RUG: Anthropology in Humanitarian Action

  • Course description

    The course introduces cultural anthropology, its research fields as well as its methodological and analytical approaches. It explores the relevance of anthropological perspectives and findings in international humanitarian action. The course also pays attention to links with public health and psychology, all part of Social and Medical Sciences in Humanitarian Action. 
    Human beings all over the world have developed an enormous variety in their forms of social organisation, cultural features and world views. Cultural anthropology documents and analyses cultural/social flows, processes and formations shaping localities, communities and societies. The main objectives of anthropology are:
    1) studying first hand and reporting about the experiences, daily practices and strategies, beliefs and lifestyles of particular human communities;
    (2) comparing different social and cultural formations, to find similarities and differences and discuss principles that might operate universally in human culture;
    (3) trying to understand how various dimensions of human life – economics, kinship relations, politics, religion, art, communication – relate to one another in particular cultural systems;
    (4) understanding the causes and consequences of cultural or social change on the micro-level and on macro-levels, i.e. region, nation, the emerging global society;
    (5) tracing translocal/transnational/global interconnectedness as a key condition of contemporary localities or human grouping;
    (6) taking an ethnographical perspective on the local effects of global processes and fields of power; and
    (7) making the general public more aware and tolerant of cultural differences and to understand that their own values, world views and behaviours are a product of their social position in a particular society and culture.

    With their expertise and approaches, cultural anthropologists can contribute to the discussion and solution of problems. They provide an understanding of communities, translocal connections and unexpected effects of international aid interventions, helping humanitarian aid agencies to jointly integrate their projects into local conditions and needs.
  • Main themes

    Cultural anthropology
    Disasters and anthropology perspective
    Forced migration
    Religion and faith
    Gender in conflict and humanitarian settings
  • Learning outcomes

    The participants in the Anthropology module should achieve the following learning outcomes by the end of the module:
    ·       Has shown an articulated understanding of the importance of identifying underlying economic mechanisms, social structures, ideas and values related to different groups and societies.
    ·       Has shown the relevance of specialist ethnographic knowledge and how this applies for instance to landscape, causes of natural disasters, the importance of common vs. codified law; kinship vs. citizenship; health/disease models predicated on moral notions of evil/goodness vs. allopatic medicine.
    ·       Has shown key skills necessary for empowering beneficiaries by supporting local participation.
    ·       Has demonstrated the skills to understand and communicate with beneficiaries, authorities and donors from different cultures and social and political levels and/or different pre-established situations.
    ·       Has shown appreciation of the delicate subtleties and difficulties in working in multicultural and multidisciplinary teams.
    ·       Has demonstrated the capacity to communicate with audiences in an ethical manner and beyond description.
    ·       Has demonstrated a good understanding of social relationships in HA intervention situations at various levels.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    For a successful completion of this module, the students are offered several teaching activities in the following form:
    ·       7 lectures/tutorials with interactive class discussions, in which a selection of students may be requested to prepare and introduce a selection of the literature (week 1-7);
    ·       Obligatory/suggested readings and documentaries, including homework assignments and preparation and introduction of a selection of the literature;
    ·       A final group assignment with a) group presentation in a final session and b) one individual written assignment paper based on the group work and final presentations (week 8).
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    Besides active participation in class, students are required to fulfil two homework assignments, one individual assignments and one group assignment:
    ·       A homework assignment ‘Cultural biography’ or ‘Mini fieldwork’ and a homework assignment ‘News through an anthropological perspective’ (assessed but not graded).
    ·       A final group presentation (30%) and final written individual paper (70%), in which
    - during the final presentation each group will address, explore and analyse a designated theme to be presented to the class in a panel and discussed with the class.
    - in the final individual paper each student will demonstrate to have understood the main conceptual issues of the course, reflected on the final presentations and feedback from peers, and produce his/her own analysis of the topic.

    Homework assignments
    Home work assignments are given to promote active thinking, discussion and experience in relation to the topics presented. Homework is compulsory and should be handed in on Blackboard before Wednesday 17.00 hrs. (unless otherwise indicated). The assignments will be discussed during the next class. Homework assignments are not graded, but considered as passed (i.e. completed and delivered according to the instructions), or failed (i.e. not completed or delivered). In the latter case the coordinator will give an alternative assignment that should be handed in the subsequent week. All assignments have to be passed in order to fulfil this module’s requirements!
    Group work, final group panel & presentation (30%) & individual paper (70%)
    The anthropology module ends with final group presentations and with the completion of an individual written paper.
    Final presentation: 30% of the grade
    The students will be divided into groups to form panels for the final presentations to be held in week 8. Each group will address, explore and analyse a designated theme. To prepare, you will read each other’s papers, draft an introductory statement, and prepare questions to discuss with the audience.
    Final individual written paper (about 4 pages, approximately 2000 words): 70% of the grade
    In the final paper you will demonstrate that you have understood the main conceptual issues of the course, reflected on the conference presentations and feedback from your peers, and produce your own analysis of your topic. The final paper will be an extension and revision of your first draft that you made for the final presentation. In the final paper anthropological perspectives and considerations of the students are integrated in a clear argumentation.
    The final paper is based upon (1) material presented during sessions, (2) the course literature, (3) a specific literature research carried out by the students themselves. The paper’s aim is to reach a deeper and actively acquired understanding of the areas presented during the module and the specific theme addressed in the group. 

Last updated: 9 November 2016

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