• Benjamin Gittins

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines cross-border and remote humanitarian aid in Syria by correlating practitioner experiences alongside literature and debates about humanitarian insecurity and professionalisation of the aid sector between 2011 and 2018. It argues that the very essence and character of humanitarian aid is at stake when going remote, and to shed light on this issue, research that considers these debates and remote humanitarian management is vital. Humanitarian security transformations are widely recognised as technocratic, especially in conflict settings where there is a concern that the space for principled action is under threat. Those working on and in conflict have become increasingly critical of this approach, however, and applying managerial principles to measure performance and demonstrate accountability. This thesis attempts to interrogate the penchant for managerialism and its effects on aid programming and asks why there has been a need for remotely managed aid in Syria and how this has affected aid practice. It considers two main bodies of literature that discuss aid worker insecurity: one that quickly assumes the reality of a heightened level of risk, and another that is more far more critical of the manifestation of humanitarian security This thesis is partly informed from a contemporary perspective and by interviews and grey literature produced by members of the aid community that suggests practical and moral quandaries confronted those engaged in remote humanitarian assistance in Syria. It examines the implication of remote aid using an approach based on five humanitarian evaluation categories. This framework based on performance, effectiveness, efficiency, productivity and empowerment operationalises data collection to scrutinise managerial and business processes present in a sector that did not always consider itself to be an industry. The best way to address my research question is to trace humanitarians’ perception of rising insecurity and victimisation to contextualise humanitarian security changes in Syria. It then highlights where and when aid actors had spoken out at what they perceived was an extraordinary level of Syrian state involvement and a variety of actors engaging in the most extreme brutality. In doing so, it considers how they felt increasingly threatened to the point where they decided to withdraw from, or operate, in Syria remotely. Next, to analyse how remote aid affects practice, the thesis focuses on three areas that shape humanitarian action. First, it examines how aid agencies remotely monitored the performance and productivity of their staff, and how they made decisions. It will argue that monitoring and capacity are of central importance, and reflect on why aid workers I encountered regarded themselves as being at a distance from ‘the field’. Second, it explores the movement of objects, people and services by aid agencies, and in particular, how they had to integrate considerations of risk evaluation and reputation management, which were often potentially contradictory. It will argue that the impact of risk assessment strategies on the delivery of relief raises questions around access and risk. Third, it explores the determinants and consequences of technological adoption for humanitarians. It will argue that technologies are having profound consequences in multiple theatres of operation. This thesis concludes that each of these answers ultimately demonstrates evidence of performance management. It will argue that according to the evaluative categories described, remote humanitarian management has been a partial success and conversely, on a human level, it has been profoundly isolating and traumatising. It will discuss the limits of humanitarian action in light of this perceived failure and whether humanitarians and not businesses are the right actors to implement assistance remotely.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBertrand Taithe (Supervisor) & Roisin Read (Supervisor)


  • securitisation
  • Syria
  • remote programming
  • humanitarian security
  • remote management
  • aid worker
  • aid
  • remote
  • risk management

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