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Carlo Piccinini

Position: PhD Student


Telephone: +44 (0)29 208 75688

Location: Room 1.24, Bute Building

PhD Research

Working title - Public Humanitarian Advocacy in Conflict: A study of agencies’ defies in mediating distant crises and suffering.

Advocacy has always been at the heart of humanitarian efforts carried out by western operational agencies intervening in conflict crises. In addition to their relief initiatives, they plead for the plights, rights and needs of war-affected populations, champion specific humanitarian issues and concerns, and raise the profile of humanitarian crises.

Traditionally, agencies have confined their advocacy within the behind-the-scenes initiatives that conform to the discreet and bilateral practices of humanitarian diplomacy. Then, when this function developed public communication parameters and orientations, they largely relied on the media. Today, the media no longer have the exclusiveness to make visible and known distant crises and suffering to western audiences.

The evolving communication ecology has increasingly enhanced agencies’ capacities to perform this same function and to play a more proactive role in the global arena of ‘mediation of distant crises’ and ‘representation of distant suffering’. To this end, besides the media agencies exploit a large variety of vectors such as international campaigns, celebrities, independently produced printed and audio-visual material, the Internet, and the social media.

Such latitude in determining means and ends of their public humanitarian advocacy offers few benefits. Among others, agencies have the opportunity to counterbalance the limits of the media coverage of humanitarian crises often guided by criteria such as ‘humanitainment’, commodification of suffering, and dichotomies us/them and worthy/unworthy victims. They can also develop their own communication initiatives and strategies, establish more direct contacts with their various stakeholders to promptly stimulate and rally their support, and lighten the pressure from their funding bodies by enlarging and diversifying their financial sources. However, these openings simultaneously raise major defies for agencies’ discourses and communication practices stemming from some constraints, challenges, and paradoxes linked to public humanitarian advocacy.

This project focuses on agencies’ public humanitarian advocacy work. It seeks to answer the following questions: What is the nature of their discourses? Which are the factors that influence their communication practices? How do they perform their role of mediation?. It approaches the research through an inductive reasoning and a ‘grounded enquiry’. It follows a case-based methodology focusing on three mainline humanitarian agencies: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), and the United Nations food agency World Food Programme (WFP). It collects the research data from their respective web sites and Facebook pages, and through interviews with senior officers within each organisation.

Nowadays, agencies largely consider humanitarian advocacy a core organizational function, and allocate to this task resources and human assets. However, it appears rather under-analysed within the humanitarian community. The environment and culture of emergency make time for reflection, investigation and debate a luxury. Agencies’ advocacy in conflict is also largely under-researched within the academic community. Available literature offers a sizable body of research on the communication of three other institutional players within conflict environment and from their perspectives, notably the politicians, the military, the media (propaganda, perception management, and war reporting). Surprisingly, agencies and their communication remain the “often neglected element of the equation” (Carruthers 2000:210). The project has the ambition to be a convergent point between the two communities, and stimulate debate in both.

Supervisors: Professor Simon Cottle and Dr. Paul Bowman

Related Links: Carlo Piccinini's profile and LinkedIn Profile

Research Interests

  • Conflict humanitarianism;
  • Humanitarian advocacy and humanitarian communication;
  • Representation of distant suffering;
  • Reporting/mediation and mediatisation of crises;
  • War studies and communications about, within and from conflict (propaganda, psychological operations/warfare, information operations/warfare, war reporting);
  • Military-media relations, government-media relations, humanitarian agencies-media relations;
  • "Transagency relations" among power-holders, arms carriers, media and humanitarian agencies at both international and local levels. 

Teaching (at the Institute of Communication Studies – University of Leeds)

2012 / 2013 
Guest talk: ‘Human Rights discourse: challenges, implications, and dilemmas’ - Master Module COMM 5695M Communications and Developments

2010 / 2011 
Teaching Assistant: Undergraduate module COMM 3920 Communications and Conflict

Guest Lecture / Seminar: ‘War reporting’ - Undergraduate module COMM 2370 TV Feature Production

Guest Lecture: ‘Global Communication and the use of Transnational Advocacy Networks (TAN)’ -Master Module COMM 5210 Communications and Global Changes

Guest Lecture: ‘Crisis Management and the Media’ Master Module COMM 5520 International Crises and Crises Management

2009 / 2010
Teaching Assistant: Undergraduate module COMM 3920 Communications and Conflict