Anno accademico 2021/2022 - 1° anno
Docente: Mara Benadusi
Crediti: 6
SSD: M-DEA/01 - Discipline demoetnoantropologiche
Organizzazione didattica: 150 ore d'impegno totale, 114 di studio individuale, 36 di lezione frontale

Modalità di svolgimento dell'insegnamento

This is an interactive teaching style course. Classes will consist of seminar meetings, film screenings, individual and collective discussion papers on the assigned reading material, spcecial guests' lectures, and a final written assignment. All students will be expected to actively engage with readings, lectures, and class discussion. Students’ general attendance, consistence, punctuality, and personal contribution to daily debates significantly shape their overall assessment and final grade.

Prerequisiti richiesti

If students do not have a previous basic knowledge of anthropology, a general reading of the following book is required before the beginning of the course: Matthew Engelke, "Think Like an Anthropologist", Pelican Books, 2017.

Frequenza lezioni

Attendance is mandatory. A maximum of three classes can be missed, provided that student emailed me in advance.

Contenuti del corso

In recent years, humanitarian interventions have gained a high attention in global politics and Euro-Mediterranean relations. Humanitarian personnel - lawyers, doctors, social workers, activists, etc. - striving for human rights, public health, and the security of civilians in endangered environments are more and more involved in a massive institutional apparatus, with an array of funding mechanisms and transnational intervention logics. Humanitarianism, however, has existed for centuries before formally arising in the first half of the 20th century, and has crossed into various ethical, political, and cultural frontiers and problematics.

This course contributes to the understanding of humanitarian governance, offering an introduction to anthropological theories that analyze the socio-cultural stakes of humanitarian aid. It will focus on the concept of “humanitarianism” to analyze the transformations of the intervention logics and “need-to-help” reasons in the field of international cooperation in response to humanitarian crises at global level, and in the Mediterranean area more specifically.

Students will be asked to read and discuss ethnographic case studies in different regional contexts (from disaster relief in Haiti and the Indian Ocean tsunami to post-war military interventions in the Balkans) which focus on diverse fields of humanitarian intervention: migrations and forced displacement, environmental crises and natural disasters, human-rights violation, and the care and housing of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Particular attention will be given to the ways in which different notions of vulnerability, emergency, aid, relief, recovery, justice are mobilized in these fields, both in practices and discourses, in order to consider the fundamental anthropological and power-related implications of humanitarian work.


The course will give the ability to:

  • Understand from an actor-oriented perspective the historical transformations of the “humanitarian reason” under the pressures of forced displacement, climate change, economic and health crises;
  • Familiarize with the deep lens of ethnography to examine case studies, intervention projects and policy documents from the viewpoints of those displaced and distressed, as well of those who intervene and intermediate in the disbursement of aid;
  • Critically discern the ways in which different actors in the humanitarian sector (e.g. INGOs, NGOs, Human Rights’ Activism organizations, etc.) identify global problems and local imperatives, discussing their “cultural” and “moral” presumptions;
  • Examine, understand and interpret humanitarian policies and practices that address human rights-violation, post-disaster reconstruction and the refugees’ crisis from a cultural and gender-sensitive perspective;
  • Identify the unbalance of power - both linked to global and local dynamics - which structures, and eventually hinders, the encounter between target populations, humanitarian institutions and local authorities.
  • Envision new possible spaces for political and social scientists in humanitarian interventions, inside and outside the current regulatory frames, not only as consultants, administrators, or as direct providers of humanitarian assistance, but also as international witnesses and alternative public voices.

Testi di riferimento

Feldman, Ilana, and Miriam Iris Ticktin, eds. 2010. In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press.

[Other reading materials (short papers and book chapters) will be available on Studium]

Programmazione del corso

 ArgomentiRiferimenti testi
1Introduction: Humanitarianism unpackedFeldman, Ilana, and Miriam Iris Ticktin 
2Global Governance or local imperatives? Humanitarian entanglements Feldman, Ilana, and Miriam Iris Ticktin 
3Theorizing the Humanitarian EncounterFeldman, Ilana, and Miriam Iris Ticktin 
4Humanitarian reasons: Norms, ethics, and politicsFeldman, Ilana, and Miriam Iris Ticktin 
5Moral dilemma 1: Human Rights and Gender-Based Violence selected readings on Studium 
6Moral dilemma 2: Trauma and the Psychologization of the victims selected readings on Studium 
7Moral dilemma 3: Political Reconstruction and the Makings of ''Civil Society'' selected readings on Studium 
8Moral dilemma 4: Still Vulnerable, yet already Resilientselected readings on Studium 
9Who are the Humanitarians? Humanitarian cultures, self-care practices, and the need to protect selected readings on Studium 
10Looking Up: On the Pitfalls of Post-humanitarian Encountersselected readings on Studium 

Verifica dell'apprendimento

Modalità di verifica dell'apprendimento

Course evaluation will be based on students’ overall participation, group facilitation, 2 discussion papers (2 pages - double spaced), and a final exam with a written report. During the semester students will be also expected to follow the progress of one specific humanitarian situation globally, using available news and humanitarian information outlets. Assessment will be based on the following parameters:


Overall participation (20%)
The classes run seminar-style and students are expected to actively participate and demonstrate understanding of the readings. All students must complete the readings on time, and be prepared to discuss and/or present them in class, highlight passages for analysis, and raise questions for debate. Apart from the readings, in class we will discuss newspaper articles, blogs, films and videos. I will upload such material on Studium and students are expected to read/view it and be prepared to participate in a debate/discussion in class.


Group facilitation (20%)
At the beginning of the course, students will sign up to function as facilitators for the discussion in one seminar. They will be called on in the respective class to give a 15΄ presentation. The other students will be invited to critique and add to the presentation. Depending on the size of the class, these may be group presentations. Presentations must address the following issues: What is the main argument and goal of the seminar? What evidence is provided for the argument? Do you consider this argument solid? Why or why not? What is the analytical prism through which the objective/research question of the seminar is addressed (key concepts, theories)? Try to end your presentation with a couple of open-ended questions for the class.


Discussion papers (20%)
Each student is expected to present a discussion paper to the class twice during the semester. Reader responses consist of 2 pages where students will describe their reaction to one or more of the readings/films presented in the course. Assessment will be based on the students’ ability to demonstrate critical thinking and elaborate on the course's materials.


Final Exam (40%)
The final exam is comprised of two tasks: a written report and an oral examination session. The report is a 10 pages text (double spaced), that will follow a structure provided by the teacher at the end of the course. The questions will pertain to the readings, film screenings and class lectures covered in the semester. Students will receive the grade for their written assignments, and feedback approximately 15 days after the deadlines. Individual oral examination sessions will be then arranged. The final exam will be judged on the basis of pertinence and substantive quality, domination of the assigned material, critical insight and logical coherence.


N.B. Students are encouraged to contact me for receiving help or discussing their ideas during all the semester. They can also consult me on possible additional bibliographical references or proposals for their final dissertation.