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New series of Bloomsbury debates explore the dilemmas of humanitarianism


First in new series of talks co-organised by Birkbeck, LSHTM and MSF to focus on trends in humanitarianism.

London, UK (PRWEB UK) 4 November 2012

The challenges and politics of humanitarianism will be discussed by scholars and practitioners at the first roundtable in a new series of debates about emergency relief.

The panellists will share their first-hand experiences from trouble spots across the globe and explore how the idea and practice of humanitarianism have changed significantly in recent times as part of a new series of debates.

The event on Thursday 15 November at the Wiener Library in London is the first of three discussions making up the Bloomsbury Debates on Humanitarianism: Profits, Politics and Power. The series of debates is co-organised by Birkbeck, University of London; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Speakers at the first event will address questions, including:

  •     Can the principles of neutrality and independence be upheld during conflict?
  •     Can and should charities remain non-political in complex emergencies?
  •     What role is there for the private sector in humanitarian relief operations?
  •     To what extent should humanitarian agencies work as a branch of states' foreign policies?

The panellists for the first debate are:

  •     Sarah Collinson, Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
  •     Stephen Hopgood, Senior Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  •     Joanna Macrae, Department for International Development (DFID)
  •     Fabrice Weissman, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Alex Colas, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Birkbeck's Department of Politics, will chair the event. He said: “This debate will be an opportunity to examine current trends in humanitarianism: what works, what is not working, and what dilemmas lie ahead? Since its distant origins on the battlefields of Solferino in 1859, the idea and practice of humanitarianism has undergone significant changes, generally reflecting wider social, economic and political transformations in international society. Over the past two decades, under the guise of ‘humanitarian intervention' and in response to ‘complex emergencies', the inevitably political character of the category has been especially pronounced. Indeed, many today see humanitarianism as an expression of a specifically liberal way of peace and war or worse, as a form of ‘human rights imperialism.'”

The first debate, hosted by Birkbeck, takes place on Thursday 15 November from 6:30pm-7:30pm at the Weiner Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, 29 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DP.

To book a free place at the event, please register online.


Notes to editors

  •     The Bloomsbury Debates on Humanitarianism: Profits, Politics and Power are co-organised by Birkbeck, University of London; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
  •     Birkbeck is a world-class research and teaching institution, a vibrant centre of academic excellence and London's only specialist provider of evening higher education. For more details visit or contact communications(at)bbk(dot)ac(dot)uk, 020 7380 3108.
  •     The Politics Department at Birkbeck celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. It offers an undergraduate degree in Global Politics and International Relations as well as various postgraduate degrees dealing with international security, global political economy and global governance. For more details visit
  •     The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health. For more details visit or contact press(at)lshtm(dot)ac(dot)uk, 020 7927 2802.
  •     The Public Health in Humanitarian Crises Group at LSHTM works to improve the public health of populations affected by armed conflict or natural disasters through research, training, dissemination of evidence-based information, and by providing consultancy and independent advice to relief agencies.
  •     Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is an independent humanitarian medical aid organisation committed to providing medical aid where it is needed most. For more details visit or contact heather(dot)pagano(at)london(dot), 020 7067 4217.

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