British humanitarian NGOs and the disaster relief industry, 1942-1985

Jones, Andrew (2014). British humanitarian NGOs and the disaster relief industry, 1942-1985. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

PDF - Accepted Version

Download (5MB)


This thesis is a history of humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Britain, between 1942 and 1985. Specifically, it is focused upon the group of leading agencies linked to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella body for joint emergency fundraising established in the 1960s. The thesis explores the role of these NGOs in building up an expansive and technocratic disaster relief industry in Britain, in which they were embedded as instruments for the delivery of humanitarian aid. This was problematic, as many principal aid agencies also wished to move away from short-term disaster relief, to focus upon political advocacy connected to international development instead. It is argued that, despite this increasing political focus, humanitarian NGOs were consistently brought back to emergency relief by the power of television, the lack of public support for development, and the interventions of the British government. Aid agencies also actively contributed to this process, as they used apolitical disaster relief to generate public support and drive institutional growth in a crowded marketplace. This analysis complicates linear narratives of a transition from emergency relief to development aid in post-war British humanitarianism, instead presenting the period as characterised by competing and contradictory trajectories. This challenges conceptions of NGOs as bottom-up agents of civil society, by highlighting their competitive tendencies and complex interconnections with the mass media and the state. The rise of NGO humanitarianism also sheds light on broader trends in contemporary British history, such as changing patterns of political engagement, the character of modern activism, and the legacies of empire in the post-imperial period.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of History
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D880 Developing Countries
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year