• Offered by Department of International Relations
  • ANU College ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
  • Classification Transitional
  • Course subject International Relations
  • Areas of interest International Relations
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Cecilia Jacob
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in Second Semester 2020
    See Future Offerings

All activities that form part of this course will be delivered remotely in Sem 2 2020.

When large-scale human suffering occurs, does the international community have a responsibility to assist? Who exactly should take action? What principles should guide these actors? What is the role of law and politics in humanitarian action? This course examines international responses to human suffering caused by armed conflict, mass atrocities and complex humanitarian disasters to address these questions. We look at the history and development of law and institutions that shape contemporary international humanitarian action. We consider the changing global security context in which humanitarian action takes place, and examine the actors involved in humanitarian action, from non-state, to state and multilateral actors. The course will provide students with an in-depth understanding of the concepts, politics and practice of humanitarianism, and with skills to analyse current trends and developments in this important area of international politics.  

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Understand the key conceptual, theoretical and and political debates relevant to humanitarianism as a field of study and practice.
  2. A deep knowledge of the historical evolution of the legal frameworks and organizations that shape contemporary humanitarian practice.
  3. Ability to apply various theoretical and analytical approaches to important humanitarian issues in global politics.
  4. Strong ability to communicate ideas and arguments related to the subject matter effectively through written and verbal expression.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Seminar Presentation (10) [LO 1,2,4]
  2. Book Review (10) [LO 1,3,4]
  3. Review Essay (30) [LO 1,3,4]
  4. Major research essay (50) [LO 1,2,3,4]

In response to COVID-19: Please note that Semester 2 Class Summary information (available under the classes tab) is as up to date as possible. Changes to Class Summaries not captured by this publication will be available to enrolled students via Wattle. 

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


2-hour weekly lecture (x12), 1-hour weekly tutorial (x 12). 7 hours personal study: Weekly reading(60-80 pages per week).

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have successfully completed 48 units of university courses.

Prescribed Texts

Barnett, Michael (2011) The Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Cornell: Cornell University Press)

Elizabeth G. Ferris (2011) The Politics of Protection: The Limits of Humanitarian Action.  (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.)

Preliminary Reading

Acuto, Michele (ed.) (2014) Negotiating Relief: The Politics of Humanitarian Space (London: Hurst &

Anderson, Mary (1999) Do no harm: how aid can support peace or war (Boulder, Colo. : Lynne Rienner Publishers).

Barnett, Michael and Thomas Weiss eds, (2008) Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, and Ethics,
Cornell: Cornell University Press (Cornell University Press: Ithaca).

Barnett, Michael & Thomas Weiss (2011) Humanitarianism Contested: Where Angels Fear to Tread. (London
& New York: Routledge).

Chaulia, Sreeram (2011) International Organizations and Civilian Protection: Power, Ideas and Humanitarian Aid in Conflict Zones (London and New York: I.B. Taurus)

de Waal, Alex(1997) Famine crimes: politics and the disaster relief industry in Africa (http://library.anu.edu.au/
record=b2003089) (James Currey and IAI London).

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

Hoffman, P.J. and T.G.Weiss, eds, (2006) Sword and salve (Rowman and Little).

Jacob, Cecilia and Cook, Alistair D.B. (eds) (2016) Civilian Protection in the Twenty-first Century: Governance and Responsibility in a Fragmented World. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press)

OCHA, (2004) The Humanitarian Decade, Vol. 2, (New York, UN OCHA).

Rieff, David (2002) A bed for the night: humanitarianism in crisis (http://library.anu.edu.au/record=b2153921)
(London: Vintage).

Shapcott, Richard (2010) International ethics: a critical introduction (Cambridge: Polity)

Terry, Fiona (2002) The paradox of humanitarian action: condemned to repeat? (Cornell University Press:
Ithaca and London).

Walker, Peter and Daniel Maxwell (2009) Shaping the Humanitarian World (London and New York:

Weiss, Thomas G. (2012) The Humanitarian Business. (Cambridge; Malden, Ma: Polity).

Weiss, Thomas G. (2012) Humanitarian Intervention: War and Conflict in the Modern World (Cambridge; Malden, Ma: Polity).

Barnett, Michael ‘Humanitarianism transformed’ Perspectives on Politics, December 2005, vol 3: 4.

Chandler, David (2001), ‘The road to military humanitarianism: How the Human Rights NGOs shaped the new
humanitarian agenda’ Human Rights Quarterly vol. 23: 3.

Cutts, Mark (1998) ‘Politics and Humanitarianism’ Refugee Quarterly vol. 17: 1.

DeTorrente, Nicolas (2004) ‘Humanitarian Action Under Attack: Reflections on the Iraq War’ Harvard Human
Rights Journal vol. 17, pp. 1 29.

Mills, Kurt (2005) ‘Neo Humanitarianism — The role of international humanitarian norms and organization in
contemporary conflict’ Global Governance vol. 11, pp.161183.

Parmlee, Maurice (1915) ‘The Rise of Modern Humanitarianism’ The American Journal of Sociology vol.21: 3,
pp.354 359.

Pictet, Jean (1979) The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross : commentary. Available at

Slim, Hugo (2001), ‘Not Philanthropy But Right: Rights Based Humanitarianism and the Proper Politicisation of Humanitarian Philosophy’, Seminar on the politics of Humanitarian Aid: Debates Dilemmas and Dissension,
Commonwealth Institute, London, Feb. 1, 2001.

Warner, Daniel (1999) ‘The politics of the political/humanitarian divide’ International Review of the Red Cross,
no. 833, 109118.

Assumed Knowledge

INTR1021 and INTR1022 are recommended but not compulsory for students taking this course as an advanced elective.




Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

If you are a domestic graduate coursework or international student you will be required to pay tuition fees. Tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2020 $3840
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2020 $5460
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

Second Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
9389 27 Jul 2020 03 Aug 2020 31 Aug 2020 30 Oct 2020 In Person View

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