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School of Social Sciences

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BSocSc Social Anthropology
Explore human behaviour and relationships and the challenges across different cultures.

BSocSc Social Anthropology / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Anthropology of Development and Humanitarianism

Unit code SOAN30111
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes



The lecture course will cover the following themes:

Week 1: Anthropology, Development, and Humanitarianism (Introduction)

Week 2: Development as a Project of Government

Week 3: Crisis

Week 4: Humanitarianism as a Project of Compassion

Week 5: Aid Technologies. Midterm essays due.

Week 6: Objects of Intervention.

Week 7: The Gifts and Debts of Doing Good

Week 8: Presentations.

Week 9: Religious and Secular Frameworks  Webpage entries due.

Week 10: Visit from aid practitioners.




As wars, poverty and disasters continue to persist in the world, there is a growing body of professionals engaged in humanitarian and development aid work. These aid actors are driven by a desire to help suffering others, at the same time that they create particular kinds of knowledge and regimes of governance. This module provides an anthropological overview of the institutions and practices of international aid through the lens of development and humanitarian expertise. Students will learn the conceptual frameworks through which anthropologists and aid actors imagine and act upon efforts to alleviate suffering and poverty. Using ethnographies of development and humanitarianism, the module explores how the tensions, negotiations and convergences between the ethics and politics of ‘doing good’ shape the complex system of aid interventions. The module covers analyses of development as a knowledge system and a form of global governance, the politics and ethics of humanitarianism, and the relationship between anthropological knowledge and aid expertise. A key point to remember is that anthropology is not about ‘facts’ or normative prescriptions about how the world ought to be. Anthropological approaches examine people’s values, interpretations, practices and experiences that bring about phenomena in the world, such as the idea of ‘development’ or the diverse expressions of compassion behind aid. This course aims to help you understand the analytical tools that anthropologists use to study international aid. As such, it will also provide an introduction to anthropology for students unfamiliar with the discipline.


This year the module is structured around a visit in the last lecture (week 10) from aid practitioners who will discuss   their work and how to get into the profession of development, humanitarianism and other related careers. The students will work in groups throughout the semester to prepare for this event, ultimately producing entries for a website that we will design to showcase what you think that anthropology can offer to understand or address humanitarian and development issues. The midterm essay will also be geared toward this end. For this reason, this will be a demanding module and students will be expected to participate fully in lectures, tutorials and group work outside of class time.


Learning outcomes


On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

•         Analyse and assess the development, theories and debates of anthropological knowledge about international aid.

•         Discuss the political, social and ethical issues of development and humanitarian aid work.

•         Critically read and evaluate the moral, political and technical claims made in aid agency documents.

•         Articulate what anthropological perspectives can offer (or not) to humanitarian and development issues.

•         Be active learners who can ask critical questions about texts, concepts and issues, and formulate their own discussion questions.

•         Work as a team member to produce a collaborative piece of writing.

•         Communicate ideas clearly to others through writing and oral presentations.


Teaching and learning methods


Lecture and Discussion


Students will be assessed by:

1500 word Midterm Essay (25%)

1000 word joint webpage entry (500 words group text/500 words individual reflection) + 3 short tutorial tasks (25%)

3000 word Final Essay (50%)

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods


Students will receive feedback via:

•         Discussions and presentations

•         Questions you bring to the instructor during office hours

•         Midterm essay

•         Webpage entry

•         Final essay

Recommended reading


Preliminary Reading

Fassin, Didier. 2012. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ferguson, James. 1994. The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development," Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Green, Maia. 2009. Doing Development And Writing Culture: Exploring Knowledge Practices In International Development And Anthropology. Anthropological Theory 9(4): 395-417.

Mosse, David. 2005. Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. London: Pluto.

Redfield, Peter. 2006. A Less Modest Witness: Collective Advocacy and Motivated Truth in a Medical Humanitarian Movement. American Ethnologist 33(1): 3-26.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Chika Watanabe Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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