MC429      Half Unit
Humanitarian Communication: Realities, Challenges and Critiques

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Suzanne Temwa Gondwe Harris

Contributor: Professor Lilie Chouliaraki


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.

In order to accommodate academic staff research leave and sabbaticals, and in order to maintain smaller seminar group sizes, this course is 'controlled access', meaning that there is a limit to the number of students who can be accepted. Whist we do our best to accommodate all requests, we cannot guarantee you a place on this course.


There are no pre-requisites for this course. Students should apply via LSE for You without submitting a statement.

Please do not email the teacher with personal expressions of interest as these are not required and do not influence who is offered a place.

Course content

In this course, we explore the changing practices of humanitarian communication in the 21st century 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? Today more than ever, images and narratives of vulnerable people in zones of poverty, disaster, violence and conflict routinely populate our everyday lives. They are produced by a wide range of organisations and individuals, and appear on a wide range of platforms, including NGO websites, news networks, social media and celebrity advocacy.

To explore these issues, students will work with case studies to debate the theoretical principle and empirical realities of humanitarian communication, its contemporary power relations, and the tensions and complexities that underpin its practices and effects.


30 hours of seminars in the WT.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to complete advance reading, and to prepare and deliver a short presentation.

Indicative reading

  • Amin, S. 2011. Maldevelopment: Anatomy of a Global Failure. London: Pambazuka Press.
  • Boltanski, L. 1999. Distant suffering: Morality, media and politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Barnett, M. 2020. Humanitarianism and human rights: A world of differences? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Barnett,M.  2011. Empire of humanity: a history of humanitarianism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
  • Bernal, V. and Grewal, I. 2014. Theorizing NGOs: states, feminisms, and neoliberalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Bunce, M. (2019). Humanitarian Communication in a Post-Truth World, Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, Vol. 1(1), pp.49-55.
  • Butler, J. 2006. Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence. London: Verso.
  • Calhoun C. 2008. The Imperative to Reduce Suffering: Charity, Progress, and Emergencies in the Field of Humanitarian Action. In Barnett, M. Weiss, T. (eds.) Humanitarianism in Question. Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell University, pp. 73-97.
  • Chouliaraki, L. 2012. The Ironic Spectator. Cambridge: Polity. 
  • Chouliaraki, L. and Vestergaard, A. (Eds) 2022. The Routledge Handbook of Humanitarian Communication. New York: Routledge.
  • Kurasawa, F. 2019. On humanitarian virality: Kony 2012, or, the rise and fall of a pictorial artifact in the digital age. Visual Communication, Vol 18 (3), pp.399–423.
  • Giacomelli, E., Parmiggiani, P., Pierluigi, M. 2020. The invisible enemy and the usual suspects: how Covid-19 re-framed migration in Italian media representations. Sociologia della comunicazione, Vol. 60, (2) pp.119-136.
  • Kapoor, I. (2013). Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity. Routledge.
  • Mignolo, W. 2000. Local histories/global designs: coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Seu,I.B. and Orgad, S. (eds). 2017. Caring in crisis?: Humanitarianism, the public and NGOs. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Silverstone, R. 2007. Media and morality: On the rise of the mediapolis. Pp, 136-161. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Sontag, S. 2003. Regarding the pain of others. London: Penguin.


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

Key facts

Department: Media and Communications

Total students 2022/23: 28

Average class size 2022/23: 28

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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