DV428      Half Unit
Managing Humanitarianism

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stuart Gordon CON.8.10


This course is compulsory on the MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Management (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Economic Policy for International Development, MSc in Environment and Development, MSc in Gender (Rights and Human Rights), MSc in Gender, Peace and Security, MSc in Health and International Development, MSc in Human Rights, MSc in Human Rights and Politics, MSc in Inequalities and Social Science, MSc in International Migration and Public Policy and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Places will be allocated with priority first to MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies students and then to students on International Development and joint-degree programmes followed by MSc Human Rights students. In cases where there are more applicants than spaces then places will be allocated randomly in accordance with the priorities listed above.


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, the course focuses on the functioning of the system. It considers the history, principles and the politics of humanitarian action; the overlaps and tensions between practices of humanitarian assistance and humanitarian intervention and how humanitarian institutions shape and are shaped by global governance and state power. It also considers why humanitarian organisations and governments respond to some crises and not to others as well as the extent to which the system accommodates gender and embodies neo-colonial practices.  It also explores the ways in which the humanitarian system has sought to professionalise itself and the degree to which this has succeeded. Examples will be drawn from humanitarian disasters in 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 AT.

The final lecture of AT week 11 is a revision lecture.

Five or six 'Voice of Experience' lectures. Programme to be announced in week 2 of AT.

The teaching strategy is diverse and innovative: using both conventional discussions as well as a variety of small group exercises. These will feed directly into a formative piece of work related to the summative assessment.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will receive feedback on seminar group presentations and have the option to write a formative essay, not exceeding 1,000 words. Essay topics will relate to seminar discussions and lecture material covered to date. Students will receive an indicative grade and written feedback within four weeks of submission (if submitted on time).  Students submit optional formative papers within two weeks of the seminar presentation.

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. Oxford: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 assessment (100%) in the WT.

The exam paper will be released in week 11 of the Autumn Term. The course is assessed through the submission of two 2100-word essays in week 1 of the Winter Term.

Exam papers will comprise a section with questions drawn from specific taught weeks and a section b with questions that engage themes drawn from multiple weeks. Students are expected to address one question from each of section a and b.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 20.2
Merit 74.5
Pass 5.2
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2022/23: 174

Average class size 2022/23: 17

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

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