MC429      Half Unit
Humanitarian Communication: Vulnerability, Discourse and Power

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Lee Edwards


This course is available on the MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and Fudan), MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and UCT), MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and USC), MSc in Media, Communication and Development and MSc in Strategic Communications. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Today more than ever, images and narratives of vulnerable people in zones of poverty, disaster, violence and conflict routinely populate everyday lives in the West, produced by a wide range of organisations and individuals, and appearing in a wide range of platforms (NGO websites, news networks, social media and celebrity advocacy), we explore the changing practices of humanitarian communication in the 21st century.  We do so by addressing questions such as: What are the histories of humanitarian communication? How is it changing today and why? What are the tensions and dilemmas that organizations face as they struggle to communicate the plight of distant others? What kind of politics of visibility and voice is played out in humanitarian communication? What are the ideological and ethical positions informing and informed by the digital narratives and spectacles of vulnerable others - and how do these change when ‘others’ speak for themselves? And finally, what are the challenges of 21st century humanitarian communication and can we do it better?

To explore these issues, students will debate the theoretical [principles and empirical  links of humanitarian communication, its cointemporary power and moralising force, as well as the tensions and complexities that underpin its practices and effects.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to complete advance reading, prepare reading-based seminar presentations, and submit one essay of 1,500 words in the LT.

Indicative reading

  • Barnett M., & Weiss T. (2008). Humanitarianism in Question. Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Boltanski L. (1999). Distant Suffering: Morality, Politics and the Media.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Butler J. (2009) Frames of War. London: Verso.
  • Chouliaraki L. (2013). The Ironic Spectator. Solidarity in the Age of Post-humanitarianism. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Douzinas, C. (2007). Human rights and empire: the political philosophy of cosmopolitanism. New York: Routledge.
  • Mignolo, W. J. (2000). Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Mukherjee, R., & Banet-Weiser, S. (Eds.). (2012). Commodity activism: Cultural resistance in neoliberal times. New York: NYU Press.
  • Richey, LA and Ponte, S (2011). Brand Aid Shopping Well to Save the World, University of Minnesota Press
  • Spivak, G. C. (1999). A critique of postcolonial reason. Boston: Harvard University press.


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the ST.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Media & Communications

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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