Humanitarian Hybrids: New Technologies and Humanitarian Resilience

Marianne Potvin, “Humanitarian Hybrids: New Technologies and Humanitarian Resilience,” in David Sanderson, Jerold Kayden and Julia Leis eds., Urban Disaster Resilience: New Dimensions from International Practice in the Built Environment (New York: Routledge, 2016),  182-196.

The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in humanitarian assistance is as a mechanism of potential resilience and distortion in the exercise of humanitarian action. Science, technology and societies studies (STS) provide a useful lens to understand the growing enthusiasm for technological innovation in a context where humanitarian legitimacy is contested. Digital practices deemed more objective, such as an increased reliance on big data, digital imagery, and new modes of visualization stabilize the humanitarian field by strengthening its claims of neutrality and impartiality, thus creating some form of a resilient humanitarianism. But new instruments such as ‘open’ crisis mapping and digital volunteerism also deeply destabilize the humanitarian ethos by enlarging and complicating the humanitarian polity. Can increased scrutiny into ‘humanitarian hybrids’ – those practices and instruments that combine humanitarian values with techniques borrowed from other fields – help assess claims that ICT will indeed save more lives, better protect human dignity and thus improve humanitarian resilience?