About this Research Topic
Humanitarian action is often seen as a non-political undertaking motivated by ethical concerns – especially by practitioners, but also to some extent in the scholarly community. When aid organizations fail to deliver on their promises of alleviating human suffering, such shortcomings are often traced back to insufficient coordination between stakeholders, restricted ‘humanitarian access’, or a lack of capacities among key providers of aid. However, critical scholars have pointed to more fundamental tensions surrounding the notion of humanitarianism, and highlighted deep-seating problems like the paternalism of dominant Western actors in the humanitarian system.
The humanitarian sector has attempted to address such issues through ‘localization’, that is, the devolution of humanitarian tasks from international agencies to actors that are closer to the humanitarian situation, such as national and sub-national authorities of affected states, local non-governmental organizations, community initiatives and the affected population/beneficiaries themselves. While the idea of ‘localization’ has reached near-consensual status in global debates on humanitarian action, recent evaluations have concluded that its implementation remains flawed and incomplete.
Why has the localization of humanitarian action and disaster relief remained stunted despite the broad rhetorical support? Most policy analysts observe a general reluctance of established organizations to relinquish power and control. While the concerns of established actors are sometimes justified by the need to uphold universal standards or a lack of local capacity, critical scholars and practitioners have argued that such perceptions are embedded in deep-structural hierarchies in international politics, such as racism and postcolonial conditions, which act as impediments to ‘true’ localization. Despite the high stakes, systematic research on the matter is sparse and dominated by the white gaze of Western scholarship, whereas insights from the Global South remain underrepresented. To broader our understanding of localization in humanitarian action, this Research Topic assembles research on the politics of humanitarian action and disaster relief from a variety of perspectives.
For this Research Topic, we are especially interested in contributions that:
• evaluate to what extent localization has changed humanitarian governance and practice, including in different humanitarian settings;
• explore the limitations and contestations of localization, including different understandings of what localization entails, and how they are rooted in diverging interests or normative convictions;
• discuss the normative implications of localization, including unintended consequences, as well as potential alternative concepts;
• investigate the historical and contemporary significance of humanitarian agents from outside the ‘humanitarian club’, including non-Western states but also local or transnational organizations led by subaltern and/or marginalized groups, and how they relate to dominant conceptions about the international humanitarian order;
• analyze the role of race and racism in humanitarian action and disaster relief and its implication for localization;
• critically reflect on how research on humanitarian action and disaster studies has treated localization, and how this research and its potential biases relates to humanitarian practice.
We look for contributions that touch upon these and other questions from a variety of different theoretical and epistemological standpoints, and particularly encourage contributions by scholars from the Global South. Empirical case studies are particularly welcome.
Keywords: humanitarian assistance, disaster management, localization, racism, politics of aid
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.