UW: People and Culture - Anthropological Approaches to Humanitarian Action

  • Course description

    The course offers an introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology, outlining the discipline’s key methods and central problems. It explores the possible relevance of anthropological perspectives and findings in international humanitarian action. It emphasizes the significance of cultural difference and social practice in areas of high relevance to humanitarian action, such as gender human rights, development, migration and border control. The course also introduces theoretical and critical reflection on the logic and workings of humanitarianism.
  • Main themes

    • Introduction to Social/Cultural Anthropology
    • Suffering and Aid as Objects of Anthropological Reflection
    • The Capacity to Aspire and the Will to Improve
    • Towards an Anthropology of Humanitarian Action
    • Introduction to Ethnographic Methods; Participant Observation, Field Notes and In-depth Interviews
    • Politics and Power in Humanitarian Action
    • Refugees, Border Control and Humanitarianism
    • Cultural Difference, Immigration and Human Rights
    • Development and Its Effects
    • Disasters, Humanitarian Aid and Anthropology
    • The Militarization of Humanitarian Action
    • Wrapping Up: The Critique of Humanitarian Action
  • Learning outcomes

    In conformity with the learning outcomes set out by the NOHA network, students should achieve the following learning outcomes by the end of this module:
    • Familiarity with key problems and approaches in Social Anthropology;
    • Hands-on experience of ethnographic research methods: participant observation and in-depth interview;
    • Knowledge of theoretical and critical debates on humanitarianism from an anthropological perspective;
    • Knowledge of anthropological debates in areas relevant to humanitarian action.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    The course is a reading-based seminar. Students are expected to read the required literature before the meeting every week (and in some cases, watch indicated videos available online). Additionally, there will be two practical exercises: one in ethnographic observation and field notes; and one in-depth interviewing.
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    Students’ active participation in class discussions based on the required readings; the quality of students’ work in practical exercises; written exam (mix of open and multiple-choice questions).
    Written exam – 40%
    Practical exercises – 30%
    Participation in discussions – 30%
    Presentations – bonus (one good presentation equals half a grade up on the final score).

Last updated: 3 October 2017

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