Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Anthropology and Intercultural Aspects of Humanitarian Action

UM LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DEPARTMENT International Relations

DESCRIPTION In this study-unit we draw upon the discipline of socio-cultural anthropology to consider humanitarian action and development in context and practice. Both in terms of theoretical perspectives and in terms of methodology, anthropology offers a specific way of looking at the projects of humanitarian action and international development. This study-unit situates itself within the contemporary context of the study and engagement with contexts that invite humanitarian action as

(1) the ability and desire to provide assistance to vulnerable persons in critical scenarios,
(2) the growing overlap between short term and long term needs of vulnerable populations, and
(3) the benefits of the anthropological approach to address the humanitarian/development overlap and to situate responses within the contexts within which they originate.

The specificity of a socio-cultural anthropological perspective may be characterised by:

(a) close consideration of the local settings where humanitarian and development initiatives are undertaken;
(b) a reflexive and critical approach to issues of power and representation;
(c) concern for difference along multiple dimensions, and the impact of such difference upon the conceptualisation, implementation and impact of humanitarian assistance and international development.

In particular, this study-unit also provides an in-depth exploration of the contexts framing disasters, disaster response and local experiences of coping with crisis.

Study-unit Aims:

- Introduce students to key concepts and methods in the discipline of socio-cultural anthropology;
- Take a critical approach in exploring how these have been applied in the study and practice of humanitarian action and international development;
- Provide students with the analytical tools to identify common structures in different cultural contexts;
- Train students in the use of participatory methodologies and how these are applied in humanitarian and development assistance;
- Develop a critical approach to the multi-dimensional nature of crises that takes into account the local dimension.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Relate to key themes and theories in the anthropology of humanitarian action and development;
- Identify the main issues that exist between donors and recipients in a crisis situation;
- Carry out humanitarian assistance and design projects that are more socially and culturally sensitive;
- Adopt a critical approach to dominant issues and themes in humanitarian action and development.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Identify common structures that exist cross-culturally;
- Discuss with confidence the main theories and perspectives related to the anthropology of humanitarian action and development;
- Engage with recipient localities with a greater sensitivity for local structures and ways of life;
- Utilise participatory methodologies in their engagement with local communities;
- Critically assess the effects of humanitarian action on local communities.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Agier, M. 2011 Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government London: Polity
- Anthony Oliver-Smith and Susanna M. Hoffman (1999) The Angry Earth: Disaster in Anthropological Perspective. New York; London: Routledge.
- Button, G. V., & Schuller, M. (Eds.). (2016). Contextualizing disaster (Vol. 1). Berghahn Books.
- Barnett, M. and Weiss, T. 2011. Humanitarianism Contested London: Routledge
- Gamburd, M. R. (2013). The golden wave: Culture and politics after Sri Lanka's tsunami disaster. Indiana University Press.
- Harrell-Bond, B. 1986 Imposing Aid Oxford: OUP
- Holmes, J. 2013 The Politics of Humanity: The Reality of Relief Aid London: Head of Zeus
- Mosse, D. (Ed.). (2011). Adventures in Aidland: The anthropology of professionals in international development (Vol. 6). Berghahn Books.
- Nordstrom, C and Antonius Robben, eds (1995) Fieldwork Under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Survival. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Nordstrom, C (2004) Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the 21st Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Rieff, D. 2002 A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis London: Vintage
- Simpson, E. (2013). The political biography of an earthquake: Aftermath and amnesia in Gujarat, India. Hurst.
- Terry, F. 2002 Condemned to Repeat: The Paradox of Humanitarian Action Ithaca: Cornell University Press

Supplementary Readings:

- Stirrat, R.L. and Henkel, Heiko (1997) The Development Gift: The Problem of Reciprocity in the NGO World in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
- Stirrat, R. L. (2008) Merceneries, Missionaries and Misfits: Representations of Development Personnel in Critique of Anthropology.
- Said, Maurice (2017). Living the li(f)e: negotiating paradise in southern Sri Lanka. In Kapferer, B., & Theodossopoulos, D. (eds) 2017. Against Exoticism: Toward the Transcendence of Relativism and Universalism in Anthropology. Berghahn Books
- Wisner, B. (2003). Sustainable suffering? Reflections on development and disaster vulnerability in the post-Johannesburg world. Regional Development Dialogue, 24(1; SEAS SPR), 135-148.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Presentation SEM1 Yes 30%
Essay SEM1 Yes 70%

LECTURER/S Maurice Said


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 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.