You will study these units in 2018/19 if you apply for the MSc Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development course.

Conflict, development and peacebuilding


​This unit offers:

  • in-depth introduction to the main theoretical approaches to the study of conflict and development
  • comprehensive critical review of debates surrounding contemporary conflict and the changing character of war
  • comprehensive critical review of academic and policy debates surrounding contemporary and historical development and peacebuilding interventions in conflict settings

Learning outcomes

​By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • understand and explain the concepts of conflict, peace, and security
  • critically evaluate contrasting theories on the relationship between conflict and development
  • understand, explain and evaluate how development and humanitarian responses to conflict have changed over time
  • critically assess contemporary humanitarian and peacebuilding responses to conflict


Part one: conflict and development (weeks 1-8)

This part of the course will introduce students to the main conceptual debates surrounding the field of conflict and development. It will provide some historical perspective to the analysis of contemporary conflict and introduce students to key academic debates concerning the relationship between development and conflict. This part will typically cover:

  • key concepts: conflict, peace and development
  • war and historical change
  • development theory and conflict
  • the changing face of war: 'New wars' and 'complex political emergencies'

Part two: the causes of conflict (9-16)

This section explores a range of theoretical perspectives on the causes of violent conflict. In doing so, it will introduce students to a range of disciplinary perspectives and approaches from politics, sociology, international relations, and economics. This part of the unit will cover the most significant dimensions of conflict and how they have been explained historically and in contemporary studies. These would typically include:

  • economic dimensions
  • the role of ethnicity and religion
  • environmental factors and climate change
  • regional dimensions and the geography of conflict

Part three: peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction (17-24)

This part of the course will explore theoretical approaches to peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction – engaging with debates around how the transition to peace is affected by processes of democratisation and economic liberalisation. This part of the unit will cover the most significant dimensions of peace-building and how they have been explained historically and in contemporary studies. These would typically include:

  • liberal and illiberal peacebuilding, human security, and beyond
  • conflict prevention
  • political transitions to peace
  • economic transitions to peace
  • the unit will draw on the three case studies circulated to students prior to the start of the course

Humanitarianism in principle and practice


​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

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 – organisational, 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


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 organised 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.

Approaches to human rights in context


​This unit offers:

  • an advanced and in-depth introduction to competing accounts of human rights and human rights violations
  • comprehensive and critical introduction to the range of theoretical, political and policy responses to arguments about human rights abuses in diverse contexts
  • critical and in-depth review of the key arguments about the strengths and limits of using human rights frames to respond to conflict

Learning outcomes

At the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • critically evaluate competing disciplinary accounts of human rights and human rights violations
  • critically evaluate and justify arguments over appropriate responses to human rights abuses demonstrate critical independent judgement and insight into the politics and ethics of human rights in theory and practice


The unit draws on a range of disciplinary orientations, including philosophy, history, politics, anthropology and sociology, to understand and critically evaluate the foundations, growth, and limits of approaches to human rights theory and practice. The unit will draw on the three case studies circulated to students prior to the start of the course. The unit is organized around three thematic parts: foundations, problems and advocacy. Typically, each part would cover the following topics

Part one – Foundations (weeks 1-4)

  • Theoretical and philosophical foundations of human rights.
  • Cosmopolitanism and rights.
  • The growth of the human rights project.
  • The limits of human rights: Culture, rights and relativism.
  • The limits of human rights: Rights and empire.

Part two – Problems and Responses (5-8)

  • Modernity, colonialism and genocide.
  • Understanding perpetration.
  • Redressing human rights violations: Transitional justice.
  • Redressing human rights violations: Historical injustice, reparation, compensation.

Part Three – Advocacy and Communication (9-12)

  • Humanitarian communication.
  • Official denials and bystander publics.
  • The limits of human rights reporting.
  • Human rights futures.

Negotiating the field: response to conflict, humanitarianism and development in practice


​This unit:

  • applies core theoretical approaches to conflict, humanitarianism and development to real life case studies, both historical and contemporary
  • introduces key debates on and critiques of how policy is made and implemented
  • explores and assesses key debates surrounding the ethical, political and practical challenges faced by practitioners in the fields of conflict, humanitarianism and development
  • identifies and evaluates various methods and tools for integrating research into policy and programming design

Learning outcomes

​By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • critically apply key concepts of conflict, humanitarianism and development to case studies of professional practice
  • critically analyse and evaluate policies, taking into account the complex dynamics and challenges that underpin policy design and practice in emergency contexts
  • assess the role of research in humanitarian policy and programming and evaluate the relative merits of different methodologies for gathering evidence
  • critically reflect on how research findings can be translated into programme design and how practitioners might work with researchers


This unit enables students to explore:

  • how policy design, programming, and practices play out on the ground,
  • shape humanitarian action 'in the field', and
  • lead to a range of responses to the challenges of humanitarian action in the field.

It will draw on the 3 case study notes circulated to students at the start of the course but may also use a wider selection of case studies that provide real life examples to better illustrate, inform and engender debate. These case studies draw on the strengths of the Bath research staff, and would typically include:

  • ebola outbreak in West Africa
  • transitional justice and human rights in Cambodia
  • refugee crisis in The Middle East
  • development and peacebuilding in The Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • peacebuilding in Nepal and Sri Lanka
  • trafficking and conflict in Central America

Students will also be strongly encouraged to critically reflect, and draw on, their own experiences of 'negotiating the field', including how such negotiations are shaped by specific contexts. Students are able to draw on these cases or their own professional experience, especially for the Critical Case Review assessment.

Part one: From Policy to Practice (weeks 14-19)

This part of the course will discuss key debates in policy design, programming and practice, with a particular focus on practice in emergency contexts It will consider along the ethical, political and practical challenges associated with those situations. It draws on examples from practitioners involved in the delivery of aid, who undertake adaptation of policy into practice, and would typically include:

  • working with policy from the ground up: theory, critique and practice
  • politics and power: the influence on aid policy and funding
  • from policy to practice: working with donors and commissioners
  • ethical dilemmas of working in emergency situations
  • objectivity and subjectivity: how does your identity shape your approach, and the way others receive you
  • the transition from emergency to development contexts

Part two: Research for Practitioners (weeks 20-25)

This part considers the role that evidence can play, evaluates the different methodologies available for collecting evidence (participatory research, ethnography, surveys, etc.), and considers the practical challenges of finding time for and of applying research to practice. It will draw on the case studies to add further context to each topic covered. Topics typically include:

  • humanitarian or development intervention: terminology and methodology in research and practice
  • engaging researchers in humanitarian practice
  • participatory methods in crisis
  • ethnographies of conflict
  • practical challenges of data collection in an emergency situation: slow science versus fast science
  • can and should we be conducting research in emergency situations?

Humanitarianism conflict and development dissertation


This research phase of the Masters in Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development provides:

  • the opportunity to identify a feasible research question and relate it to relevant conceptual approaches, existing research and empirical material
  • enable students to develop their theoretical knowledge and analytical understanding through application of concepts and frameworks to a specific research problem
  • opportunity to develop a cogent, credible and sustained argument that addresses the research question through independent work

Learning outcomes

Students will have:

  • comprehensive and in-depth understanding of theories of conflict, humanitarianism and peace-building in development contexts and their strengths and weaknesses
  • critical understanding of the relevance and applicability of such theories to specific conflict and development settings ​- robust understanding of the implications of this case for our wider understanding of conflict and humanitarian action


The dissertation should make explicit reference to at least one important concept, issue or problem covered as part of stages one and two of the MSc in Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development.

Dissertations may be based on any combination of:

  • review of published literature
  • secondary data analysis

With the agreement of their supervisor, the dissertation may be include analysis of primary data collected by the student provided the student has a strong rationale for doing so and the necessary skills to undertake primary research.