UM: World Politics in Humanitarian Action

Lecture, Seminar
Lecturer(s) Anna Khakee
  • Course description

    This study-unit will introduce students to the political and historical context of humanitarian action. The current international architecture of humanitarianism (the state and non-state actors involved, the institutional framework for the provision of humanitarian aid, and the main forms of humanitarian assistance) is put in its historical perspective: the evolution of humanitarianism since the 19th century, as well as main recent developments, are discussed. Students will become familiar with the constraints international and national politics put on humanitarianism, and how humanitarianism has evolved in the shadow of power politics. The evolution of norms surrounding aid giving from early religiously-based norms and notions of charity to secular norms and a human rights-based discourse will also be discussed. The historical and political developments are examined through three in-depth case studies of turning points in humanitarianism: Biafra, Rwanda, and East Timor.
    The study-unit also examines the recipient side: which countries and regions have received the most humanitarian aid? How have recipients reacted to humanitarianism? It introduces some key issues in humanitarian action, including famine theory, humanitarianism and neutrality, and current challenges to humanitarianism.
  • Learning outcomes

    1. Knowledge & Understanding:
    By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
    - relate the humanitarian architecture and the main norms underpinning it and how it is linked to politics at international and national levels;
    - explain how and why humanitarian action has evolved over time and what the main turning points have been;
    - examine critically humanitarian action in a historical and political context.
    2. Skills:
    By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
    - discuss with confidence main issues related to the politics of humanitarian action;
    - discuss with confidence relevant theories;
    - compare current humanitarian crisis and crisis responses to historical cases.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    The aims of the study-unit are to:
    - give students a good grasp of the historical and political backdrop to analyzing current humanitarian and (to a lesser extent) development action;
    - provide students with thorough knowledge of the international architecture of humanitarian assistance and the main actors within it. This involves examining the main political forces responsible for its evolution over the decades;
    - develop a critical analysis of the multidimensional nature of humanitarian emergencies.
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    Presentation: 20% weight, resit availability present
    Seminar paper: 40% weight, resit availability present
    Seminar paper: 40% weight, resit availability present
  • Required reading

    Main Texts:
    - Michael Barnett (2011) Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
    Supplementary Readings:
    - Terry, Fiona. (2002). Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
    - Uvin, Peter. (1998). Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda. Kumarian Press, pp.1-6, 82-102, 141-160, 224-238.
    - Pérouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine (2009). “Humanitarian Aid and the Biafra War: Lessons not Learned” Africa Development Vol. 34, No. 1, pp.69-82.
    - Uche, Chibuike (2008). Oil, British Interests and the Nigerian Civil War. The Journal of African History, 49, pp. 111-135.
    - Ibeawuchi Omenka, Nicholas (2010). Blaming the Gods: Christian Religious Propaganda in the Nigeria—Biafra War Journal of African History Vol. 51, No. 3 pp. 367-389.
    - Smillie, Ian and Larry Minear (2004). The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World Kumarian Press, Chapter 3 “East Timor—The Perfect Emergency”, pp.51-78.
    - Wheeler, Nicholas J and Tim Dunne (2001). “East Timor and the New Humanitarian Interventionism” International Affairs 77:4, pp. 805–827.
    - Sen, Amartya. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation Oxford University Press pp. 1-8, 39-51, 154-166.
    - Lenz, Erin C. et al (2013). “The Timeliness and Cost-Effectiveness of the Local and Regional Procurement of Food Aid” World Development Volume 49, September 2013, Pages 9–18.
    - Katherine Nightingale (2012). “Building the Future of Humanitarian Aid: Local Capacity and Partnerships in Humanitarian Assistance” Christian Aid.
    - de Waal, Alex (1997). Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa, James Currey/Indiana University Press.
    - Rieffer-Flanagan, Barbara Ann (2009) “Is Neutral Humanitarianism Dead? Red Cross Neutrality Walking the Tightrope of Neutral Humanitarianism” Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 31, Number 4, pp. 888-915.
    - Donini, Antonio (2010). “The Far Side: The Meta-Functions of Humanitarianism in a Globalized World” Disasters 34:2, pp.220-237.
    - Kent, Randolph; Armstrong, Justin; and Obrecht, Alice (2013). The Future of Non-Governmental Organisations in the Humanitarian Sector: Global Transformations and Their Consequences, Humanitarian Futures Programme, King’s College London.

Last updated: 16 January 2018

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