On February 17, at 10.30 am, the lecture “A delicate dance: international aid agencies and national liberation movements”, with Andrew Thompson, will be held in the Sala de Atos of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Minho.
The end of empire was a highly formative period for many things, international humanitarianism included. Power shifted on to a global stage, exercised by multinational companies, the international media, and an array of supra-national, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. Amidst this globalisation of power, humanitarian action expanded as a form of international relations precisely at the point when what had previously seemed unassailable Western colonial empires started to fall. Against the backdrop of a decolonising world debates were tiggered about the very nature and purpose of the large ensemble of organisations providing life-saving aid. Were they instruments of domination or tools of emancipation? Or were they both of these things, or not quite either? To what extent did they interact with national liberation movements and what shaped those interactions? How did they position themselves in relation to states, colonial or otherwise?
In the messy aftermath of the Second World war a variety of NGOs became caught up in colonial counter-insurgency campaigns and were highly vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by Europe’s colonial powers. By the end of the 1960s, by contrast, NGOs were working in a world where anti-colonialism was making the running. Different modes of humanitarianism emerged at this point. How far NGOs wanted or were able to build solidarities with the colonised world very much depended on the organisation in question. This lecture seeks to provide depth of field by examining four types of humanitarian organisation, and their varied interactions with anti-colonial and national liberation movements: one international (the ICRC), one from the United Nations family (UNHCR), one faith-based (the World Council of Churches), and one governmental (the Swedish International Development Agency).
Andrew Thompson is Professor of Global and Imperial History and a Professorial Fellow of Nuffield College. He is the co-chair of the Global and Imperial History Centre at the University of Oxford. His research interests span global histories of humanitarianism, human rights and development; the history of modern globalisation and the relationship between globalisation and empire; the effects of empire on British private and public life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; histories of migration and mobility (especially postcolonial migrations to Britain and France); and the history of colonial and apartheid South Africa. He has also written on Anglo-Argentine relations, transnational migration and migrant remittances, and public memories and legacies of empire.
He is currently researching international humanitarianism and human rights and the emergence of the modern aid and development sector which forms the subject of his forthcoming work Humanitariaism on Trial: How a global system of aid and development emerged through the end of empire (Oxford University Press).