MSc International Disaster Management / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Humanitarian Diplomacy: Examining the Actors, Issues and Norms

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI60222
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
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will critically examine the definitions and practices of humanitarian diplomacy and negotiation – an emerging concept within the humanitarian sector. Egeland (2013) argues there is ‘in our age of information, advocacy, and non-governmental activism no place with widespread suffering where there is no humanitarian diplomacy and action’. Despite this, many humanitarian practitioners may associate diplomatic practice in its traditional political sense, viewing it as the preoccupation of states as opposed to aid agencies. They may also feel that humanitarian principles should not be negotiated. Yet, increasingly the expectations placed upon international and national humanitarian groups, agencies, and organisations to be ready to respond immediately to any disaster or conflict has brought humanitarian diplomacy to the fore. For this reason the course examines negotiation practices understood in the broadest sense, from informal exchanges in ‘the field’ to advocacy and international diplomacy. Students will engage with the topic in two ways. First, they will learn from academic social science and humanities approaches, through readings and seminar teaching. Second, students will work together to prepare and lead critical exchanges with the guest expert speakers.


  • Provide knowledge about the area of humanitarian diplomacy (key actors, issues and norms), which will familiarise students with a key area of humanitarian practice.
  • Nurture students’ critical thinking and reflexivity about the politics, sociology, history and economy of humanitarian diplomacy, beyond buzzwords and technocratic language.
  • Deepen students’ abilities to work across disciplines, levels of analysis and modes of analysis (general and case-specific perspectives).
  • Develop students’ abilities to critically engage with inputs from academic, practitioner and policy resources (from both readings and expert inputs).
  • Equip students to identify and strategise about the possibilities, limits and uncertainties of action in humanitarian diplomacy and negotiation.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Identify the key actors in humanitarian diplomacy, their goals and their unequal agency
  • Understand the key issues and debates in humanitarian diplomacy
  • Grasp the key norms in humanitarian diplomacy (laws, rules, codes of behaviour)
  • Understand the systems, structures and institutions of humanitarian diplomacy (factors, implications, effects of inclusion and exclusion)

Intellectual skills

  • Apply critical thinking to the concepts and practices of humanitarian diplomacy
  • Critically use and assess concepts and theories from a range of social science disciplines and methodological approaches
  • Critically assess and use practitioner and policy documents and views from actors in humanitarian diplomacy
  • Consider multiple levels of analysis (from micro to macro) and draw out connections and contradictions between general topics and case studies
  • Be reflexive about their sociological, political and ethical position in the field of humanitarianism

Practical skills

  • Practice critical reading of an array of sources
  • Search for, assess and select literature from academic, practitioner and policy sources
  • Craft and complete rigorous academic research, from choosing a research question to planning research steps and timeline, researching it, assessing material, and writing and self-editing
  • Structure and present written and oral arguments
  • Prepare and conduct interviews of elite experts to gather factual information and construct theoretical analyses

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Apply analytical and synthesis skills in writing
  • Hone written and oral communication skills
  • Be successful at complex team work on written and oral tasks
  • Conduct, observe and debrief interviews

Employability skills

¿ Upon completion of this unit students will have gained valuable skills in applying professional models of reflection and considering personal and professional boundaries in a variety of practice contexts. Students completing this course unit will have the opportunity to develop their research, organisation and presentation skills to a professional standard. Through group work and debate they will demonstrate decision-making and working effectively as part of a team. The course¿s approach to formative and summative assessment will hone students¿ audio and visual communication skills.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%
Written essay 70%
Policy brief assignment 30%


Feedback methods


Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Mid-course student evaluation of learning – verbal feedback in tutorials (individual and group)







Recommended reading

The course reading list will comprise both general references on humanitarian diplomacy and references specific to both core case studies and reflective practice. References may include:

IFRC (n.d.). Humanitarian Diplomacy Policy. IFRC.

Minear, L., & Smith, H. (eds.). (2007). Humanitarian Diplomacy: Practitioners and Their Craft. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Régnier, P. (2011). The emerging concept of humanitarian diplomacy: identification of a community of practice and prospects for international recognition. International Review of the Red Cross, 93(884).

Magone, C., Neuman, M. and Weissman, F., (eds.), Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: the MSF Experience (Hurst, 2011)

Egeland, J. (2013). “Humanitarian diplomacy” in The Oxford handbook of modern diplomacy / edited by Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur. (pp. 352–368). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Acuto, M. (2014). Negotiating relief: The politics of humanitarian space. London: Hurst.

ffrench-Constant, Laura (2014), How To plan, write and communicate an effective Policy Brief: Three Steps to Success.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Luke Kelly Unit coordinator

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