MSc International Disaster Management

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Humanitarianism and displacement: Researching the legacies of war

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 practice. The Covid-19 pandemic means that the practical element of the course is subject to UK Government guidance on travel to Uganda.

This course aims to give fieldwork experience (in-person or virtual) of humanitarianism in practice. Students will have the opportunity to reflect on how theoretical explorations of humanitarianism and conflict response are operationalised in the real world for a population who have experienced prolonged displacement. From the structured readings and lectures you will get a theoretical understanding and appreciation of displacement in a Less Developed Country in general and Northern Uganda in particular. An area which experienced twenty years of civil war and mass displacement and which now faces a refugee crises from South Sudan on an unprecedented scale. 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 both refugees and IDPs, within a context of multiple research themes, including justice and reconciliation, the environment, mental health 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 where possible, (in-person or virtual) meetings with local organisations. The course unit aims to give students an insight into research in a real life post-conflict 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 of research on humanitarian practice 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 practice.


1: Disorientations: Introducing the course, case study and assessment This session introduces students to the aims and objectives of the course whilst outlining some of the logistical elements. Students will be introduced to the fundamental idea of doing research in humanitarian contexts and in particular, reflecting on what we know about Uganda. The assessment details will be explained and a general overview of the course content will be provided.

2: Framing Uganda: Histories and Politics This session explores Uganda’s multiple histories and political trajectories. There will be a particular focus on iconic periods, a conflict history, and the role of the state, democracy and decentralisation in the Ugandan context. Furthermore we will analyse how Uganda sits in broader regional and continental dynamics, its role in the African Union and the contradictory international perspectives of Uganda over time. The session will focus on the history of northern Uganda in particular, and will be followed with an examination of the policies and practices of various stakeholders working towards peace.

3: Refugees, Displacement and humanitarianism This session will first interrogate the theories of displacement, and what solutions have been proposed, exploring how different theories relate to refugees and IDPs. We will examine the context of displacement in northern Uganda and the history of Sudanese refugees, which have experienced varying degrees of humanitarian assistance and solutions to their displacement. The lecture will also examine the broader issues that displacement presents for development, policies, and stakeholders.

4: Humanitarianism and Gender Based Violence Violence against women is thought to be “one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world” (Stark et al, 2010).

This lecture aims to contextualise gender and sexually based violence in Uganda within a broader background of conflict and humanitarianism. It will explore why gender and sexuality based violence is a prevalent theme that permeates discussions on economics, health care, justice, human rights and war crimes in the conflict experiences and post-conflict reconstruction of northern Uganda.

5: Humanitarianism and the Environment “Development is always and necessarily an environmental project” (Perrault, 2010:444).

Can the same be said about humanitarian response? In this session we will take a political ecology perspective of understanding environment - society dynamics in rural Africa. We will look at a series of issues currently ‘live’ in Uganda and the ways in which humanitarian response and environmental development issues are both co-constructing and undermining each other. The readings touch on a number of issues we will see in the field: Climate change, agricultural reform and adaptation, human rights, and rural livelihoods. Using a political ecology approach to understand humanitarian response is an emerging research area, therefore we will have to do the work of taking the concepts in these readings on development and making the connections.

6: Humanitarianism and Justice and Reconciliation In this session the tensions between traditional and governmental practice as an approach to justice and reconciliation will be explored. Furthermore, the discourses and decision making around the formal Ugandan processes of reconciliation will be analysed with a particular focus on displacement and re-integration.

7. Displacement and mental health: researcher and participant  Speaking to organisations in northern Uganda, mental health challenges are now the biggest priority for those affected by the LRA conflict and those experiencing protracted displace

Teaching and learning methods

  • Ten lectures in Semester
  • Ten days research in Uganda or Four virtual research days (UK government guidance dependent)

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.


{SAFTEY AND RISK ASSESSMENT – Not to be published on course unit website}

Prior to the start of the module a University Risk Assessment form will be completed. This will ensure that all possible eventualities are prepared for and a thorough analysis of the safety of students will be included in this. The research area has already been scoped out by Venture Uganda who are an established University partner organisation who have been successfully organising field work on behalf of the University for a number of years. A number of established and some new potential humanitarian organisations working in Uganda will be selected on their ability to provide students with a safe environment in order for them to conduct research on a variety of humanitarian responses (health, community work, conflict reconstruction, relief vs development, international vs local). We will develop a two way relationship with partner organisations and where possible make the student reports available for the organisations we have visited. Venture Uganda offer emergency support should anything happen, for example, they provided this help when SEED students were stranded in Uganda in 2010 due to the volcanic ash cloud. All students and staff would receive a consultation with occupational health in order to receive the appropriate vaccinations and malaria prevention. All flights and accommodation will be organised by Venture Uganda and staff and students will be covered by the University insurance policy.

Throughout the research visit, students will be accompanied by two members of HCRI staff and one Venture Uganda team member who will be the guide and gatekeeper for visits to the humanitarian organisations. It is envisaged that all Manchester and Venture Uganda staff and students will stay in the same accommodation and where possible will eat together in the evenings. Both the course convenor and the Venture Uganda staff are familiar with the contexts of Uganda. Throughout the taught part of the course, students will constantly be reminded of the ethical implications of research – this will be taught in line with the current University research ethics guidelines.

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 LD

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 where possible;
  • Team working skills especially: leadership skills; ability to organise oneself and others to accomplish tasks; sharing knowledge and managing differences.

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

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 25%
Report 75%

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jessica Hawkins Unit coordinator

Additional notes


Ten day research visit to Uganda or Four days virtual research

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