Violence in the humanitarian present

Further to my musings on the humanitarian present, a Call For Papers for the Association of American Geographers Conference in Los Angeles next year, 9-13 April 2012:

On the Question of Violence in the Humanitarian Present

Organizers: Lisa Bhungalia (Syracuse University) and Tish Lopez (University of Washington)

Discussant: Craig Jones (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)

 Humanitarianism has long had its place within colonial legacies serving often, as Derek Gregory (2012) puts it, as the “velvet glove wrapped around the iron fist of colonialism.” The recent emphasis in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine on non-kinetic and humanitarian measures as a means of undermining insurgency would appear to confirm this point. Indeed, the lines between humanitarian and military are increasingly rendered indistinct. But more than simply a blurring or collapse we should ask: What is the relationship between humanitarianism and violence? Moreover, in what ways does humanitarianism serve as a means of managing and modulating violence? This inquiry has been at the fore of Eyal Weizman’s (2011) recent work in which he suggests that an “economy of violence is calculated and managed” through various humanitarian, moral and legal technologies that legitimate and underwrite the continued operation of violence. It is the collusion of these humanitarian technologies with military and political powers that form what he calls the “humanitarian present.”

This paper session invites theoretical and/or empirical research that engages the “humanitarian present” from a diverse range of approaches and perspectives. It explores the ways in which humanitarianism is mobilized discursively and materially as a means for modulating contemporary violence and for governing the displaced. What are the specificities and limits of the concept of the “humanitarian present?” How are displaced populations or those living in zones of ongoing war and occupation negotiating the humanitarian regimes that govern their lives? We invite papers that engage such questions through a broad range of approaches and lenses that may include but are not limited to:

–       Empirical or theoretical engagements with the relationship between humanitarianism and violence

–       Humanitarianism, modern war and biopolitics

–       Post-World War II legal regimes, international humanitarian law and human rights

–       Genealogies of humanitarianism

–       Economies of violence

–       Counterinsurgency

–       Constructions of conflict, crisis and zones of intervention

–       Geopolitics of aid

–       Colonial and post-colonial governance

–       Militarism and everyday life

Please submit abstracts of 250 words to organizers Lisa Bhungalia ( and Tish Lopez ( (you can also follow her here) before October 10, 2012.