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SP50331: Humanitarianism

[Page last updated: 04 August 2021]

Academic Year: 2021/2
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 12 [equivalent to 24 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 240
Level: Masters UG & PG (FHEQ level 7)
Semester 2
Assessment Summary: CW 100%
Assessment Detail:
  • Essay (CW 70%)
  • Briefing Paper (CW 30%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
* To introduce students to the emergence, history and core principles of humanitarianism as an organised response to human suffering.
* To provide students with up-to-date knowledge of the institutional structure, funding and range of activities of contemporary humanitarianism.
* To consider with students the ethical and practical dilemmas commonly faced by humanitarian actors in practice.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of this unit students will be able to:
* engage critically in current debates within the humanitarian field;
* articulate a clear and critical understanding of the differences - organizational, conceptual and practical - between development assistance and humanitarian aid;
* interrogate humanitarian practice for its engagement with issues around gender, age, ethnicity, class and other sectional characteristics.

* Ability to read and discuss critically key texts in international development (Taught/Facilitated).
* Ability to integrate theory with discussion of a practical case (T/F/Assessed).
* Cross-cultural and interpersonal sensitivity (T/F).
* Ability to select, summarise & synthesise written information from multiple sources (T/F/A).
* Ability to produce effective written work to agreed specifications and deadlines (T/F/A).
* Ability to develop rigorous arguments through precise use of concepts and models.

Content: Part One: Humanitarianism - history and principles.
The unit begins by mapping out humanitarianism as a mode of action with its own institutional history and guiding principles. It then moves to analyse International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law as the basis of and resource for humanitarian action. The distinctiveness of humanitarianism from international development has been contested: we shall explore if and how the maintenance of such a distinction continues to have merit.
1. The emergence of humanitarianism as organized practice.
2. Key principles of humanitarian practice.
3. Humanitarianism and international law.
Part Two: Thinking about 'the field'.
This section is concerned with the thinking that underlies present-day humanitarianism: from the conceptualisation of 'the field' itself to the motivation for action. Concern with intersectionality - particularly around gender / sexuality, age, class and ethnicity - is also discussed with the aim of identifying both priorities and potential gaps in current thinking .
4. 'Emergency' as the context for action.
5. Gender / sexuality and age.
6. Class and ethnicity.
Part Three: Humanitarian activities.
In this latter part of the unit attention turns to humanitarian practice itself. Key areas of contemporary activity are considered and the specific challenges - technical, socio-cultural and political - explored. Some of these, such as shelter, water & sanitation, are well-established while education and protection are growing in importance as specific domains of action.
7. Protection.
8. Water & Sanitation, Shelter, Medicine, Nutrition.
9. Education in Emergencies.
10. Working with refugees and forced migrants.

Programme availability:

SP50331 is a Designated Essential Unit on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • THSP-AFM20 : MSc International Development with Conflict and Humanitarian Action
  • THSP-AWM20 : MSc International Development with Conflict and Humanitarian Action
  • THSP-APM20 : MSc International Development with Conflict and Humanitarian Action

SP50331 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2021/22 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2022/23 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2021/22.
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