“Oh, the humanity”: Humanitarian Reason, Humanitarian Narratives

On seeing the Hindenburg burst into flames in 1937, announcer “Herb” Morrison exclaimed “oh, the humanity.” His reaction is telling: behind today’s spectacles of disaster and political crises work a humanitarian logic of secular moral reason. Humanitarian reason frequently provides the “solutions” of contemporary governance such as the Canadian response to the Syrian refugee crisis from 2015-2016. Yet humanitarian logics also structure the genealogies of liberal morality within contemporary democracies that lead to managerial tendencies, as Didier Fassin and Jennifer Hyndman argue. While humanitarian reason has been critically examined by social scientists and political theorists, it has not yet found sufficient attention within literary studies.

This panel revisits humanitarian reason from within the discipline of literary studies. Within literature, humanitarian texts run the gamut from contemporary novels and short stories authored by people associated at various trajectories with humanitarian reason. Representative texts include Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees (2017) and Peter Showler’s Refugee Sandwich (2013) but also documents of governmentality, including the Canadian government’s #WelcomeRefugees initiative or the UNHCR’s Stories initiative. Possible topics could include literary or governmental narratives, literary critiques of humanitarian reason, and/or histories of humanitarianism from the perspective of literary figures or communities.

If interested, please send the following files to Leif Schenstead-Harris (leifschensteadharris@gmail.com):

Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, 26-29 May 2018

The deadline for submissions is 15 November 2017.