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The quantification of needs

Combining historical research and ethnographic investigations, the Africanist historian Joël Glasman plunges us into the factory of the homo humanitarianus, the average individual, on the basis of which "needs" and aid projects today are assessed. This conversation took place on December 10th 2020, during a conference-debate at Crash.

How did humanitarian organisations come to describe and measure the suffering of victims using numerical indicators ? When did impartiality become synonymous with allocating aid on the basis of universally quantifiable, comparable and prioritised needs ? What are the power struggles, conflicts of interest and value at the origin of the "universal minimum standards" of the SPHERE project? How did a three-colored plastic bracelet, the MUAC, become one of the key instruments for measuring and qualifying the severity of a nutritional crisis ? 


These questions are central to the latest book by the Africanist historian Joël Glasman entitled Humanitarianism and the Quantification of the Human Needs. Minimal Humanity (Routledge Humanitarian Press, 2019). Combining historical research and ethnographic investigations, he immerses us in the factory of the homo humanitarianus, the average individual, on the basis of which "needs" and aid projects are assessed today. He will come to tell us about it on Thursday, December 10th, during a conference-debate at the Crash.

Summary 

• Presentation
• Part 1 - Data revolution, evidence-based humanitarian aid 
• Part 2 -  Bureaucratisation / professionalisation / rationalisation
• Part 3 -  Neoliberalism / governmentalism / competitiveness
• Part 4 - Applying moral values to numbers
• Part 5 - Principle of impartiality and proportionality
• Part 6 - Universality of needs and universal standards (MUAC example)
• Part 7 - Consensus and scientific knowledge (Sphere example)
• Conclusion

Questions 

• Question 1 - The different versions of Sphere
• Question 2 - The political dimension of figures
• Question 3 - Limitations of predictive tools in emergencies 
• Question 4 - Different data produced by different actors  
• Question 5 - Anglophone and Francophone research. Role of local staff in data collection
• Question 6 – The possession and sharing of figures
• Question 7 - Differentiating between reliable and unreliable data 
• Question 8 - The discrepancy between the precision of figures and the ambiguity of their constitution
• Question 9 - Competition logics and access to funding
• Question 10 -  Proposing projects without using data 
• Question 11 - Role to be played by academics. Creation of Epicentre. Development project 
• Question 12 - The "performance-based bonus" system 
 

 

To cite this content :
Joël Glasman, The quantification of needs, 10 December 2020, URL : http://msf-crash.org/en/conferences-debates/quantification-needs

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