BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Institutions and Governance

Unit code HCRI11081
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This is a core unit for HCRI students taking the BSc in International Disaster Management. This course addresses the need to explore and critically understand the governance of humanitarian interventions and how humanitarian organisations may play a role in governing. It will consider how local societies interact with the humanitarian aid system. It will introduce students to the diversity of actors involved in the humanitarian system, outlining the positions, possibilities and responsibilities of different levels of actors involved (individual, national, organisational, national and international). It will ask the question ‘Who governs?’ and invite reflection on how is humanitarian governance organized and accomplished. It outlines and interrogates discourses and practices of humanitarian governance. The lectures will shed light on what techniques of control different actors have to push for their position.  A central element of the course will be to question the structures of inequality inherent in humanitarian governance.


 This is an optional  unit in semester 2 of level 1 for BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response



  • This course unit aims to provide students with an introduction to theories of governance and government and to consider how there operate at an international level
  • Students will develop an understanding of the key concepts of governance and be able to recognise them in humanitarian practises
  • The course will enable students to analyse the role that humanitarianism plays in the governance of society, in particular, the ways it is used as a moral discourse to legitimate action and inaction.
  • Students will develop a familiarity with major international institutions, such as the various UN bodies, the World Bank and ECHO, and be aware of their functions.
  • To recognise the inherent power asymmetries in international humanitarian governance and to question the legitimacy of this, as well as its effects on humanitarian responses.



Week 1: Theories of Governance


Week 2: Government and States


Week 3: Citizenship


Week 4: The United Nations


Week 5: The Bretton Woods Institutions


Week 6: Regional Institutions and Governance


Week 7: Justice Institutions


Week 8: INGOs  


Week 9: Civil Society and Community Goveranance


Week 10: Assessed Presentations


Week 11: Reflections and Conclusions

Teaching and learning methods

This course taught through one 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour seminar per week. The lectures will be supported by case studies that will include descriptive cases. Exercises will be student-led based on the reading and facilitated by the seminar leader or lecturer.   

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understanding key theories and concepts relating to governance and government at the international level;
  • Develop a critical understanding of actors and humanitarian governance;
  • To understand the role and responsibilities of humanitarian actors and how this impacts on their ability to play a role in humanitarian governance
  • To understand how international humanitarian governance is rooted in, and plays a role in influencing,  the politics of the societies contributing to it.
  • To appreciate the complex formal and informal power dynamics at work in humanitarian governance.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically interrogate the literature related to governance in the humanitarian sphere.
  • Develop a critical understanding of the relationship between politics and humanitarian interventions, using contemporary and historical case studies
  • To be able to analyse and compare the role that humanitarian governance has on societies, both those hosting humanitarian interventions and those sending actors to respond.   

Practical skills

  • Develop an understanding of how humanitarian governance works within different organisations
  • Understand how academic work relates to practice and interrogate the effectiveness of different governance approaches
  • Demonstrate analytical and debating skills with peers and tutors through tutorials and online discussions and forums
  • To be able to identify networks within humanitarian operations
  • Show effective use of library resources drawing relevant literature, and seeking out information through the use of virtual sources to underpin learning and gathering information for written work.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop communication skills for a variety of audiences
  • Work effectively in a team and engage stakeholders
  • Develop, plan and achieve individual research outcomes
  • Develop analytical skills and the ability to articulate ideas verbally and in writing
  • Develop confidence articulating ideas and opinions during group discussions

Employability skills

Group/team working
Teamwork ¿ recognising and identifying views of others and working constructively with them
Oral communication
Presentation ¿ capacity to make oral presentations, using appropriate media for a target audience
Information Retrieval ¿ ability independently to gather, sift, synthesise and organise material from various sources (including library, electronic and online resources), and to critically evaluate its significance.
Time Management ¿ ability to schedule tasks in order of importance Improving own Learning ¿ ability to improve one's own learning through planning, monitoring, critical reflection, evaluate and adapt strategies for one's learning.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods


Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback

All summative assessments

Oral feedback on presentations


Additional feedback available verbally in office hours

F & S


Recommended reading


Barnett, M. 2013. ‘Humanitarian Governance’, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 16, pp. 379-398.


Wilkinson, R 2005. The Global Governance Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.


Fassin, D, 2007. ‘Humanitarianism: a non-governmental government?’ in Michel Feher (ed) Non-governmental politics. London: MIT Press.


Lautze, S., Raven-Roberts, A., & Erkineh, T. 2009. Humanitarian governance in the new millennium: an Ethiopian case study. Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG).


Mac Ginty, R., & Peterson, J. H. (2015). The Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action. Routledge.

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Roisin Read Unit coordinator

Additional notes


Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

An individual Actor Network Governance Map

F & S

A map of one page and 500 word reflection on the map

20% (week 7)

Group Presentation

Allocation of groups in week 6

F & S

15 minutes

20% (week 12)



2500 words

60% (end of semester deadline)




Assessment task



2500 words


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