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Mapping Digital Humanitarianism: Confronting Opportunities and Challenges


Project description

This project aims to explore the rapidly changing governance of digital humanitarianism and reflect on the opportunities and challenges it has created. Digital humanitarianism refers to social and institutional networks that rely upon information and communication technology and the internet (1) for assembling and analysing vast digital data streams to predict and respond to humanitarian crises; (2) mobilising online communities to rapidly meet the needs of vulnerable people; and (3) developing new digital platforms to facilitate an effective and transparent allocation of aid. 

Digital humanitarianism has been embraced by a variety of institutions such as governments, development organisations, donors, corporations, financial institutions, start-ups, intergovernmental, non-governmental organisations, grassroots groups and social movements, who are all playing a key role in reshaping the governance of humanitarian assistance. Digital humanitarian initiatives have sprung up over the last decade, however there is still a lack of collective attempts to map these initiatives with the aim of starting a global interdisciplinary conversation on the conceptual, legal and social implications of this new humanitarian governance.

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The aim of this project is to fill this gap and bring together academics from law, geography, sociology, international relations, computer science and digital humanities as well as representatives from various public and private institutions working on digital humanitarianism. 

Thematic areas:

  • Trust: exploring how digital technology has shaped generalised, particularised and institutionalised trust relations in humanitarian activities. 
  • Resilience and Resistance: analysing how digital humanitarianism can engender resilience, and how these new approaches may be resisted by ‘traditional’ approaches to planning.
  • Humanitarian governmentality: discussing the problematic aspects of a decentralised humanitarian governance, the use of private data for automated decision-support techniques and their perceived legitimacy. 
  • The politics of elsewhere: examining the limits of a decontextualised humanitarian space that can create barriers instead of connections (in which empathy and solidarity are often outsourced to corporate algorithms).