DV428      Half Unit
Managing Humanitarianism

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Thea Hilhorst CON.8.10


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 Environment and Development, MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Health and International Development, 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, MSc in Social Policy and Development: Non-Governmental Organisations and MSc in Women, Peace and Security. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

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 African Development, MSc Health and International Development, MSc Population and Development and 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 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.

The course will be taught in the Michaelmas Term and will consist of 10 lectures of 120 minutes each and ten seminars of one-and-a-half hours (various days and times). There will be a two hour revision session in late LT.

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

Stuart Gordon and Antonio Donini ‘Romancing Principles and Human Rights - Are Humanitarian Principles Salvageable?’ International 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.


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

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 10.1
Merit 68
Pass 20.6
Fail 1.3

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2016/17: 183

Average class size 2016/17: 14

Controlled access 2016/17: Yes

Lecture capture used 2016/17: 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