There is much talk of the ‘relief to development’ continuum in the aid world, and about the need to create clusters of agencies to work together in providing more coherent responses to the needs of populations. However, there are underlying tensions associated with relief and development which continually arise, not least because relief is shaped by an ideology, humanitarianism, which, in essence, requires development to fail. Humanitarianism is a powerful, pervasive and resilient set of ideas associated with saving strangers. It tends to legitimise actions by assertions about intentions, rather than results, and it requires suffering to exist. Partly as a consequence, the field of humanitarianism is characterised by profound uncertainty, by a constant need to respond to the unpredictable, and by concepts and practices that often defy simple or straightforward explanation. Inevitably, practices and principles are contradictory, and contingent on funding, political will and attitudes to those in need of help. Humanitarians often find themselves not just engaged in the pursuit of more effective action, but also in a quest for meaning. Also, in recent years humanitarians have confronted geopolitical challenges that have upended much of their conventional modus operandi. This has presented threats to foundational assumptions and legal frameworks. Just about every tenet of humanitarianism is currently open to question as never before. The critical interrogation of the purpose, practice and future of humanitarian action is the focus of this course. The topics covered will be as follows:

1 Humanitarianism – origins and trajectories for the saving strangers in wars and disasters

2 Medical Humanitarianism: From the battle of Battle of Solferino to the West African Ebola epidemic

3 Humanitarianism and Forced Migration: Refugees, returnees and internally displaced people

4 Humanitarian Aid: What is it? Where does it come from? Where is it spent and why?

5 Humanitarian Intervention and Responsibility to Protect – Enforcement action for ostensibly humanitarian purposes

6 Legal Humanitarianism – Humanitarian Law, and the quest to prosecute genocide or comparable atrocities

7 Is better humanitarianism possible? – A debate

Various readings will be suggested for each session, but the main text for the course will be Tim Allen, Anna Macdonald and Henry Radice eds. Humanitarianism: A Dictionary of Concepts Routledge 2018. This is a collection of up to date essays by many of the key authors in the field, including Mary Kaldor, Alex de Waal, Christine Chinkin, and Chris Brown, as well as Tim Allen.

This class is taught be Prof. Tim Allen of the LSE - a visiting professor