PhD defense Wouter Oomen: How charities (need to) reinvent themselves

Rugzak van een humanitair hulpverlener. Foto: Max Bender, via Unsplash

On 27 January Wouter Oomen will defend his PhD thesis entitled 'What Brings Us Together? Platforms, Common Humanity and the Challenges of Post-Humanitarian Communication'.

Humanitarian communication under pressure

Stories of international development are no longer justified beyond dispute, Wouter Oomen writes. NGOs working in the development sector are confronted with an increasing amount of critique and with a fragmentation in terms of communication channels and ideology.

The NGOs struggle with the colonial legacy of their work and the (audio-visual) language that they use, and are confronted with both conservative and progressive critiques. Parallel to this, the rise of digital media complicates their aim to construct a consistent narrative about international solidarity.

As a result, NGOs seek new and reflexive ways to communicate with their audiences – with mixed results. In their organisational structure as well as in their external communication NGOs reflexively showcase themselves: their successes and failures, their position in society at large, and the stories of ‘distant suffering’ that dominate the sector’s image.


An important strategy for NGOs in reinventing themselves is to set-up platform-like structures. In his dissertation, Oomen studies four such platforms that each in their own way address the ‘post-humanitarian’ situation, as the fragmented context is being called.

Through an analysis of organisations and campaigns, Oomen shows that platforms are put in place to combat fragmentation, reflect on critiques, tell (new) utopian stories, and to disseminate a range of different approaches to international solidarity.

They do however not always succeed or allow for sufficient room to contemplate structural revisions in the discourse of international development. Oomen demonstrates that, particularly, the lack of attention for historical and political roots of (global) inequality impedes a fundamental reorientation of humanitarian communication.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
W.A. Oomen
What Brings Us Together? Platforms, Common Humanity and the Challenges of Post-Humanitarian Communication
PhD supervisor(s)
Professor S. Ponzanesi
Dr M. Stauff
More information
Full text via Utrecht University Repository