The Messy Practice of Decolonising a Concept: Everyday Humanitarianism in Tanzania

Consolata Raphael Sulley, Lisa Ann Richey*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article1 explores the messy practice of decolonising a concept through collaborative work between scholars researching together the meaning of everyday humanitarianism in Tanzania. Humanitarianism is typically understood as the state-centric, formal, Northern-driven helping of distant others in crisis. Using the concept of everyday humanitarianism, our article challenges these assumptions in three ways. First, it explores the everyday humanitarian actions of ordinary citizens in times of crisis. Second, it explores these responses in a Southern context. Third, it focuses explicitly on the givers and not only the receivers of humanitarian help. Our work grounds decolonisation in the actual practices of research aimed at theory building as an iterative back-and-forth exchange with particular attention to power, rather than as a transplant of Northern theory on the South, or its opposite. Our first argument is that the objective of collaborative research to capture the local politics of giving and then use these practices to interrogate the theoretical concept of everyday humanitarianism can be decolonising. Second, we argue that the practices of the academic labour that produces knowledge or inductive theory can also be decolonising. Understanding both the challenges and the possibilities of decolonising ‘humanitarianism’ will provide an opportunity to document and thus legitimate the complexity that is inherent in decolonising a discipline.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Studies
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)390-403
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • African politics
  • Everyday humanitarianism
  • Decolonisation
  • Disaster
  • Humanitarianism
  • North-South relations
  • Research collaboration
  • Tanzania
  • Crisis

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