The temporality of humanitarianism

Provincializing everyday volunteer practices at European borders


  • Synnøve Kristine Nepstad Bendixsen Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen
  • Marie Sandberg University of Copenhagen

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provincializing humanitarianism, temporality, anthropology of humanitarianism, doing good , informal refugee relief, summer of welcome 2015, volunteering, European borders


While recognizing that ‘volunteering for refugees’ is entangled in ethical and political power dimensions, this article will discuss how we can ethnographically explore the everyday humanitarian practices of volunteers as shaped in intrinsic ways by their mode of being in the world as ethically concerned human beings. Building on recent scholarship within the anthropology of humanitarianism in which local and everyday versions of humanitarian practice are foregrounded, we wish to further the understanding of everyday volunteer practices through establishing a lens of temporality. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and qualitative interviews among small-scale volunteer networks and NGOs in Greece and in Northern Europe working in response to the refugee influx to Europe since 2015, we suggest three different modalities of volunteering among non-professionals, which we designate: temporality of crisis, which concentrates on the impulse to help as an immediate response to a critical moment in time, temporality of care expressing the asymmetrical presences in the field of volunteering and temporality of reflexivity, which highlights ambivalence and doubt as intrinsic to the volunteer practices. In this article, we aim for a provincializing of everyday humanitarian practices and explore humanitarianism ‘from the ground’ and in specific locations and times.




How to Cite

Nepstad Bendixsen, S.K. and Sandberg, M. 2021. The temporality of humanitarianism: Provincializing everyday volunteer practices at European borders. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics. 7, 2 (Jul. 2021), 13–31. DOI:



Grassroots responses to mass migration in Europe