MA Political Economy (Standard Route) / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Anthropology of Development and Humanitarianism

Unit code SOAN60112
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Social Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course is an introduction to anthropological approaches to development and
humanitarian aid. It will look at aid through the complex intersection of ethics and politics
in the making of expertise and global regimes in international aid. The course will consider,
on the one hand, the personal and collective commitments to “doing good” that drive aid
work, and on the other hand, the political and bureaucratic structures that shape aid


As wars, poverty, and disasters continue to persist in the world today, there is a growing
body of professionals engaged in humanitarian and development aid work. These aid actors
are driven by a desire to help suffering others, at the same time that they create particular
kinds of knowledge and regimes of governance. This course provides an anthropological
overview of the institutions and practices of international aid through the lens of
development and humanitarian expertise. Students will learn the conceptual frameworks
through which anthropologists and aid actors imagine and act upon efforts to alleviate
suffering and poverty. Using ethnographies of development and humanitarianism, the
course explores how the tensions, negotiations, and convergences between the ethics and
politics of “doing good” shape the complex cultural system of aid interventions. The course
covers analyses of development as a knowledge system and a form of global governance,
the politics and ethics of humanitarian endeavors, and the relationship between
anthropological knowledge and aid expertise.


Learning outcomes

On completion of this course successful students will be able to:
· Analyze and assess anthropological knowledge about international aid.
· Discuss the political, social, and ethical issues of development and humanitarian aid
· Understand the institutional frameworks, histories, and practices of international
development and humanitarian aid.
· Critically read and evaluate the moral, political, and technical claims made in aid
agency documents.

Teaching and learning methods


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Recommended reading

Book Lists

Adams V (2013) Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina.
Durham: Duke University Press.
Bornstein E (2005) The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in
Zimbabwe. Stanford: Stanford University Press. (available online through the library)
Elyachar J (2007) Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in
Cairo. Durham: Duke University Press.
Fassin D (2012) Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of
California Press.
Ferguson J (1994) The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and
Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Li, TM (2007) The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of
Politics. Durham: Duke University Press. (available online through the library)
Mosse D (2005) Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice.
London: Pluto. (available online through the library)
Redfield P (2013) Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Ticktin M (2011) Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in
France. Berkeley: University of California Press. (available online through the library)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 2
Tutorials 1
Independent study hours
Independent study 147

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Chika Watanabe Unit coordinator

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