Thinking with the Senses: Humanitarian Sentiment & Practice


University of Liverpool

Wendy Asquith, a new member of the Centre, and her colleague Anna Bocking-Welch would like to invite researchers to take part in a conference entitled ‘Thinking with the Senses: Humanitarian Sentiment & Practice’ at the University of Liverpool on 13-14 May 2019.

At this conference we are keen to meet colleagues with an interest in internationalism and its relationship to humanitarian ideals and practices through the senses. We aim to explore how the senses have featured or been appealed to in attempts to evoke humanitarian sentiment or action.

International humanitarian practices have long drawn on concern for distant others and the diplomatic negotiation and crossing of borders necessary to implement this principle. As such, there is a close, but complex, enmeshing of the ideals of humanitarianism and internationalism as it has been practiced in the modern era. Major international organisations and NGOs – such as the UN and its specialized agencies, the ICRC, Amnesty International and many others – cite humanitarian ideals as a driver and basis for their work. Indeed, the ‘humanitarian sentiment’ has been invoked in many contexts as a prerequisite to forging a global community.

This conference will bring together academics from a range of arts, humanities and social sciences disciplines, alongside practitioners – including representatives of In Place of WarConcern and Christian Aid – who have experience of working in the humanitarian sector.

In order to engage and motivate diverse audiences, international humanitarian actors have developed communication 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.

With this conference, we seek to critically explore such practices, considering how attention to the full range of sensory perception might develop our understandings of historical and contemporary humanitarianism and its impacts.

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:

Deadline: 4 March 2019

To see the full CFP and more details about the conference please visit:

The conference is organized with the generous support of the Leverhulme Trust and the Wellcome Trust.