Humanitarianism Transformed

TitleHumanitarianism Transformed
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsBarnett, Michael
JournalPerspectives on Politics

The scale, scope, and significance of humanitarian action have expanded significantly since the late 1980s. This article reflects on two ways in which humanitarianism has been transformed. First, its purpose has been politicized. Whereas once humanitarian actors attempted to insulate themselves from the world of politics, they now work closely with states and attempt to eliminate the root causes of conflict that place individuals at risk. Second, a field of humanitarianism has become institutionalized; during the 1990s the field and its agencies became more professionalized and rationalized. Drawing on various strands of organizational theory, the author examines the forces that have contributed to these transformations. The author then explores how these transformations have changed the nature of what humanitarian organizations are and what they do. In the conclusion, the author considers how the transformation of humanitarianism links to the relationship between international nongovernmental organizations and world order, including the purpose of humanitarian action and its distinctive function in global politics.

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