Humanitarianism is an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to better humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons. It is the philosophical belief in movement toward the improvement of the human race in a variety of areas, used to describe a wide number of activities relating specifically to human welfare. A practitioner is known as a humanitarian.

An informal ideology

Humanitarianism is an informal ideology of practice; it is "the doctrine that people's duty is to promote human welfare."[1]

Humanitarianism is based on a view that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such. Therefore, humanitarians work towards advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is the antithesis of the "us vs. them" mentality that characterizes tribalism and ethnic nationalism. Humanitarians abhor slavery, violation of basic and human rights, and discrimination on the basis of features such as skin colour, religion, ancestry, or place of birth. Humanitarianism drives people to save lives, alleviate suffering, and promote human dignity in the middle of man-made or natural disasters. Humanitarianism is embraced by movements and people across the political spectrum. The informal ideology can be summed up by a quote from Albert Schweitzer: "Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose."

A universal doctrine

Jean Pictet, in his commentary on The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross, argues for the universal characteristics of humanitarianism:

The wellspring of the principle of humanity is in the essence of social morality which can be summed up in a single sentence, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. This fundamental precept can be found, in almost identical form, in all the great religions, Brahminism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. It is also the golden rule of the positivists, who do not commit themselves to any religion but only to the data of experience, in the name of reason alone. It is indeed not at all necessary to resort to affective or transcendental concepts to recognize the advantage for men to work together to improve their lot.[2]

Historical examples

Historically, humanitarianism was publicly seen in the social reforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s, following the economic turmoil of the Industrial Revolution in England. Many of the women in Great Britain who were involved with feminism during the 1900s also pushed humanitarianism. The atrocious hours and working conditions of children and unskilled laborers were made illegal by pressure on Parliament by humanitarians. The Factory Act of 1833 and the Factory Act of 1844 were some of the most significant humanitarian bills passed in Parliament following the Industrial Revolution.

In the middle of the 19th century, humanitarianism was central to the work of Florence Nightingale and Henry Dunant in emergency response and in the latter case led to the founding of the Red Cross.

Emergency response

Today, humanitarianism is particularly used to describe the thinking and doctrines behind the emergency response to humanitarian crises. In such cases it argues for a humanitarian response based on humanitarian principles, particularly the principle of humanity. Nicholas de Torrente, Executive Director of MSF-USA writes:

"The most important principles of humanitarian action are humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality, which posits the conviction that all people have equal dignity by virtue of their being human based solely on need, without discrimination among recipients. Humanitarian organizations must refrain from taking part in hostilities or taking actions that advantage one side of the conflict over another, the §action serves the interests of political, religious, or other agendas.

"These fundamental principles serve two essential purposes. They embody humanitarian action’s single-minded purpose of alleviating suffering, unconditionally and without any ulterior motive. They also serve as background document to develop operational tools that help in obtaining both the consent of communities for the presence and activities of humanitarian organizations, particularly in highly volatile contexts.[3]

Digital humanitarianism

Patrick Meier, first started using the term 'digital humanitarianism' after crowdmapping for the 2010 Haiti earthquake.[4][5][6] In 2011, Paul Conneally gave a TED talk on digital humanitarianism in which he states that humanitarianism's "origins are firmly routed in the analogue age" with "a major shift coming".[7][8] In 2015 he authored the book Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response.

Vincent Fevrier notes that "social media can benefit the humanitarian sector [...] by providing information to give better situational awareness to organisations for broad strategic planning and logistics" and that "crisis mapping really emerged in 2010 during the Haiti earthquake" with "software and digital humanitarian platforms such as Standby Task Force, OpenStreetMap, and many others" being active during many disasters since then.[9]

In fact, the role of social media in digital humanitarian efforts is a considerable one. Ten days after the 2010 earthquake, the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon event was launched in the United States, effectively taking over the mediasphere and reaching hundreds of millions of households and viewers. It focused on appealing to the viewing public's empathy for the survivors of the disaster, allowing ordinary citizens to help in a collective relief effort by contributing money donations to NGOs providing Humanitarian aid to earthquake survivors.[10][11] The telethon attracted support through a variety of celebrity musical performances and staged calls for empathy, using digital social networks to disseminate its appeal to the moral responsibility of the viewer-consumers who are able to reinforce identification with a national identity of the American 'savior' through participation in this Humanitarian project.

During the summer of 2010, when open fires raged across Russia, causing many to die from smog inhalation,[12] the use of social media allowed digital humanitarians to map the areas in need of support. This is because Russians who were hoping to be evacuated were posting online about the conditions they were in which prompted thousands of Russian bloggers to coordinate relief efforts online.[12] The digital humanitarian efforts in Russia were crucial to responding to the fires in 2010 considering the Russian government was vastly unprepared to deal with such a large-scale disaster.[12]

Within digital humanitarianism, big data has featured strongly in efforts to improve digital humanitarian work and produces a limited understanding of how a crisis is unfolding. It has been argued that Big Data is constitutive of a social relation in which digital humanitarians claim both the formal humanitarian sector and victims of crises need the services and labor that can be provided by digital humanitarians.[13]

Earlier in 2005, a question was raised as to whether Wikipedia can be seen as digital humanitarianism.[14][15]

See also


  1. ""humanitarianism." WordNet 3.0. Princeton University. 2 June 2007".
  2. "International Committee of the Red Cross". 3 October 2013.
  3. "Harvard Law School Human Rights Journal -".
  4. Shringarpure, Bhakti (18 June 2015). "The rise of the digital saviour: can Facebook likes change the world?". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  5. "Crisis Mapping Pioneer Focuses On Humanitarian Uses For Drones". NPR. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  6. Meier, Patrick (2 July 2012). "How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti". National Geographic Society (blogs). Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  7. "Digital Humanitarianism". World Bank Group. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  8. Collins, Katie. "How AI, Twitter and digital volunteers are transforming humanitarian disaster response". WIRED UK. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  9. Illingworth, Sarah (5 April 2016). "Is Digital Humanitarianism All Good?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  10. McAlister, Elizabeth (2012). "Soundscapes of Disaster and Humanitarianism: Survival Singing, Relief Telethons, and the Haiti Earthquake". Small Axe. 16 (3): 22-38. doi:10.1215/07990537-1894078.
  11. McAlister, Elizabeth. "Soundscapes of Disaster and Humanitarianism: Survival Singing, Relief Telethons, and the Haiti Earthquake".
  12. Meier, Patrick (2015). Digital Humanitarians. New York: Routledge. p. 49.
  13. Burns, Ryan (9 October 2014). "Rethinking big data in digital humanitarianism: practices, epistemologies, and social relations" (PDF). GeoJournal. 80 (4): 477–490. doi:10.1007/s10708-014-9599-x. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  14. Pink, Daniel H. "The Book Stops Here". WIRED. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  15. Koerner, Brendan I. The Best of Technology Writing 2006. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472031953. Retrieved 6 January 2017.

Further reading

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  • The Readers Bible, Complete authorised version, O.U.P. and Cambridge University Press, 1951
  • Bass Gary J, "Humanitarian Impulses", The New York Times Magazine, 2008.
  • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Ethics, Fontana, 1963.
  • Bowen, Catherine Drinker, The Lion under the Throne, Hamish Hamilton, 1957.
  • Brogan, Hugh, The Penguin History of the United States of America, 1990.
  • Bury, History of Freedom of Thought, Oxford University Press, 1952,.
  • Churchill, Winston. S., The American Civil War, Corgi Books, 1970.
  • Cragg Gerald R, The Church and the Age of Reason, Penguin, 1990.
  • Craveri Michael, The Life of Jesus, Martin Secker& Warburg Ltd, 1967.
  • Crump & Jacob,The Legacy of the Middle Ages, Oxford University Press, 1926.
  • Davis David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, Cornell University Press, 1966.
  • de Torrent, Nicholas: "Humanitarian Action Under Attack: Reflections on the Iraq War" Harvard Human Rights Journal, Volume 17, Spring 2004 Harvard University Retrieved 13 July 2007
  • Humanitarianism
  • D'Sousa, Dinesh, The End of Racism, The Free Press, 1995.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Ltd., 1959.
  • Freud, Sigmund, Civilization and its Discontents, Dover Publications, 1994.
  • Gierke, Otto, Natural Law, Beacon Press, 1957.
  • Glover, Jonathon, Humanity, Pimlico, 2001
  • Graveson, R. H. & Crane F. R., A Century of Family Law 1857–1957, Sweet & Maxwell, 1957.
  • Green, J. R., A Short History of the English people, Macmillan & co, 1917.
  • Greer, Germaine, The Female Eunuch, Macgibbon & Kee, London, 1971.
  • Hill, Christopher, God's Englishman, Penguin 1970.
  • Hill, Christopher, The World Turned Upside Down, Penguin 1975.
  • Hoebel, E Adamson, The Law of Primitive Man, Atheneum, New York, 1973.
  • Hughes, Phillip, The Reformation, Burns Oates, 1957.
  • Hughes, Robert, The Fatal Shore, Pan Books, 1987.
  • Johnson, Charles and Smith Patricia, Africans in America, Harcourt Brace (1998).
  • Koestler, Arthur, Reflections on Hanging, Victor Gollancz, 1956.
  • Koestler, Arthur, The Yogi and the Commissar, Jonathan Cape, 1964.
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  • Locke, John, Political Writings, Penguin Classics, 1993.
  • Macaulay, Lord, Historical Essays, T. Nelson & sons.
  • Marrus, Michael P., The Nuremberg Trial 1945-4, A Documentary History, Bedford Books, 1997
  • Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty and the Subjection of Women, Wordsworth Classics
  • Mill, John Stuart, Principles of Political Economy, Longmans Green, 1873.
  • Minear, Larry (2002). The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries. West Hartford, Conn: Kumarian Press. ISBN 1-56549-149-1.
  • Moorehead, Caroline, Dunant's Dream, War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross, Carroll & Graf, 1999
  • Morley, John, Voltaire, Chapman & Hall, 1872.
  • Müller-Lyer, F. C., The family, George Allen & Unwin.
  • Mumford, Lewis,The Condition of Man, Martin Secker & Warburg.
  • Neill, William,The Bible Companion, Skeffington.
  • Nehru, Jerwarhalal, Glimpses of World History, Oxford University Press, 1982
  • O'Connell, International Law, Stevens, 1970
  • O'Sullivan, Richard, The Inheritance of the Common Law, Stevens & Sons Ltd, 1950
  • Patterson, Orlando, Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, Basic Books, 1991.
  • Perlman, Linda, We did Nothing, Viking, 2003
  • Pictet, Jean (1979). "The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross: a commentary". Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  • Pollock & Maitland, The History of English Law, Cambridge University Press, 1968.
  • Power, Samantha, A Problem from Hell, Flamingo, 2002
  • Radzinowicz, Leon, History of English Criminal Law, Stevens.
  • Robertson, Geoffrey, Crimes against Humanity, Penguin Books, 3rd Edit., 2008.
  • Robbins, L, The Theory of Economic Policy, MacMillan, 1952
  • Rudé, George, Revolutionary Europe (1783–1815), Collins, 1964
  • Russell, Bertrand, History of Western Philosophy, George Allen & Unwin, 1948.
  • Russell, Bertrand Religion & Science, Home University Library, 1947.
  • Schweitzer, Albert, Civilization & Ethics, Unwin, 1961.
  • Seaver, Albert Schweizer, The Man and his Mind, A & C Black, 1969.
  • Shapiro, Harry L, Man and Culture, Oxford University Press, 1971
  • Shirer, William, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Secker & Warburg, 1962
  • Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation, Pimlico
  • Spender, John, The Government of Mankind, Cassell
  • Strachey, Lytton, Elizabeth & Essex, Penguin
  • Thomas, Hugh, History of the World, Harper & Rowe,1979
  • Trevelyan, G. M., Illustrated History of England, Longmans, Green and Co., 1956
  • Trevelyan, G. M.Illustrated Social History of England, Pelican, 1964
  • Toynbee, Arnold, A Study of History, Oxford University Press, first edit., 1934
  • Walter, J. (2003). Focus on ethics in aid. World disasters report, 2003. Geneva, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Retrieved 2007-07-13
  • Waters, Tony (2001). Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan: The Limitations of Humanitarian Relief Operations. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Weber, Max, The Protestant ethic and the spirit of Capitalism, Allen & Unwin, 1950.
  • Whitehead, Alfred North, Adventures of Ideas, Pelican, reprint,1948
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