New Book: “Humanitarianism and Human Rights. A World of Differences?”

Michael Barnett (ed.), Humanitarianism and Human Rights. A World of Differences?, Cambridge University Press 2020.

This book explores the fluctuating relationship between human rights and humanitarianism. For most of their lives, human rights and humanitarianism have been distant cousins. Humanitarianism focused on situations in faraway places dealing with large-scale loss of life that demanded urgent attention whilst human rights advanced the cause of individual liberty and equality at home. However, the twentieth century saw the two coming much more directly into dialogue, particularly following the end of the Cold War, as both began working in war zones and post-conflict situations. Leading scholars probe how the shifting meanings of human rights and humanitarianism converge and diverge from a variety of disciplinary perspectives ranging from philosophical inquiries that consider whether and how differences are constructed at the level of ethics, obligations, and duties, to historical inquiries that attempt to locate core differences within and between historical periods, and to practice-oriented perspectives that suggest how differences are created and recreated in response to concrete problems and through different kinds of organised activities with different goals and meanings.

Table of Content:

Introduction: Worlds of Difference, Michael Barnett

Part I Differences or Distinctions?

1 Human Rights and Humanitarianization: From Separation to Intersection, Samuel Moyn

2 Suffering and Status, Jeffrey Flynn

3 Humanitarianism and Human Rights in Morality and Practice, Charles R. Beitz

4 For a Fleeting Moment: The Short, Happy Life of Humanism, Stephen Hopgood

Part II Practices

5 Humanitarian Governance and the Circumvention of Revolutionary Human Rights in the British Empire, Alan Lester

6 Humanitarian Intervention as an Entangled History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights, Fabian Klose

7 Mobilizing Emotions: Shame, Victimhood, and Agency, Bronwyn Leebaw

8 At Odds? Human Rights and Humanitarian Approaches to Violence Against Women During Conflict, Aisling Swaine

9 Innocence: Shaping the Concept and Practice of Humanity, Miriam Ticktin

10 Reckoning with Time: Vexed Temporalities in Human Rights and Humanitarianism, Ilana Feldman

11 Between the Border and a Hard Place: Negotiating Protection and Humanitarian Aid after the Genocide in Cambodia, 1979–1999, Bertrand Taithe

Conclusion: Practices of Humanity, Michael Barnett


‘The fraught relationship between humanitarianism and human rights is brilliantly illuminated in this excellent collection. Many of the key figures in the contemporary discourse feature in the theoretical section of the book, but the strength of the volume rests equally on a series of well-crafted practical studies. Very highly recommended.’ Chris Brown – Emeritus Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science

‘A volume like this one was needed, expected and long overdue. It raises important questions, explores crucial issues, and provides useful answers on the vexata quaestio of the worlds of difference between humanitarianism and human rights. Scholars intertwine their multiple disciplinary optics, approaches and expertise in a fruitful dialogue.’ Davide Rodogno – The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

‘As the rise of nationalism and counter-terrorism measures threaten to stall or set-back progress made over the last century towards a universalization of human rights and humanitarian norms, this book offers a collection of rich, sometimes opposing, perspectives on the evolution and meaning of these ideals. It provides much needed intellectual sustenance to inform critical thinking and debate on how to uphold norms of humanity in these challenging times.’ Fiona Terry – Head of the ICRC’s Centre for Operational Research and Experience (CORE)


Cite this blog post
Fabian Klose (2020, November 4). New Book: “Humanitarianism and Human Rights. A World of Differences?” Humanitarianism & Human Rights. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from

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