BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response and Spanish

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
A Different Sort of Humanitarianism

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI30612
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course explores the lesser-known corners of the humanitarian arena. It looks at initiatives as diverse as armed humanitarianism, billionaire philanthropism, diaspora organisations, non-human humanitarians, and trauma teddy knitting circles, and how their engagement in the humanitarian field challenges commonly held understandings of humanitarianism. As well as celebrating the increasingly diverse world of humanitarianism - although there is still a long way to go! - the course takes a critical look at these actors, and asks important questions concerning efficiency, accountability, representation, and ethics. For this purpose, students receive a necessary grounding in theory on professionalism, localisation, mobilisation, and volunteerism, which both helps in framing the roles of these actors, but also may provide additional insight into the material studied in other courses at HCRI.


Pre-requisite: Introduction to Humanitarianism. Preferred: Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response in Scholarship and Practice


Building on the ambitions of the World Humanitarian Summit, this course aims to provide up-to-date insight into the presence and consolidation of ‘non-traditional’ actors in the humanitarian arena. Often these types of actors have been active in the humanitarian sector for a long time (think of faith-based organisations, or philanthropy, for example). However, recently such actors have taken on a larger role within the humanitarian sector than was the case in the previous half century. This course looks in more detail at this shift and what it means for the manner in which we conduct humanitarianism.

  • To further explore non-traditional actors within the humanitarian system, and how their presence evaluates current assumptions on the nature of humanitarian actors and actions.
  • To develop a more theoretically grounded understanding of actors’ humanitarian engagement by exploring theories of professionalism, mobilisation, and volunteerism.
  • To explore opportunities and challenges in actors’ engagement with the humanitarian mission and system, particularly in terms of ethics, representation, and accountability. 
  • To understand how non-traditional and traditional actors collaborate and compete in the humanitarian system. 

Teaching and learning methods

Seminars: The seminars will engage with the material of this week’s lecture, delving deeper into associated and specialist topics (for example, the seminar for week 4 on localisation goes into humanitarian standard-setting, and how local actors’ voices and experiences are incorporated in this). In addition to the required weekly reading material, students will often be assigned a certain actor, whose humanitarian activities they will explore and briefly evaluate on paper. 

Lectures: Weekly lectures will provide the theoretical insights behind humanitarian engagement, such as professionalisation, mobilisation and volunteerism, and localisation. Subsequently, students will be able to apply these theoretical insights to the actors they study in the seminars that follow. Students are hence required to provide important practical examples, and to reassess these both collaboratively in the seminars and in the lectures. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • To understand the moral, political, cultural, professional, and socio-economic drivers of individuals’ engagement in the humanitarian system.
  • To gain a thorough understanding of the power dynamics among actors in the humanitarian system.
  • To recognise the effects of humanitarian actors’ contributions on the quality of humanitarian service provision, local representation, and accountability.

Intellectual skills

  • To critically reflect on key concepts of humanitarian ethics and practice.
  • To critically evaluate the contribution of different humanitarian actors in the humanitarian effort, and the practical and ethical challenges their specific contribution generates.

Practical skills

  • To develop oral and written skills to present research outcomes.
  • To engage in the planning and conduction of collaborative research work with peers. 
  • To analyse ad-hoc humanitarian response events within a broader interpretative framework of the development of the humanitarian sector.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Reflective and self-critical perspectives on humanitarian ethics.
  • Improved analytical and research skills.
  • Improved oral and written presentation skills. 
  • Introduction of professional research skills that are tailored towards products often used in the humanitarian sector. 

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Essay 1



Essay 2





Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on assignments

Summative (using participation feedback form)

Verbal feedback in 1 on 1 meetings with students

Formative (using participation feedback form)


Recommended reading

Zeynep Sezgin and Dennis Dijkzeul  (ed.) (2016) The New Humanitarians in International Practice:     Emerging actors and contested principles. Routledge Humanitarian Studies, Oxon.

Hugo Slim (2015). Humanitarian Ethics. London: Hurst & Company.

Ayesha Ahmad and James Smith (ed.) (2018) Humanitarian Action and Ethics. ZED Books. 

Silke Roth (2015) The Paradoxes of Aid work: Passionate Professionals. Routledge Humanitarian Studies, Oxon. 

Liisa H. Malkki (2015) The Need to Help - The Domestic Arts of International Humanitarianism, Duke University Press, Durham and London. 

Didier Fassin (2012) Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present Times. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Miriam I. Ticktin (2011) Casualties of Care - Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles. 

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sophie Roborgh Unit coordinator

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