DV428      Half Unit
Managing Humanitarianism

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stuart Gordon


This course is compulsory on the MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. This course is available on the MPA in European Public and Economic Policy, MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MSc in African Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Development Studies (Research), MSc in Environment and Development, MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Global Politics (Global Civil Society), MSc in Health, Community and Development, MSc in Human Rights, MSc in International Migration and Public Policy, MSc in Political Economy of Late Development, MSc in Population and Development and MSc in Social Policy and Development: Non-Governmental Organisations. This course is not available as an outside option.

Please note that in case of over-subscription to this course priority will be given to students from the Department of International Development's MSc Development Management, MSc Development Studies, MSc Development Studies (Research), MSc African Development and then its joint degrees (where their regulations permit).

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 humanitarian intervention. How humanitarianism relates to ideas about human rights and justice, and the politics of securitisation. Why  humanitarian organisations and governments respond to some crises and not to others. It also 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.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 2 hours of lectures in the ST.

The course will be taught in the Michaelmas Term and will consist of 10 lectures of 90 minutes. Five to six voice of experience lectures of up to two hours (from 1800 on Mondays or Thursdays depending on speaker availability), and ten seminars of one-and-a-half hours (various days and times). There will be a two hour revision session in late LT or early ST.

Formative coursework

Students will receive feedback on seminar group presentations and have the option to write a practice essay under take-home exam conditions, not exceeding 2,000 words. Essay topics will relate to seminar discussions and lecture material covered to date. Students will receive an indicative grade and written feedback before the end of the term.

Indicative reading

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; De Waal, A. 1997. Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa. London: James Currey. G. Loescher (2001) The UNHCR and World Politics, Oxford University Press. D. Rieff (2002) A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, Vintage/Random House.


Take home exam (100%) in the ST.

The paper will be released via the course Moodle site. Please note that as this is a three-day take-home examination, extensions for disabilities will apply in exceptional circumstances. Students who cannot commit to be available for the exam period may NOT register for this course.

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 7.1
Merit 60.9
Pass 30
Fail 2.1

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2014/15: 67

Average class size 2014/15: 9

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills

Course survey results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 85.4%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)