The Sphere Project: Imagining Better Humanitarian Action through Reflective Accountability Institutions and Practices. Forthcoming in Imagining Pathways to Global Cooperation, eds. Katja Freistein, Bettina Mahlert, Sigrid Quack, and Christine Unrau: Edgar Elger. (in press)


This chapter examines standard-setting for quality and accountability in the humanitarian sector, specifically the Sphere Project. I show how reflexivity produced new pathways to cooperation and collective action through a critical emotional event. This shared emotional experience created a reflective space where shared understandings and knowledge constituted a collective ‘we’ or community motivated to collectively address perceived problems in humanitarian activity.  This reflexive process produced a reflective accountability system characterized by three features: collective action, reflective practices, and transformative aspirations. Instead of eliminating reflection and emotion, the standardization process in the humanitarian sector embedded reflexivity and produced reflexive accountability practices and institutions. 

SCHR and Humanitarian Standard-setting: How field dynamics produce coordination and hierarchy. Forthcoming in Hierarchies and Exclusions in Humanitarianism – The Untold Story, Clara Egger and Andrea Schneiker (eds.). (under review)

This chapter takes a relational approach to understanding the role of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) in the development of standards in the humanitarian field. I map the humanitarian field and show how field interactions produce SCHR’s position of authority. I focus on two sets of interactions: within the field, SCHR bridges multiple practical logics and actors who subscribe to them, and externally, it is a boundary actor that builds bridges to other fields, such as development, and translates between policy and practice.

Second, I show how by sitting across boundaries SCHR is able to mobilize collective action within the humanitarian field (e.g., the development of standards) and serve as a vehicle for joint advocacy in other fields which diffuses the standards beyond the initial set of actors. I argue SCHR’s position as a boundary spanner is critical to its ability to steer metagovernance processes in the humanitarian field, convene and mobilize actors, and create spaces for learning and reflection.  

Finally, the mapping analysis shows SCHR draws its authority from a very particular type of humanitarian practice community, which emphasizes rule-based coordination as the means to improve the quality and accountability of humanitarian assistance. By focusing on rule-based coordination, SCHR defines what game is being played. Though it seeks input and participation in deciding the rules, the overall agenda is set by SCHR. These findings suggest while field dynamics generate SCHR’s authority and ability to lead, they also reproduce current hierarchies that favor humanitarian actors from the ‘global North.’

Beyond Cooperation and Competition: NGO-NGO interactions in global politics with Sigrid Quack (in progress co-edited book project)

In this volume, we shift the focus from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as agents and the outcomes of their actions towards how their agency is constructed through their interactions and relationships. We suggest that examining the interactions between NGOs will reveal more about how their power, authority and legitimacy is constituted, sustained or lost than studying the outcomes of their actions or focusing on substantialist understandings of power, authority and legitimacy as attributes of entities. In our view, NGO power, authority and legitimacy is not primarily constituted through material resources or endowed by law, but rather through their relationships and interactions. We develop a relational approach to NGOs and elaborate social, scalar and temporal dimensions of NGO-NGO relations to build our theory. Chapter authors explore these dimensions in diverse empirical settings.

Authors’ Workshop (2)