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SP50314: Humanitarianism in principle and practice

[Page last updated: 01 August 2022]

Academic Year: 2022/23
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 18 [equivalent to 36 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 360
Level: Masters UG & PG (FHEQ level 7)
Academic Year
Assessment Summary: CW 80%, OT 20%
Assessment Detail:
  • Policy Brief (CW 40%)
  • Essay (CW 40%)
  • Forum contributions (OT 20%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
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.

Aims: This unit
* Provides a critical introduction to the emergence, history and core principles of humanitarianism as an organised response to human suffering.
* In-depth and up-to-date review of the institutional structure, funding and range of activities of contemporary humanitarianism.
* Exploration of the ethical and practical dilemmas commonly faced by humanitarian actors in practice.

Skills: By the end of this unit, students will be able to:
* Critically evaluate key texts in humanitarianism and explain their significance for the framing and organisation of humanitarian action (T/F/A)
* Interpret, and critically review key models for practice in the area of humanitarianism (T/F)
* integrate theory with discussion of a practical case of humanitarian action (T/F/A)
* Demonstrate cross-cultural and interpersonal sensitivity (T/F)
* Select, summarise & synthesise written information from multiple sources (T/F/A)
* Produce effective written work to agreed specifications and deadlines (T/F/A)
Practical skills
* Communicate complex data in a clear, ethical and rigorous way in a range of formats suitable for diverse professional and policy audiences; (F/A)
* Construct persuasive and critically engaged arguments in the area of development and humanitarianism for diverse professional audiences. (A).

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. This part of the unit would typically cover:
* The emergence of humanitarianism as organized practice. (weeks 27-28)
* Key principles of humanitarian practice. (weeks 29-30)
* Humanitarianism and international law. (weeks 31-32)
* Humanitarianism aid vs development assistance. (weeks 33-34)
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, to identify both priorities and potential gaps in current thinking. This part of the unit would typically cover:
* `Emergency' as the context for action. (35-36)
* Gender / sexuality and age. (37-38)
* Class and ethnicity. (39-40)
* Humanitarian intervention, human rights and human security. (41-42)
Part Three: Humanitarian activities: working with displaced people
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. This part of the unit would typically cover issues such as:
* Protection. (43-44)
* Water & Sanitation, Shelter, Medicine, Nutrition. (45-46)
* Education in Emergencies (47-48)
* (Re-)Integration, Resettlement, Return. (49-50)
The unit will draw on the three case studies circulated to students prior to the start of the course.

Programme availability:

SP50314 is Compulsory on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • THSP-ADM31 : MSc Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2022/23 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2023/24 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2022/23.
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