SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Humanitarian Principles and Practice (Online)

Module Code:
Year of study:

This is the core module for the MSc Humanitarian Action. It has three parts: humanitarian principles, architecture and practice. This structure enables students to build up a critical understanding of the ideological underpinnings, constraints and politics of humanitarian action, alongside an empirical grounding or humanitarian providers and relationships between them. Analytical and empirical depth will be provided through a series of case studies that examine the practicalities and institutional learning in natural distasters, complex emergencies and humanitarianism in Europe. The module will present humanitarianism, the critiques that have been made of it, institutional learning and the persistence of some challenges in approach and delivery

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • understand and analyse the history of humanitarian action, the key players, institutions and contexts.
  • present core policy issues of humanitarian work internationally and nationally, and of proposals for their practical solution; combine theoretical knowledge with case study/empirical knowledge;
  • understand data collection and constraints in emergency settings. Awareness of different data gathering techniques, including case studies, quantitative analysis, surveys, etc. Knowledge of main relevant data sources and outlets;  


Learning materials will be delivered (100%) via the VLE moodle with resources drawn from the SOAS library and the University of London Online library. Learning is focused upon free-form and structured discussion and both these and the materials are supported by a dedicated Associate Tutor (one per 15 students).

Online Learning provision allows for a range of innovative and engaging teaching techniques to be used.

The course will employ a range of proven student focused assessments. These will be on-line activities known as “e-tivities”. They are specifically designed to meet the programme's learning outcomes.


E-tivity 1 – Access and Socialisation 0% (of course assessment)

E-tivity 2 – Library Information retrieval  5%

E-tivity 3 – Literature critique (directed) 5%

E-tivity 4 – Essay Proposal 15%

E-tivity 5 – Literature critique (bespoke) 5%

E-tivity 6 – 4500-5000 word essay 70%


These E-tivities can be resubmitted.

Scope and syllabus

This is an indicative list of topics; the specifics will be finalised as the module is developed


- Humanitarian principles

Principles and practice - inc IHL

Needs assessment – inc early warning and 'political will'

Evaluation, monitoring and knowledge creation

Critiques and longevity - inc #metoo

Security and remoteness

- Architecture

Bilateral and multilateral donors – funding types and decisions

INGOs and NGOs

Private contractors

Resilience and remittances

- Practice (cases)

Natural emergencies

Permanent/complex emergencies

Humanitarianism in Europe

Method of assessment

E-tivity 1 – Access and Socialisation 0% (of course assessment)

E-tivity 2 – Library Information retrieval  5%

E-tivity 3 – Literature critique (directed) 5%

E-tivity 4 – Essay Proposal 15%

E-tivity 5 – Literature critique (bespoke) 5%

E-tivity 6 – 4500-5000 word essay 70%

Suggested reading

Core Reading:

Becker, S.L. and Reusser, D.E. (2016) ‘Disasters as opportunities for social change: using the multi-level perspective to consider the barriers to disaster-related transitions’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 18: 75-88.

Couldrey, M. and Herson, M. (eds) (2016) Local communities: first and last providers of protection. Oxford: Forced Migration Review.

Csåky, C. (2008) No one to turn to: the under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers. London: Save the Children UK.

Duffield, M. (2010) ‘Risk management and the fortified aid compound: everyday life in post-interventionary society’, Journal of Intervention and State-building 4(4)

Featherstone, A. (2013) Improving impact: do accountability mechanisms deliver results? London: Christian Aid, HAP and Save the Children.

Fujii, L. A. (2008) ‘The power of local ties: popular participation in the Rwandan genocide’, Security Studies, 17(3): 568–597.

Gillard, E.-C. and H. Slim (2013) ‘Ethical and Legal Perspectives on Cross-border Humanitarian Operations’, Humanitarian Exchange, 59.

ICRC (2018) Professional standards for protection work carried out by humanitarian and human rights actors in armed conflict and other situations of violence, 3rd ed. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross.

Obrecht, O. (2014) ‘De-internationalising’ humanitarian action: rethinking the ‘global-local’ relationship. October. Paris: Humanitarian Affairs Think Tank, IRIS.

Platt, S., Brown, D. and Hughes, M. (2016) ‘Measuring resilience and recovery’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 19: 447-460.

Additional Reading:

Allen, K. (2006) ‘Community-based disaster preparedness and climate adaptation: local capacity-building in the Philippines’, Disasters 30(1): 81-101.


Ashdown, P., Mountain, R., Bearpark, A., Mayhew, B., Miller, C., Bryer, D., Rasmusson, E., Greenall, G., Conway, G., da Silva, J., Bowden, M., Dahrendorf, N., Kent, R., Maxwell, S., Stenberg, S., Wardell, S. and Aysan, Y. (2011) Humanitarian emergency response review. London: Department for International Development (http://webarchive.

Bennett, C., Foley, M. and Pantuliano, S. (2016) Time to let go: a three-point proposal to change the humanitarian system. London: ODI

Blackman, D., Nakanishi, H. and Benson, A.M. (2017) ‘Disaster resilience as a complex problem: why linearity is not applicable for long-term recovery’, Technology Forecasting and Social Change 121: 89-98.

Bradley, M. (2016) Protecting civilians in war: the ICRC, UNHCR, and their limitations in internal armed conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Choudhury, M. and Haque, C. (2016) ‘We are more scared of the power elites than the floods: adaptive capacity and resilience of wetland community to flash flood disasters in Bangladesh’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 19: 145-158.

CHS Alliance (2014) Core humanitarian standard on quality and accountability. Geneva: CHS Alliance, Group URD and the Sphere Project

Duffield, M. (2018) Post-humanitarianism. Governing precarity in the digital world. Cambridge, Polity.

Falkner, R. (2016) ‘The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics’, International Affairs 92(5).

Field, J. (2017) ‘What is appropriate and relevant assistance after a disaster? Accounting for culture(s) in the response to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 22: 335-344.

Fischer, J. (2017) “Reproducing remoteness? States, internationals and the co-constitution of aid: 'bunkerization' in the East African periphery. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 11 (1), 98-119.

Flinn, B., Schofield, H. and Morel, L.M. (2017) ‘The case for self-recovery’, Forced Migration Review 55: 12-14.

ICRC (2018) Professional standards for protection work, 3rd edn. Geneva: ICRC

Masud-All-Kamal, M. (2013) ‘Livelihood coping and recovery from disaster: the case of coastal Bangladesh’, Journal of Social Sciences 5(1): 35-44.

Severijnen, E. and Steinbock, L. (2018) Childhood interrupted: children’s voices from the Rohingya refugee crisis. London: Save the Children International, Plan International and World Vision International

Slim, H. (2015) Humanitarian ethics: a guide to the morality of aid in war and disaster. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sphere Project (2011) Humanitarian charter and minimum standards in humanitarian response. Geneva: Sphere Project

Sword-Daniels, V., Twigg, J., Rossetto, T. and Johnston, D. (2016) ‘Unpacking long-term disaster recovery processes: a case study of the healthcare system in Montserrat, West Indies’, International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 34(10): 113-142.

UK House of Commons International Development Committee (2018a) Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis. Second report of session 2017–19. London: House of Commons.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules