Humanitarianism has become a cosmopolitan language serving to qualify a broad diversity of actions, from aid to war, and of agents, either private or public. Although it has a deep genealogy, inscribed in a Christian theodicy, and a long history, emerging with the Enlightenment, it can be argued that humanitarianism as a form of government is a recent phenomenon, which profoundly defines contemporary society. Based on various empirical research, the lecture will propose an analysis of its ethical tensions and political predicaments.


Didier Fassin is the James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Anthropologist, sociologist and physician, he was the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for Social Sciences and is director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.  Former vice-president of Médecins Sans Frontières, he is currently President of the French Medical Committee for Exiles. His field of research is political ad moral anthropology and he is interested more specifically in various forms of inequalities. His recent publications include Contemporary States of Emergency. The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions (with M. Pandolfi, Zone Books, 2010), and A Companion to Moral Anthropology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), as editor;  Humanitarian Reason. A Moral History of the Present (University of California Press, 2011) and Enforcing Order. An Ethnography of Urban Policing (Polity Press, 2013), as author.