Humanitarian Governance

Posted: 15 May 2013

See all articles by Michael Barnett

Michael Barnett

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA)

Date Written: May 2013


This review examines humanitarian governance, defined as the increasingly organized and internationalized attempt to save the lives, enhance the welfare, and reduce the suffering of the world's most vulnerable populations. Political scientists and international relations scholars are only now beginning to explain this rapidly growing global governance of humanity, which is particularly evident in the developing literatures on humanitarian intervention, emergency relief, peacebuilding, and refugee protection. As they increasingly engage this relatively unexplored area of global life, political scientists are using the familiar analytics of the global governance literature to explain the origins, design, and effectiveness of this collective activity. This essay, though, interjects an alternative perspective, one that draws from critical theory, to widen the research agenda of the study of humanitarian governance. Specifically, the essay raises six central questions: What kind of world is being imagined and produced? What accounts for the tremendous growth of humanitarian governance over the last century? Who governs? How is humanitarian governance organized and accomplished? What are the principal techniques of control? By what authority do humanitarians govern and what do they do with that authority?

Suggested Citation

Barnett, Michael, Humanitarian Governance (May 2013). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 16, pp. 379-398, 2013, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Barnett (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA) ( email )

2201 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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