Call for papers (ASA-UK): Humanitarian imagination

The Humanitarian Imagination: Socialities and Materialities of Voluntarism

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth Conference, Oxford Brookes 18-21 September

Dear colleagues,

We invite submissions to the panel “The Humanitarian Imagination: Socialities and Materialities of Voluntarism” for the ASA Conference in Oxford, 18-21 September.


Our panel aims to interrogate the ways in which volunteers imagine and engage with “others” through activities that involve relational processes and acts of self-making. The papers in this session will explore the role of the humanitarian imagination in animating and informing socialities and materialities of voluntarism.


Volunteers are increasingly engaged in practices of gifting, service provision, material aid, and activism in relation to various “others”: refugees; immigrants; poor; homeless, but also with animals, and in the non-human and environmental realms. The session explores the ways in which humanitarian imaginations animate and inform forms of sociality and materiality. How do volunteers imagine themselves and others in humanitarian encounters? What political, moral, affective and ethical imaginaries accompany their motivations and experiences? In what ways do these imaginaries impact upon the material and social dimensions of voluntarism? What is the material form that aid acquires, and what are the relationships formed? Such questions can be directed at relationships between volunteers, between volunteers and those they seek to support and with material aid itself.

We are interested in the collective subjects that emerge through humanitarian imaginations. Historical studies underline how humanitarianism is interrelated to the emergence of humanity as a collective subject and a shared identity. What other collective subjects emerge in forms of sociality pertaining to humanitarianism today?

Through exploring the role of the humanitarian imagination in shaping volunteer encounters and experiences, we also seek to open up a space to consider the power of imaginative practice as a form of “imaginative politics” (Malkki 2015) that produces certain effects. We are hence particularly interested in papers that focus on the power dynamics of the humanitarian encounter, and that consider the potential of this encounter for social and political change.

Our section is Pol08. To submit your paper, please follow this link.

We look forward to receiving thought-provoking and interesting papers!