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Postdoctoral fellowships "Humanitarian Transition : the Stakes of Autonomy"

The French Red-Cross Foundation awards a dozen postdoctoral fellowships each year in the humanities and social sciences. This year, with the general call entitled “Humanitarian transition: the stakes of autonomy”, are added several specific calls supported by some of our partners. These partner calls offer more specific topics, the objectives of which correspond to themes and reflections common to the Foundation and its partners committed to research with the same convictions of its necessity. It is possible to propose up to two applications, one for the general call and one for the other calls. However, each candidate can only be awarded one fellowship.

General call of the Foundation

Humanitarian aid is increasingly coming under attack as a representation of the Western essence of solidarity between developed and developing countries, based on well-defined principles and international law and relying on funding from the richest countries. The so-called “aid-recipient countries” are expressing a growing will for autonomy in the management of actions affecting their populations. They no longer wish to depend on international aid, which is seen as too asymmetrical and far removed from the concept of partnership, and as favouring neither development nor poverty reduction. Some countries which formerly received international humanitarian aid now play an active role in the management of humanitarian interventions within their territory. Others are regaining control of project implementation, funding streams, and images and narratives which concern their populations, some going so far as bring about a real “state humanitarianism”. Elsewhere, the rise of new sponsors is reconfiguring relationships, aiming to make inroads into the international and media fields, which have long remained the preserve of Western countries.

This new situation has rendered the field of humanitarian international action more complex, even as it must manage unequalled needs, namely linked to demographic pressures, the uncontrolled growth of peri-urban areas, and increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters due to climate change. These difficulties require humanitarian aid to undergo real changes, since they reveal a transition period which was not anticipated and which represents the evolution from a paradigm of Western-centric solidarity in terms of resources and practices, to a new and much more complex multipolar model linked to concepts of human development, sustainable development, social change and the confluence of sometimes divergent interests from a variety of actors (sponsors, businesses, institutions, media, etc.).

The aim of the general call is to enable an understanding of humanitarian transition, which foreshadows a new paradigm, by apprehending the conditions of its fulfilment in different countries. As in a number of sectors undergoing periods of extreme change, the ethical approach can become a guide for action. This is why we very much encourage research which sheds light on the ethical dimension and methods of applying it in the field, regardless of the angle of the call in question.

The two angles of the General Call

The theme of the general call can be treated from one of the following angles.

Angle 1. From the Global to the Local: realities and issues of autonomisation strategies, given the context of aid “localisation”

The first lessons learned from the debate on aid “localisation”, and from the emerging issue of aid “fragmentation”, illustrate the importance and intensity of the discussion regarding the interplay between “global” and “local” dimensions in the international solidarity system in the field, in terms of efficiency, coordination of internal and external aid, and the adequacy of aid with regard to the needs of the populations.

The angle’s focus is twofold.

  • Understanding the local configurations of international aid: the strengths and weaknesses of the system. The first objective of this angle is to understand how the solidarity system in a given country helps to explain local configurations of international aid. How do the actions of transnational organisations and aid workers impact on local humanitarian and development agents? What strategies do institutional, political, and associative actors in developing countries use to negotiate their inclusion in the global system and to benefit from multifaceted aid?
  • Studying the changes which will enable us to overcome the limitations of the traditional international solidarity system. The second aim of this angle is to analyse the practical and ethical initiatives which international humanitarian actors develop in order to overcome the existing limitations of the international solidarity system. Which new operational models (in terms of partnerships, skills transfers, access to funding, human resources, governance, etc.) contribute to the improvement of crisis responses, both by reinforcing the capacities of local actors, and by better coordinating operations, enabling international responses which make the most of the advantages and complementarities of these different local actors? How can such initiatives be put to use in order to create the conditions for the reinforcement of response capacities and the autonomisation for local actors in different contexts?

Angle 2. From the Local to the Global: innovative models and practices from aid-recipient countries

The humanitarian sector is increasingly becoming a theatre for “reverse innovation”, especially in Africa, a laboratory for humanitarian alternatives where local initiatives can be observed everywhere. Private insurance mechanisms, such as the African Risk Capacity (ARC) launched by the African Union, have been created to insure states against the risks of natural disasters and the damage caused by extreme climatic episodes. Denominational and community-based local NGOs alike are increasing in numbers, expressing, like their states, the will to take control of the aid intended for their populations in their own countries and to really be at the helm. These NGOs are also becoming more powerful. For example, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) recently became the first NGO in the world with more than 100 000 employees. These innovations from aid-recipient countries call into question the role and place of international actors, by opening up new possible courses of action beyond the traditional international solidarity system.

This angle’s focus is twofold.

  • Understanding the conditions for the emergence of institutional and operational innovations from aid-recipient countries, and their impacts on populations. The first objective of this angle is to analyse the originality of these approaches, namely with regard to their apparent potential for autonomisation in developing countries. What have been the successes of innovations brought to the humanitarian field by different actors from aid-recipient countries (in terms of practice, governance, human resources, economic models, technology, etc.)? What are their limitations, and which are the humanitarian issues which do not yet benefit from such innovation? How can these initiatives be optimised in order to create the conditions to apply them in different contexts, including in developed countries?
  • Studying the transformations produced by these innovations in terms of the traditional international solidarity system and its actors. The second objective of this angle is to analyse the consequences of these innovations for the international solidarity system and its actors. Who are the leaders of these innovations, what are their respective strategies, and what relationship do they have with international humanitarian actors? How do these innovations lead to changes in humanitarian work and to a new relationship model between external and national actors?

Geographical Research Areas

These themes can be addressed in a geographical area made up of one or several countries. The Foundation has identified twelve priority countries for the purposes of this call:

  • Benin
  • Lebanon
  • Burkina Faso
  • Madagascar
  • Cameroon
  • Morocco
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Niger (for resident researchers only)
  • Ethiopia
  • Senegal
  • Guinea
  • Togo

The target countries represent empirical starting-points for research. They do not refer to nationality criteria for eligibility.

Access to the field will be conditional on a precise risk evaluation submitted with the application and updated before departure, with prior reference to the recommendations of the French Foreign Ministry.

Key dates

  • 12 March 2018: Launch of the call
  • 15 April 2018: Deadline for preregistration
  • 13 May 2018: Deadline for application
  • Early July 2018: Results are announced
  • 1 Sept. 2018: Start of research
  • 1 Sept. 2019: Work delivered
Application date
15 Apr 2018
Date of residence
1 Sep 2018 to 31 Aug 2019
Duration
1 year
Country
Europe France Paris Île-de-France
Discipline
Humanities Philosophy Social sciences Demography Economics Environmental Sciences Geography Law Political science Social Anthropology Sociology Other Medicine
Required post-doc experience: 
between 0 and 10 years
Award granted
€ 17.000
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