DV528      Half Unit
Managing Humanitarianism

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof David Keen CON 7.16, Dr Diana Weinhold CON 7.10 and Dr Darron Gordon CON 8.10

Head of Department, Doctoral Programme Directors, MSc Course Convenor and PhD Supervisor


This course is available on the MRes/PhD in International Development. This course is not available as an outside option.

This  course is available as an option to students enrolled on the MRes/PhD in International Development only.

Course content

The course looks at international, national and local responses to conflict and natural disasters. Building on an analysis of the causes, construction and consequences of humanitarian disasters, this course focuses on humanitarian actors (including aid workers, journalists, physicians, government officials, soldiers, politicians and peace negotiators). It considers the principles and the politics of humanitarian action, exploring the overlaps and tensions between practices of humanitarian assistance and other forms of political and military intervention. It looks at how differing forms of humanitarianism relate to ideas of human rights and justice, the politics of securitisation and of neglect. It looks at the explanation as to why humanitarian organisations and governments respond to some crises and not to others and considers the critique of humanitarian assistance and the ways in which the UN and NGO communities have responded and sought to professionalise their activities. The course also looks at how recipients of humanitarian aid respond to these programmes, and in some cases subvert or transform them into quite different projects. Case studies will be drawn primarily from Africa, Central and South Asia and Latin America. However, there is also likely to be discussion of ongoing humanitarian emergencies, wherever they are located.


20 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 2 hours of lectures in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the MT.

A plan for the research paper (1500-2000 words) on which the student will receive feedback and topic approval

Indicative reading

Stuart Gordon and Antonio Donini ‘Romancing Principles and Human Rights - Are Humanitarian Principles Salvageable?’ International Review of the Red Cross nternational Review of the Red Cross / Volume 97 / Issue 897-898 / June 2015, pp 77-109

M. Barnett (2011), Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, Ithaca: Cornell University Press;

M. Barnett, M. Barnett & T. G. Weiss (Eds.), 2008. Humanitarianism in Question Politics Power and Ethics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press;

A. De Waal,1997. Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa. London: James Currey.

Loescher (2001) The UNHCR and World Politics, Oxford University Press.

D. Rieff (2002) A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, Vintage/Random House.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the LT.

1 x 5000 word research paper to be submitted on the first Friday of the Lent Term.  The research paper will be co-marked by the course convenor and the student's PhD supervisor

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2016/17: 1

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication