World Conference of Humanitarian Studies

World Conference of Humanitarian Studies
4-7 February 2009
Groningen, The Netherlands




Humanitarian crises caused by conflict or natural disaster have increasingly become the subject of study of a range of disciplines, including international relations, international law, development studies, anthropology, conflict studies, and migration studies. In addition, new research groups are being formed that focus especially on humanitarian action. In particular, the present growth of these fields in countries regularly struck by crises is significant. Yet, there is no venue where these scholarly communities can meet and debate their different insights and understanding of humanitarian crises, in dialogue with policy actors and implementing agencies. The Universities of Bochum, Groningen, Wageningen the lakewood locksmith, therefore organise the first world conference of humanitarian studies.


Since the early 1990s, the manifestations and understandings of humanitarian crises have been constantly changing: From post-Cold War optimism to caution when numerous intra-state conflicts started and/or ended, to become dominated by the Global War on Terror and its grand conflicts. Recurring droughts and climate change have altered our perception of disasters from sudden and exceptional events to repeating or chronic forms of crises. Response mechanisms to humanitarian crises have likewise undergone rapid developments, ranging from new forms of integrated response combining diplomatic, military and development approaches; new judicial instruments including the Criminal Court of Justice and UN-Resolution 1325 that advances women’s leadership in the resolution of crises, and – in the domain of natural disasters – mounting attention for disaster preparedness. Humanitarian action has become highly professionalized, yet continues to be beset by challenges including the positioning of principled humanitarian aid in relation to other interventions, flaws in the infra-structures of aid, and the coordination of the numerous old and new actors that have entered the scene. Media attention has become more critical, and populations receiving aid have frequently become sceptical about its results.


Although humanitarian studies are part of many different academic domains, we propose to define the nascent field as mono- or multi-disciplinary studies that analyze

  • the causes and dynamics of humanitarian crises;
  • the politics, representation, and effects of humanitarian crises;
  • the responses to crises, including local coping practices as well as political, military and humanitarian interventions;
  • the dynamics of response policies, programs and organizations;
  • the processes of rehabilitation, as well as establishing linkages with development, peacebuilding, and security.


There are – fortunately – no commonly accepted methodological or theoretical approaches to the study of humanitarian crises. Yet, calls for more reflection about humanitarian action abound and criticism is common. There remains a dire need for independent, in-depth research into the realities of humanitarian crises. Much research takes place at the policy level; implementation processes and local aspects urgently require more attention. Most of the humanitarian scholars are based in the North, outside of the main crisis areas, thus replicating some of the shortcomings of humanitarian policy.


The World Conference of Humanitarian Studies provides a meeting ground of these different scholars and practitioners. It aims to reflect one of the key characteristics of humanitarian studies: the close collaboration and dialogue with policy makers and practitioners. Hence, it is open to participation by all these groups. As a World Conference, it aims to establish a global representation of humanitarian studies and foster interdisciplinary debate on a grand scale. Its central aims are

  • to provide a meeting ground for academic communities and practitioners concerned with in-depth research on humanitarian issues;
  • to take stock of the current theory, debates, and issues of humanitarian studies;
  • to reflect on current practice and identify opportunities for improving humanitarian practice; and
  • to involve Southern scholars and practitioners more strongly into humanitarian politics, responses, debates, and studies.


In sum, within the humanitarian community, as well as within the budding humanitarian studies field, debates take place, but they tend to be too sporadic, mono-disciplinary, Northern, and isolated. We want to facilitate these debates on a larger scale at the World Conference for Humanitarian Studies on February 4-8, 2009 in Groningen, The Netherlands. We therefore issue this call for paper and panel proposals.