MSc International Disaster Management

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Researching Responses to Displacement

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI60061
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit has three main aims. First, to examine displacement in detail in one specific context; second, it aims to examine the challenges of conducting research in a fragile setting. Finally, students will be asked to translate academic research into practice through the development of a reflection of humanitarian research and practice. This course aims to give fieldwork experience of humanitarianism in practice. Students will have the opportunity to reflect on how theoretical explorations of humanitarian response are operationalised in the real world for a population who have experienced prolonged displacement. From the structured readings and lectures you will gain a theoretical understanding and appreciation of displacement in a Less Developed Country - in Uganda in particular. You will be exposed to a critical discussion of these development challenges and the nature and form of interventions related to your programme of study. Uganda is particularly unique as it enables us to study refugees within a context of multiple research themes, the environment and climate change, mental health, citizenship and belonging, and gender-based sexual violence. We will examine these areas from a variety of perspectives, namely, policy makers, humanitarian practitioners and beneficiaries. Finally, students will explore their area of interest in a structured way through a combination of guest presentations, research focus groups and meetings with local organisations.

The course unit aims to give students an insight into research in a real-life setting; by teaching students the necessary skills to develop a small-scale research project. The course unit therefore goes hand-in-hand with the objectives of the Research and Evaluation Methods (REM) course unit and their post-graduate dissertation. Further, the module asks students to translate academic research into practice by developing a reflective piece on humanitarian research in Uganda.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Development Research MGDI70982 Co-Requisite Recommended
Research and Evaluation Methods HCRI60170 Co-Requisite Recommended


This course unit has three main aims. First, to examine displacement in detail in one specific context; second, it aims to examine the challenges of conducting research in a fragile setting. Finally, students will be asked to translate academic research into practice through the development of a reflection of humanitarian research and practice.


1: Disorientations: Introducing the course, research visit and assessment; Refugees, Displacement and humanitarianism

2: Framing displacement in Uganda: Histories and Politics

3. Displacement and belonging

4: Humanitarianism and Gender Based Violence

5: Displacement and the Environment

6. Displacement and mental health: researcher and participant

7. Practicalities of researching humanitarian response: Research Projects and Ethics

8. Learning through discomfort: preparing for research in difficult contexts

9. Final Preparations, Conduct and Logistics Ten days research visit to Uganda

10. Guest lecturers - Displacement in Uganda from a Ugandan perspective

Teaching and learning methods

  • Ten lectures in Semester
  • Ten days research in Uganda

Students are encouraged to develop their theoretical understanding through guided individual reading and, in groups, to apply their knowledge and skills related to their own professional backgrounds and experiences. The preparation sessions will be based around taught content and class discussion to help students develop their ideas for coursework.

During research, students will visit a number of different humanitarian contexts which apply specifically to the Humanitarian and Conflict Response pathway in HCRI. These will include international, government and non-government organisations working with internally displaced persons and refugees in relation to justice and reconciliation, gender based violence, environmental scarcity, humanitarianism response and broader development goals.

If we are in situ in Uganda, at the beginning and end of each day in country, students will be briefed about the day’s activities and the ethical implications of conducting research in this particular setting. At the end of each day, students will attend an academic tutorial and be required to complete a personal, private journal to be used as evidence for their second assessment report.

Students will receive a follow-up session after the research to help them process their experiences and prepare for writing the report.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Knowledge of the landscape for humanitarian interventions in Less Developed Countries (LDCs) with regards to conflict and displacement;
  • Critical understanding of the way theory influences humanitarian interventions, practices and outcomes;
  • Knowledge and understanding of the challenges of humanitarian response in a LDC

Intellectual skills

  • Ability to competently identify and analyse selected humanitarian concepts and practices related to displacement and conflict and to evaluate their effectiveness;
  • Skills to deploy approaches, concepts, methods and theories of humanitarianism to help explain the 'real-world' scenarios;
  • Ability to explain the distinctive humanitarian experience of Uganda and the lessons we can draw from it.

Practical skills

  • Plan, develop and execute a research project of humanitarianism in practice;
  • Interrogate the ethics of research work in a fragile setting. Apply research skills learned in the Research and Evaluation Methods course unit to a real context.
  • Demonstrate an ability to translate theory into practice.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Understand how to translate theory and policy into a practical resource available for public consumption;
  • Ability to interact and effectively communicate with various actors (donor agencies, policy makers, fellow professionals and lay communities) at various levels (local, district, national international) in Uganda;
  • Team working skills especially: leadership skills; ability to organise oneself and others to accomplish tasks; sharing knowledge and managing differences.
  • Translating research experiences and academic knowledge into a media output

Employability skills

The module prepares students for working in complex settings. They will gain much needed research skills specific to the context of displacement. Further, they will gain an in-depth understanding of refugees and IDPs in the East African context. Finally, students will develop an ability to understand how academic work relates to practice and interrogate the politics of humanitarian assistance. This will be demonstrated through the final assessment which asks students to translate academic work into a reflection of displacement in Uganda.

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Critical literature review



Live radio show presentation




Feedback methods

  • Oral feedback on individual research idea presentations
  • Written feedback on assessment 1 and 2
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Apte, A. (2010) Humanitarian Logistics: A New Field of Research and Action, Now Publishers: Delft.

Barrett, C. and Cason, J. W. (2010) Overseas Research: A Practical Guide, Routledge.

Bebbington, A., Hickey, S. and Mitlin, D. (eds), (2008) Can NGOs make a difference? Zed Press: London.

Binns, T. ‘Doing fieldwork in developing countries: Planning and logistics’, (2010) in Desai and Potter (eds) Doing Development Research, Sage: London.

Black, R. (2003) Ethical Codes in Humanitarian Emergencies: From Practice to Research?’, Disasters, 27:2, 97-108.

Cramer, C., Hammer, L. and Pottier, J. (eds) (2011) Researching Violence in Africa: Ethical and Methodological Challenges, Brill: Leiden.

Gosling, L. and Edwards, M. (2003) Toolkits: A Practical Guide to Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Assessment, Save the Children: London.

Hammett, D., Twyman, C. and Graham, M. (2014) Research and Fieldwork in Development, Routledge: London.

National Research Council, Research Ethics in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: Summary of a Workshop, National Academy Press: Washington, D.C.

Skinner, R. and Lester, A. (2012) Humanitarianism and Empire: New Research Agendas’ The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 40: 5.

Sultana, F. (2007) ‘Reflexivity, Positionality and Participatory Ethics: Negotiating Fieldwork Dilemmas in International Research’, ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 6(3), 374-385.

Thomson, S., Ansoms, A. and Murison, J. (2013) Emotional and Ethical Challenges for Field Research in Africa, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.

Thorns, A., Chataway, J. and Wuyts, M. (1998) Finding out fast: Investigative skills for policy and development, Sage: London.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jessica Hawkins Unit coordinator

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