crisis mapping really emerged in 2010 during the Haiti earthquake" with "software and digital humanitarian platforms such as Standby Task Force, OpenStreetMap, and many others" being active during many disasters since then.[18]

In fact, the role of social media in digital humanitarian efforts is a considerable one. Ten days after the 2010 earthquake, the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon event was launched in the United States, effectively taking over the mediasphere and reaching hundreds of millions of households and viewers. It focused on appealing to the viewing public's empathy for the survivors of the disaster, allowing ordinary citizens to help in a collective relief effort by contributing money donations to NGOs providing Humanitarian aid to earthquake survivors.[19][20] The telethon attracted support through a variety of celebrity musical performances and staged calls for empathy, using digital social networks to disseminate its appeal to the moral responsibility of the viewer-consumers who are able to reinforce identification with a national identity of the American 'savior' through participation in this Humanitarian project.

During the summer of 2010, when open fires raged across Russia, causing many to die from smog inhalation,[21] the use of social media allowed digital humanitarians to map the areas in need of support. This is because Russians who were hoping to be evacuated were posting online about the conditions they were in which prompted thousands of Russian bloggers to coordinate relief efforts online.[21] The digital humanitarian efforts in Russia were crucial to responding to the fires in 2010 considering the Russian government was vastly unprepared to deal with such a large-scale disaster.[21]

Within digital humanitarianism, big data has featured strongly in efforts to improve digital humanitarian work and produces a limited understanding of how a crisis is unfolding. It has been argued that Big Data is constitutive of a social relation in which digital humanitarians claim both the formal humanitarian sector and victims of crises need the services and labor that can be provided by digital humanitarians.[22]

Examples of humanitarianism

Examples of humanitarianism can include:[23][24][25][2] Raising Funds for people in need

See also


  1. ^ Götz, Norbert; Brewis, Georgina; Werther, Steffen (2020). Humanitarianism in the Modern World: The Moral Economy of Famine Relief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108655903. ISBN 9781108655903. p. 3
  2. ^ a b c d e f Barnett, Michael (2011). Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism. Cornell University Press. doi:10.7591/j.ctt7z8ns. ISBN 978-0-8014-4713-6.
  3. ^ a b c Finnemore, Martha (2003). The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force. Cornell University Press. doi:10.7591/j.ctt24hg32. ISBN 978-0-8014-3845-5.
  4. ^ Parmelee, Maurice (1915). "The Rise of Modern Humanitarianism". American Journal of Sociology. 21 (3): 345–359. ISSN 0002-9602.
  5. ^ Barnett, Michael N. (2013). "Humanitarian Governance". Annual Review of Political Science. 16 (1): 379–398. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-012512-083711. ISSN 1094-2939.
  6. ^ "International Committee of the Red Cross". 3 October 2013. Archived from the original on 10 March 2009. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  7. ^ Weinbren, Dan (1994). "Against All Cruelty: The Humanitarian League, 1891-1919". History Workshop (38): 86–105. ISSN 0309-2984. JSTOR 4289320.
  8. ^ Götz, Norbert; Brewis, Georgina; Werther, Steffen (2020). Humanitarianism in the Modern World: The Moral Economy of Famine Relief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108655903. ISBN 9781108655903. p. 307
  9. ^ Feldman, Ilana (2018). Life lived in relief : humanitarian predicaments and Palestinian refugee politics. Oakland, California. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-520-97128-8. OCLC 1043049820.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ "Harvard Law School Human Rights Journal -". law.harvard.edu. Archived from the original on 15 June 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2007.
  11. ^ Pink, Daniel H. "The Book Stops Here". WIRED. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  12. ^ Koerner, Brendan I. (9 August 2006). The Best of Technology Writing 2006. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472031953. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  13. ^ Shringarpure, Bhakti (18 June 2015). "The rise of the digital saviour: can Facebook likes change the world?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 April 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  14. ^ "Crisis Mapping Pioneer Focuses on Humanitarian Uses For Drones". NPR.org. NPR. Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  15. ^ Meier, Patrick (2 July 2012). "How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti". National Geographic Society (blogs). Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  16. ^ "Digital Humanitarianism". World Bank Group. Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  17. ^ Collins, Katie. "How AI, Twitter and digital volunteers are transforming humanitarian disaster response". Wired UK. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  18. ^ Illingworth, Sarah (5 April 2016). "Is Digital Humanitarianism All Good?". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  19. ^ McAlister, Elizabeth (2012). "Soundscapes of Disaster and Humanitarianism: Survival Singing, Relief Telethons, and the Haiti Earthquake" (PDF). Small Axe. 16 (3): 22–38. doi:10.1215/07990537-1894078. S2CID 144995319. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  20. ^ McAlister, Elizabeth. "Soundscapes of Disaster and Humanitarianism: Survival Singing, Relief Telethons, and the Haiti Earthquake". bepress.com. Archived from the original on 4 October 2015. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  21. ^ a b c Meier, Patrick (2015). Digital Humanitarians. New York: Routledge. p. 49.
  22. ^ Burns, Ryan (9 October 2014). "Rethinking big data in digital humanitarianism: practices, epistemologies, and social relations" (PDF). GeoJournal. 80 (4): 477–490. doi:10.1007/s10708-014-9599-x. S2CID 40297692. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 July 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  23. ^ Donini, Antonio (1 June 2010). "Humanitarianism in the 21st Century". Humanitaire. Enjeux, pratiques, débats (in French) (25). ISSN 1624-4184.
  24. ^ Hilhorst, Dorothea (10 September 2018). "Classical humanitarianism and resilience humanitarianism: making sense of two brands of humanitarian action". Journal of International Humanitarian Action. 3 (1): 15. doi:10.1186/s41018-018-0043-6. hdl:1765/110839. ISSN 2364-3404.
  25. ^ "Humanitarianism: An Overview". CMI - Chr. Michelsen Institute. Retrieved 14 January 2024.
  26. ^ Buse, Kent; Tanaka, Sonja (7 November 2020). "Global Public-Private Health Partnerships: lessons learned from ten years of experience and evaluation". International Dental Journal. 61 (Suppl 2): 2–10. doi:10.1111/j.1875-595X.2011.00034.x. ISSN 0020-6539. PMC 9374971. PMID 21770935.
  27. ^ Mazurana, Dyan; Benelli, Prisca; Walker, Peter (July 2013). "How sex- and age-disaggregated data and gender and generational analyses can improve humanitarian response". Disasters. 37 (s1): S68-82. doi:10.1111/disa.12013. ISSN 0361-3666. PMID 23905768.

Further reading

  • Barnett, Michael. 2013. "Humanitarian Governance." Annual Review of Political Science.
  • Bass, Gary J, "Humanitarian Impulses", The New York Times Magazine, 2008.
  • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Ethics, Fontana, 1963.
  • de Torrent, Nicholas: "Humanitarian Action Under Attack: Reflections on the Iraq War" Harvard Human Rights Journal, Volume 17, Spring 2004 Harvard University Retrieved 13 July 2007
  • Feldman, Ilana: Life lived in relief: Humanitarian predicaments and Palestinian refugee politics. University of California Press, 2018.
  • Götz, Norbert; Brewis, Georgina; Werther, Steffen (2020). Humanitarianism in the Modern World: The Moral Economy of Famine Relief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108655903. ISBN 9781108655903.
  • Glover, Jonathon, Humanity, Pimlico, 2001
  • Minear, Larry (2002). The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries. West Hartford, Conn: Kumarian Press. ISBN 1-56549-149-1.
  • Moorehead, Caroline, Dunant's Dream, War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross, Carroll & Graf, 1999
  • Pictet, Jean (1979). "The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross: a commentary". Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  • Watenpaugh, Keith David (2015). Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-27932-2.
  • Waters, Tony (2001). Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan: The Limitations of Humanitarian Relief Operations. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Wilson, Richard Ashby and Richard D. Brown, eds., Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy. Cambridge University Press, 2009.