The Red Cross Movement, Voluntary Organisations and Reconstruction in Western Europe in the 20th century
Historical research on voluntary or non-government organisations and their contribution to the reconstruction of states, communities and humanitarian assistance to civilian populations following conflicts, epidemics and disasters through the twentieth century has generally focused on non-Western European countries. The historiography suggests that it is mostly in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa that natural or man-made disasters have occurred, and that these places have been the focus for humanitarian assistance. The major geographical spheres of interest for Red Cross societies and non-government organisations to provide assistance to populations in times of severe crises do not generally include Western Europe, except for World War II. Rather, the humanitarian enterprise is viewed through the binary of the Global North/Global South, those who save and those who are saved.
This symposium intends to explore the ways in which non-government organisations have contributed to the reconstruction, and care for populations, in Western European countries such as France, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. It seeks to investigate how the Red Cross movement – the League of Red Cross Societies/International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent, the International Committee of Red Cross and individual national societies – alongside other voluntary organisations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Save the Children and a range of other international and local non-government bodies, have contributed to reconstruction in these countries at both national and local levels following times of crises such as wars, civilian upheavals and natural disasters.
Here, reconstruction is not understood in its narrow and literal sense of the rebuilding of infrastructure, or the return to a previous state of being. Rather, we understand reconstruction as a series of complex social, economic, political, cultural and demographic processes that alter the status quo through their transformative nature, including immediate post-war assistance to populations. As Sultan Barakat (2005) has explained, reconstruction is “a range of holistic activities in an integrated process designed not only to reactivate economic and social development but at the same time to create a peaceful environment that will prevent relapse into violence”, or chaos. The focus of this symposium, therefore, is to survey the role, influence and agency of not-for-profit and non-governmental organisations and civil society in times of reconstruction.
Questions to consider include but are not limited to: