RUB: Humanitarian Action in World Politics

Lecture, Seminar
  • Course description

    All humanitarian action and development aid is intertwined in a complex web of political interactions among states and non-state actors, such as international organizations (IO's) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as citizens e.g., local communities and beneficiaries. Grasping the interaction and interests of these actors is a prerequisite for understanding why humanitarian action succeeds or fails. 

    This module is divided in two parts: The first part will provide a basic understanding of humanitarian action in world politics. The second part is a specialization and will cover a recent topic more in detail, such as migration, peacebuilding or health governance.

    Part one aims to understand and explain international politics and governance in our complex world. The IR perspective on humanitarian action looks at the evolution of the international system as we know it today. It introduces the students to key concepts, major theoretical approaches and developments in political science in general and IR in particular. Moreover, it looks at the behavior of actors in the humanitarian system and the broader context of international politics. Thus, it looks beyond the major operational components of the humanitarian system. It takes a closer look at different IO’s on global level, such as the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions, on regional level, such as the EU, as well as NGO’s and their growing importance in shaping and governing world politics in the humanitarian domain. We will discuss the interrelation of short-term humanitarian action and long-term development cooperation. It thus examines the crosscutting issues between international relations, humanitarian action and development policy. It explains, for example, the concept of Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD) which connects short-term, crises-oriented humanitarian action with long-term development activities. Furthermore it includes the study of states, as donors and in their role as affected states, limiting access to victims of humanitarian crisis or seeking to exploit humanitarian aid for national interests. Moreover, IR seeks to understand how the relations between those different actors influence humanitarian action and are influenced by trends and developments in world politics. For instance we look at good governance, securitization, emerging donor politics and civil-military relations.
  • Main themes

    Understanding World Politics: Historical Development, IR Theories, Actors
    International Development: Theories, Actors & Politics
    MDGs & SDGs
    Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development
    Humanitarian Interventions & Responsibility to Protect
    Civil Military Relations
    Security Governance and Human Security
    Women, Peace and Security & Gender Mainstreaming in HA
    Peacekeeping & Peacebuilding
    Cooperation between IOs and NGOs
  • Learning outcomes

    The students will acquire the following competencies and capacities:
    a) Has shown familiarity with the main approaches and concepts of international relations;
    b) Has shown the ability to anticipate new crisis situations in international political settings;
    c) Has shown adequate capacity for (self-) reflection on academic argumentation;
    d) Has demonstrated the capacity to identify the roots and causes of conflicts/complex
    emergencies in a particular case;
    e) Has shown the ability to apply certain key concepts of International Politics to concrete
    disaster situations;
    f) Has shown to be able to transfer acquired knowledge to other humanitarian situations;
    g) Has demonstrated a clear understanding of the international humanitarian system in world
    politics, with an emphasis on the power relations between actors;
    h) Has developed basic skills for acting in and reacting to intercultural contexts.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    The sessions consist of a combination of lectures, teacher-class dialogue, student presentations, and individual and team working phases. In each session, students will provide a presentation on a specific topic, which will be further elaborated in the final written paper due at the end of the semester.
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    Criteria for assessment
    Course attendance and active participation in discussions is mandatory. The grading is based on two elements: (1) input presentations (counting 40% of the individual grade) and (2) written assignment input presentation or topic of choice (counting 60% of the individual grade).

    During the semester, each student will take over an assignment in form of an input presentation. The presentations will either focus on one central issue of the thematic sessions or on a selected case study. All presentations need to include a theoretical approach or concept. There will be one presentation in each session. Students should provide a one-page handout (or a PPP), which is to be handed in one week in advance (except for the first session). At the beginning of the semester the topics for the input presentations will be distributed.

    Students are required to write a paper of approximately 10-12 pages on the topic/case study of their input presentation or another relevant topic of their choice.
  • Required reading

    Baylis, John and Steve Smith, eds. The globalization of world politics: An introduction to international relations. Sixth edition. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2006.
    DeMars, William E., and Dennis Dijkzeul. The NGO challenge for international relations theory. Global institutions 92.
    Donini, Antonio. The golden fleece: Manipulation and independence in humanitarian action. 1st ed. Sterling, Va.: Kumarian Press, 2012.
    Dunant, Henry. “A Memory of Solferino.”.
    Fink, Günther, and Silvia Redaelli. “Determinants of International Emergency Aid—Humanitarian Need Only?” World Development 39, no. 5 (2011): 741–757.
    Harrell-Bond, Barbara E. Imposing aid: Emergency assistance to refugees. Oxford medical publications. Oxford [Oxfordshire], New York: Oxford University Press, 1986
    Heintze, Hans-Joachim and Pierre Thielbörger, eds. From Cold War to cyber war: The evolution of the international law of peace and armed conflict over the last 25 years.
    Kaldor, Mary. New & old wars. 2nd ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. P., 2006.
    Karns, Margaret P., and Karen A. Mingst. International organizations: The politics and processes of global governance. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004.
    Keck, Margaret E., and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.
    Mac Ginty, Roger and Jenny H. Peterson, eds. Routledge companion to humanitarian action. Routledge companions.
    Reinalda, Bob, ed. The Ashgate research companion to non-state actors. Ashgate research companion. Farnham, Surrey, England, Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.
    Rosenau, James N., and Ernst O. Czempiel. Governance without government: Order and change in world politics. Cambridge studies in international relations 20. Cambridge [England], New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
    Slim, Hugo. “Doing the Right Thing: Relief Agencies, Moral Dilemmas and Moral Responsibility in Political Emergemcies and War.” Disasters 21, no. 3 (1997): 244–257.
    “Thomas Weiss_Principles, Politics and Humanitarian Action.”.
    Walker, Peter, and Daniel G. Maxwell. Shaping the humanitarian world. Routledge global institutions. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2009.

Last updated: 15 November 2016

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