UM: Anthropology and Intercultural Aspects of Humanitarian Action

Lecture, Seminar
Lecturer(s) Bram Jansen
  • Course description

    This study-unit aims to provide students with an introduction to anthropological methods in the field and how these may be applied to provide a more holistic view of humanitarian assistance and development, supplemented by case studies and ethnographic texts. It also takes into account the inter-cultural dynamics of humanitarian assistance, exploring themes such as: issues of communication that exist between donors and recipients, local knowledge, key actors in the field, local strategies for coping with crisis, local conceptions of development, and the ethics of assistance. The study unit focuses mainly on the recipients, but also takes a close look at donors, aid workers, and volunteers, and explores the interactions between these groups on the ground. Of particular significance is a focus on the transformative effects of humanitarian action in post-disaster and post-conflict scenarios on local socio-political structures. It also provides specific accounts of the 'development encounter' with detailed case studies of disasters, conflicts and violence.
    This study-unit utilizes a wide range of literature on anthropological theory and development that deals with: resilience and vulnerability, development and the gift, exoticisation, the 'other', place and identity, and body politics.
  • Learning outcomes

    1. Knowledge & Understanding:
    By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
    - Relate to key themes and theories in the anthropology of humanitarian action and development;
    - Identify the main issues that exist between donors and recipients in a crisis situation;
    - Carry out humanitarian assistance and design projects that are more socially and culturally sensitive;
    - Adopt a critical approach to dominant issues and themes in humanitarian action and development.
    2. Skills:
    By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
    - Identify common structures that exist cross-culturally;
    - Discuss with confidence the main theories and perspectives related to the anthropology of humanitarian action and development;
    - Engage with recipient localities with a greater sensitivity for local structures and ways of life;
    - Utilise participatory methodologies in their engagement with local communities;
    - Critically assess the effects of humanitarian action on local communities.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    - Provide students with the foundation for understanding anthropological theories and perspectives related to humanitarian action and development;
    - Provide students with first hand detailed accounts of local realities and how these may vary cross-culturally;
    - Provide students with the analytical tools to identify common structures in different cultural contexts;
    - Train students in the use of participatory methodologies and how these are applied in humanitarian and development assistance;
    - Develop a critical approach to the multi-dimensional nature of crises that takes into account the local dimension.
  • Methods and criteria

    Presentation (20 minutes): 30% weight, resit availability present
    Essay: 70% weight, resit availability present
  • Readings

    - Arturo Escobar (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
    - Anthony Oliver-Smith and Susanna M. Hoffman (1999) The Angry Earth: Disaster in Anthropological Perspective. New York; London: Routledge.
    - Carolyn Nordstrom and Antonius Robben, eds (1995) Fieldwork Under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Survival. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    - Carolyn Nordstrom (2004) Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the 21st Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    - Katy Gardner (2012) Discordant Development: Global Capitalism and the Struggle for Connection in Bangladesh.
    - R D Grillo and R L Stirrat (1997), Discourses of Development: anthropological perspectives. Berg, Oxford.
    - Mosse, D. & D.Lewis eds. (2005) The Aid Effect: Giving and Governing in International Development. London & AnnArbor MI: Pluto Press.
    - Stuart Hall (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Sage: London.
    - Dennis B. McGilvray and Michelle R. Gamburd, Eds (2010) Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka: Ethnic and Regional Dimensions. London: Routledge.
    - Michael Maren (2002) The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity.

    Supplementary Readings:
    - Simpson, B.(2006) ‘You Don’t Do Fieldwork, Fieldwork Does You’: Between Subjectivation and Objectivation in Anthropological Fieldwork in Hobbs, D. And Wright, R. (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Fieldwork. London; Thousand Oaks; New Delhi: SAGE Publications.
    - Stirrat, R.L. and Henkel, Heiko (1997) The Development Gift: The Problem of Reciprocity in the NGO World in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
    - Stirrat, R. L. (2008) Merceneries, Missionaries and Misfits: Representations of Development Personnel in Critique of Anthropology.
    - Simpson, E. (2005) The ‘Gujarat’ Earthquake and the Political Economy of Nostalgia in Contributions to Indian Sociology.
    - Tony Vaux (2001) The Selfish Altruist: Dilemmas of Relief Work in Famine and War

Last updated: 15 January 2018

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