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Creating and Resisting the Humanitarian-Development Complex, with Agnieszka Sobocinska

Humanitarianism and international development arose in different contexts: modern humanitarianism is often traced back through the nineteenth century to abolition campaigns, whereas international development is typically traced back to colonial development schemes of the early 20th century. What is significant, however, is that humanitarianism and international development both have roots in empire. The colonial context is significant for contemporary practitioners as it reveals the unequal power dynamics through which both fields were structured. Dr. Agnieszka Sobocinska's research examines the history of international development and humanitarianism, to provide critical context for discussions about equity in contemporary public health.

Since the 1950s, humanitarianism and international development have been increasingly intertwined. In Dr. Sobocinska's last book, Saving the World? Western volunteers and the rise of the humanitarian-development complex (Cambridge University Press, 2021), she argued that humanitarian and international development merged into a nexus of governments, NGOs, private corporations and public opinion that encouraged continuous and accelerating intervention in the Global South. This conglomerate was a powerful force, but her current research is discovering historical instances of resistance to foreign aid projects, including in the field of public health, across the Global South. On November 16, Dr. Sobocinska will explore how an understanding of historical resistance to foreign aid projects can contribute to contemporary praxis in public health.

Speaker Profile

Dr. Agnieszka Sobocinska is Reader in International History and Historical Geography and Director of the Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College London. She is a historian of international development, North-South contacts, and Australia-Asia relations. Her books include Saving the World? Western volunteers and the rise of the Humanitarian-Development Complex (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia (UNSW Press, 2014). Her current research explores historical challenges to foreign aid intervention across the Global South.

Register below and join us on Thursday, November 16, at 2:30 p.m.


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Please find the recap and recording here.


Thursday, November 16, 2023


2:30 pm - 3:30 pm

Local Time

  • Timezone: America/New_York
  • Date: Thursday, November 16, 2023
  • Time: 2:30 pm - 3:30 pm


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