Over the past 25 years, the humanitarian sector has become increasingly dominated
by numbers. This has been reflected in the growth of academic work that explores
this relationship between humanitarianism and quantification. The most recent
contribution to this literature is Joël Glasman’s
Humanitarianism and the Quantification of Humanitarian
Needs. Through his empirical and theoretical contributions, Glasman
draws our attention to the different ways that academics approach this topic.
These four strands structure the literature review: knowledge – the
technical difficulties in quantifying phenomena; governance – how numbers
help humanitarian organisations manage the sector; effects – the impact
that quantification has had on the sector as a whole; meaning – the
importance of rhetoric, discourse, representation and communication when it
comes to understanding the quantitative. As part of the review, the essay also
identifies how academics can better engage with each of the four strands.