Mapping everyday humanitarian action through social media

Authors: Tracy De Cotta*, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, Peter Kamstra, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, Anthony McCosker, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
Topics: Cultural Geography, Qualitative Research, Social Geography
Keywords: Digital Geographies, Cultural Geographies, Qualitative GIS, Humanitarian Action, Social Media
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Congressional A, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Mobile devices and social media platforms provide powerful opportunities for driving new forms of humanitarian action and inspiring, as well as enabling, voluntary services. They mediate our everyday experiences and establish new kinds of publicness. To harness their potential, we need to better understand what people do with them and how they contribute to reshaping humanitarian values and actions. Humanitarianism research agendas have focused heavily on disaster and crisis response. Little focus has been placed on everyday vernacular forms and contexts of humanitarian action or information exchange, particularly within contemporary societies in the context of peace. Based on a project with the Australian Red Cross this research offers new insights into how people engage with humanitarian activities and 'do good' within everyday contexts in Victoria, Australia. It applies a novel methodology to develop a typology of everyday actions, targets and situations by drawing on Instagram data extracted between 2017 and 2018. Using both the content and geographical data embedded in public Instagram posts we demonstrate relationships between humanitarian activities and locations. Analytically, we imported the Instagram posts as point features, and their associated qualitative attributes into ArcGIS to spatially represent humanitarian action. In doing so, we are able to: 1. Develop a typology of everyday humanitarian action; 2. Locate how people and organisations engage with humanitarian action and volunteering; 3. Show relationships between humanitarian activities and locations, and 4. Outline next steps in how humanitarian organisations can innovate using social data and build a digitally active humanitarian movement.

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