BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Key Concepts in International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response

Unit code HCRI11021
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course introduces students to the key theoretical concepts that underpin all aspects of international disaster management and humanitarian response. The concepts covered will provide a framework through which to theoretically and critically interrogate the specific processes and practices of disaster management and humanitarian response. The study of international disaster management and humanitarian response is an interdisciplinary endeavour, this course will provide students with the theoretical foundations to engage with the subject matter across a range of disciplines. 


Year 1, semester 2 core on BSc International Disaster Management and Conflict Response


  • To introduce students to key concepts that have shaped humanitarian responses
  • To reflect on how concepts might change over time and in different geographies
  • To foster students’ critical perspective regarding debates and scholarship on humanitarian action
  • To develop critical analytical and research skills


Week 1: Disciplines in the Study of humanitarianism

This week will introduce you to the range of disciplinary perspectives that they will encounter throughout the course. It will highlight ways in which different disciplines relate to theory; different methodologies; present arguments in different ways. It will highlight disciplinary differences as a source of richness in the study of humanitarianism, but also a challenge in relating these diverse bodies of literature to each other. 


Week 2: Power – traditional approaches

This week will introduce you to debates about how we can understand power. It will highlight traditional understandings of power as ‘power-over’ and coercive power. In the lecture students will be asked to think about the implications of understanding power in these ways.


Week 3: Power – Hegemony

In this week students will evaluate notions of hegemony, drawing on theories of international political economy and sociology. It will highlight power as ‘a common sense’ and analyse the ways in which power is consolidated through the manufacture of consent and consensus. These asymmetries of power will be explored through global political, economic and social systems.


Week 4 Power – critical approaches

In this lecture you will be introduced to critical theories of power, in particular those drawing on relational approaches to power. It will highlight the importance of identity to critical understandings of power and demonstrate the ways in which critical theories have sought to change understandings of power from the traditional  and hegemonic approaches considered in the previous lectures and how this makes different kinds of analysis of international disaster management and humanitarian response possible.


Week 4: Structure and Agency

This week will introduce you to structure/agency debates in social sciences and highlight their implications of these for analysing humanitarianism.


Week 5: Ethics

This week introduces students to different conceptions of ethics, in particular, highlighting difference between consequentialist and deontological ethics. It will draw attention to the debates in humanitarian response that rely on particular notions of ethics and ask students to think about the implications of our understanding of ethics for decision-making in humanitarian response.


Week 6: Colonialism

This week will take a historical view and introduce the concept of colonialism, situated in its histories in the world. It will highlight that many of the features and modes of operating found within humanitarianism have their origins in colonial history and can still be seen in contemporary practices


Week 8: Development

Again, taking a historical approach, this week will introduce students to development as a concept that has profoundly structured interactions globally since the end of the Second World War. It will highlight the importance of the notion of inequality within development discourse and ask students to reflect on the implications of development and inequality for contemporary international disaster management and humanitarian response


Week 9: Human Rights

This lecture will look at the evolution of notions of Human Rights over time and link them to notions of ethics and development thinking. It will highlight problems with the appa

Teaching and learning methods

 The principal teaching and learning methods will be the lecture (an interactive experience) and the tutorial. These would be supplemented by guided and independent reading and assignments designed to encourage students to engage with course material in meaningful ways. The module will be team-taught by experts in the different areas discussed.

The module will be Blackboard compliant.

Knowledge and understanding

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

1. Key theoretical concepts which underpin the analysis of humanitarianism, conflict response and international disaster management

2. The practical and operational implications of these concepts and understandings

3.To be able to use these concept to analyse examples of practice from the field

4. Introductory grasp of the history of these debates in the academic literature

Intellectual skills

1. Navigate complex theoretical debates  and relate them to events and issues in practice

2. Compare and contrast narratives originating from different sources

3. Identify different methodologies and/or disciplinary orientations in academic literature

4. Reflect upon current events and actors with reference to a historical perspective

Practical skills

1.  Information management skills, requiring evaluation, synthesis, and record-keeping.

2. Research skills, including planning, prioritisation of tasks, identification and location of primary and secondary sources, evaluation of findings.

3.  Essay-writing skills related to the analysis of a specific question, construction of arguments, assessment and deployment of evidence, writing style.

4.  Participation in seminar discussion and collaborative learning.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Editorial and analytical skills. Evidence-led decision-making. Putting together and maintaining arguments (useful for a marketing/awareness campaign or business case).
Oral communication
Oral and communication skills ¿ especially in terms of comprehending large amounts of information and drawing reasoned conclusions.
Meeting deadlines. Working autonomously and in groups.

Assessment methods


Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Source Analysis




Essay Plan


1 page (bullet points)









Assessment task


Research essay (using different essay topic)

2000 words


Feedback methods


Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on assignments


Verbal feedback via 1 on 1 meetings with students


Verbal and peer feedback on practice group presentations



Recommended reading

Heywood, A. (2015) Key Concepts in Politics and International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave.


Edkins, J and Zehfuss, M. (2008). Global Politics: a New introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.


Barnett, Michael. And Thomas Weiss (2008) Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Cornell University Press.


Moore, Jonathan, ed. Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).


Donnelly, Jack (2013) Universal Human  Rights in Theory and Practice. Cornell University Press.  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Bertrand Taithe Unit coordinator

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