Thinking with the Senses: Histories of Humanitarian Sentiment and Practice

Event Details

  • Event date: 13/05/2019 – 14/05/2019
  • Venue: University of Liverpool
  • CFP Deadline: 04/03/2019

In order to engage and motivate diverse audiences, humanitarian actors have developed communicative practices that stimulate a wide range of sensory experiences. These have ranged from austerity lunches and sponsored fasts, to art exhibits and the production of craft products for sale; from protest songs and charity singles to the sensations of voluntourism. Humanitarian organisations have also been quick to embrace the possibilities offered by new technologies, from the use of the Kodak camera in the Congo Reform Movement at the start of nineteenth-century to the United Nations’ recent use of immersive Virtual Reality headsets to encourage pledges of support for refugee camps and the Ebola crisis. Through these diverse activities, the full range of human senses have been engaged in the imagination of different kinds of global community, responsibility, and solidarity.


In recent years a rich body of research has begun to interrogate the role that visual – primarily print and broadcast – media has played in shaping humanitarian sentiments and practices. With this conference, we seek to both deepen and broaden these conversations by considering how attention to the full range of sensory perception might develop our understandings of historical and contemporary humanitarian practices, sentiments, movements and their impacts. How might thinking with the senses enable a better understanding of the landscapes humanitarians operate within, the environments that they shape and the worlds they imagine? Of course, humanitarians do not think or act in a vacuum. We are sensitive to the power, privileges and challenges inherent in humanitarian praxis. Therefore, we are keen to understand how giving due attention to the senses, perceptions, and perspectives of beneficiary, as well as donor, communities might better illuminate expressions of the humanitarian impulse across time and space.


We encourage submissions focussing on any geographic region and on any period from the nineteenth century to the present day.


Please submit proposals of 350 words max. for a 15-20 minute paper, along with a short biography (no more than 150 words) to Anna Bocking-Welch and Wendy Asquith at: (


For more details see the conference website: