Humanitarian inversions: COVID-19 as crisis

Clare Herrick, Ann H. Kelly, Jeanne Soulard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


COVID-19 is a multi-spectral crisis that has added an acute layer over a panoply of complex emergencies across the world. In the process, it has not only exposed actually-existing emergencies, but also exacerbated them as the global gaze has turned inward. As a crisis, COVID-19 straddles and challenges the boundaries between humanitarianism, development, and global health—the frames and categories through which emergencies are so often understood and intervened upon. Reflection on these fundamental categories is, we argue, an important geographical endeavour. Drawing on Geoffrey Bowker's analytical lens of the ‘infrastructural inversion’, we explore how humanitarianism has been upended by COVID-19 along two axes that are of core concern to geographers: (1) the spatial and (2) the temporal. We first contextualise current debates on the humanitarian endeavour and its future within recent geographical research. We then set out the complex structure by which COVID-19 has been both imagined and intervened upon as a humanitarian emergency. In so doing, we then pave the way for a deeper empirical analysis of the spatial and temporal inversions that have been brought forth by COVID-19. The paper concludes by examining the conceptual value of the ‘inversion’ in developing geographical research agendas better attuned to the increasing porosity of humanitarianism, development, and global health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)850-865
Number of pages16
JournalTransactions of the institute of british geographers
Issue number4
Early online date28 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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