Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Humanitarianism is concerned with the welfare of the human race.

explanatory context

Humanitarianism is a specialised development of the concept of humanity or humanism.


Humanitarianism originally referred to a a position on a theological debate in Christianity, one that maintained that Christ was a man not a god. This original meaning is rare.


The contemporary meaning refers to a concern with the welfare of (some part of) the human race. This modern meaning was originally contemptuous in the sense of 'do-gooder' but has subsequently become a generally applauded social and moral position.

analytical review

A report by Save the Children UK (2010, p.1) on the future of humanitarianism states:

In this report, a broad definition of a humanitarian crisis is used, to include ‘any situation in which there is an exceptional and widespread threat to human life, health or subsistence’.4 In responding to humanitarian crises, it is essential to keep in mind that humanitarianism is founded on core principles. These principles distinguish humanitarian response from other forms of international intervention. For NGOs, the principles of humanitarian response have been laid out in recent years in collective statements of practice. These include the NGO and Red Cross Code of Conduct5 {see associated issues below] and the Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards.6 They define, in theory, the core identity of humanitarian agencies. This identity and its principles, developed over time, form the very basis of why humanitarian organisations came into being and how they seek to serve the communities they work with.
At the heart of these principles is the ‘humanitarian imperative’: that the right to receive assistance is fundamental and should be enjoyed by all citizens of all countries. Aid must be given on the basis of need alone, regardless of race, creed or nationality, and aid must not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint nor be used purely as an instrument of government foreign policy.7 This particularly applies in situations of conflict, civil unrest, government oppression or other insecurity, when those who are powerful and well connected will often attempt to coerce humanitarians into taking sides or providing financial gain.

Notes: 4 Inter-Agency Standing Committee, cited in ‘Second meeting of the subcommittee ad interim of UNAIDS Programme Co-ordinating Board’, 30 April 2009; 2009/20090430_pcb_subcommittee_meeting_report2_annex_en.pdf

5 The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief;

6 The Sphere Project; Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response;

associated issues

Humanitarian Principles and the Code Of Conduct

The Save the Children (2010, p.2) report lists the principles and code of conduct as follows:

The most practical explanatory and training tool for humanitarian principles is the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief first articulated in 1994. Now officially translated into more than 20 languages, it is part of international training, workshops and debates. The Code of Conduct is voluntary, and more than 400 organisations have signed up to its principles, with many also adding aspects of it into legally binding documents for their staff.
It has arguably the widest reach of any code for the humanitarian sector. Some aspects of the code are debated, but more than 15 years since its inception, Save the Children and seven other of the largest NGO networks, representing approximately 80% of humanitarian relief worldwide, have recently reaffirmed its importance.
This code is for the Red Cross/Crescent and other NGOs. Governments and other warring parties have their own obligations for humanitarian principles under international law, such as the Geneva Conventions.

The Red Cross and NGO Code of Conduct contains the following principles, which remain relevant:
1: The Humanitarian Imperative comes first

2: Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone

3: Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint
4: We shall endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy
5: We shall respect culture and custom

6: We shall attempt to build disaster response on local capacities

7: Ways shall be found to involve programme beneficiaries in the management of relief aid

8: Relief aid must strive to reduce future vulnerabilities to disaster as well as meeting basic needs

9: We hold ourselves accountable to both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources

10: In our information, publicity and advertising activities, we shall recognise disaster victims as dignified humans, not hopeless objects.

related areas

See also



Save the Children UK, 2010, At A Crossroads: Humanitarianism for the next decade, London, Save the Children UK, available at, accessed 7 March 2013, still available 22 December 2016, 'not found' 5 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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