Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE World Politics in Humanitarian Action

UM LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DEPARTMENT International Relations

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.

Students will become familiar with the constraints that international and national politics place on humanitarianism as well as with 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 four in-depth case studies considered junctures in humanitarianism: Biafra, Rwanda, East Timor, and Somalia. The study-unit also introduces some key thematic issues in humanitarian action, including famine theory, conflict and humanitarian action, and humanitarianism and neutrality.

Study-Unit Aims:

The aims of the study-unit are to:

- give students a good grasp of the historical and political backdrop to analyzing current humanitarian;
- 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.

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.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Michael Barnett (2011) Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Supplementary Readings:

- Uvin, Peter. (1998). Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda. Kumarian Press, pp.1-6, 82-102, 141-160, 224-238.
- Terry, Fiona. 2002. Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. Chapter 5. ―The Rwandan Refugee Camps in Zaire. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
- 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.
- 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.
- de Waal, Alex (1997). Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa, James Currey/Indiana University Press, selections.
- 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.
- Chopra, J. (2002) “Building state failure in East Timor” Development and Change.
- Jackson, Ashley and Abdi Aynte (2013). “Talking to the other side: Humanitarian negotiations with Al-Shabaab in Somalia” HPG Working Paper.
- Kroessin, Mohammed R.with Abdulfatah S. Mohamed (2008). “Saudi Arabian NGOs in Somalia: ‘Wahabi’ Da’wah or Humanitarian Aid?” In Gerard Clarke and Michael Jennings (eds.) Development, Civil Society and Faith-Based Organizations: Bridging the Sacred and the Secular Springer.
- Menkhaus Ken (2010) “Stabilisation and humanitarian access in a collapsed state: the Somali case” Disasters Volume 34, Issue s3 Pages S320– S341.
- Paris, Roland (2002) International peacebuilding and the ‘mission civilisatrice’ Review of International Studies, 28, pp.637–656 Wallensteen, Peter (2015). Understanding Conflict Resolution (4th edition) London: Sage Publications, chapters 2 and 10.
- Dany, Charlotte (2014) Beyond Principles vs. Politics Humanitarian Aid in the European Union ARENA Working Paper 11 November.
- Kenyon Lischer, Sarah (2007) “Military Intervention and the Humanitarian “Force Multiplier”” Global Governance 13:1, pp. 99-118.
- Eagleton-Pierce, Matthew (2019) The rise of managerialism in international NGOs, Review of International Political Economy, DOI: 10.1080/09692290.2019.1657478.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Presentation SEM1 Yes 20%
Seminar Paper SEM1 Yes 40%
Seminar Paper SEM1 Yes 40%

LECTURER/S Yasmin Anna Gunilla Khakee


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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.