Academic Year 2021/2022 - 1° Year
Teaching Staff: Mara Benadusi
Credit Value: 6
Scientific field: M-DEA/01 - Demology, ethnology and anthropology
Taught classes: 36 hours
Term / Semester:

Course Structure

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

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

Detailed Course Content

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.

Textbook Information

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]