Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Understanding Humanitarian Action

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT International Relations

DESCRIPTION This study-unit aims to provide students with an introductory yet comprehensive understanding of humanitarian action in the contemporary world, using a multidisciplinary lens. With examples from inter alia, natural disasters, post-conflict reconstruction, and forced migration the study-unit will:
- Provide an introduction to the history and evolution of humanitarian action;
- Provide an overview of relevant humanitarian norms and ethics;
- Provide an analytical framework to thinking about humanitarian action, its causes and consequences;
- Provide an overview of the international humanitarian system: policy, practice and actors on a global, regional (particularly EU) and national level;
- Develop a critical approach to current practices in humanitarian action and the challenges faced by its actors.

Study-unit Aims:

The study-unit has three main objectives:
- Give students a good understanding of the humanitarian sector and its actors within the ethical, political, legal and policy frameworks;
- To cover important theoretical debates, moral and practical challenges;
- To engage students in discussion and analysis about case studies at a global, regional and national levels.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Discuss confidently humanitarian action and its human and social impact;
- Analyze challenges faced by key actors and their roles and responsibilities;
- Self-critically analyze and judge humanitarian intervention issues and communicate them in an assertive manner.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Conduct sound and focused comparative analysis;
- Analyze the inter-linkages and interdisciplinarity of humanitarian action;
- Conduct oral presentations and present a complex argument in front of a group;
- Write analytically on specific and general issues in humanitarian action;
- Critically assess cases of humanitarian intervention by state and non-state actors.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Text/s:

- Slim, Hugo "Essays In Humanitarian Action", Oxford Institute of Ethics Law and Armed Conflict, 2012.
- Hilhorst, Dorothea (Ed) "Disaster, Conflict and Society in Crises: Everyday Politics of Crisis", Routledge, 2014.

Supplementary Readings:

- Anderson, Mary B. "Do no harm : how can aid support peace -- or war", Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.
- Katz, Jonathan M. (2013) The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster Palgrave Macmillan.
- Apthorpe, Borton, Wood, "Evaluating International Humanitarian Action: Reflections from Practitioners", Zed books, 2001.
- De Waal "Famine crimes : politics & the disaster relief industry in Africa", Indiana University Press, 2009.
- Ferris, Elizabeth "The Politics of Protection", Brookings Institute, 2011.
- Helton, "The Price of Indifference, Refugees and Humanitarian Action in the New Century", Council on Foreign Relations, 2002.
- Weish, "Humanitarian Intervention and International Relations", Oxford University Press, 2006.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Fieldwork

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation SEM2 Yes 30%
Project SEM2 Yes 70%


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.