Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Cultures of Human Rights and Humanitarianism (PGSP11295)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe need to save humanity from itself has become one of the dominant cries in contemporary politics. The claims of human rights and humanitarianism have been at the forefront of this global urge to mend, ameliorate, or even transform the circumstances of disorder and atrocity, bringing with them very particular visions of what it means to be human. However, the languages of human rights and humanitarianism are not a human constant. We therefore need to ask how have the approaches of human rights and humanitarianism become dominant, what assumptions do they hold and what tensions do they contain?

As such, this course provides an examination of the nature of contemporary thinking and practice in the fields of human rights and humanitarianism. The core of the course is rooted in a broadly anthropological approach to the issues, but draws widely on history, politics, and sociology. Contemporary case studies will be used in order to illustrate the issues.
Course description The course's aim is to provide students with a critical understanding of the historical and cultural specificity of contemporary notions of human rights and humanitarianism. This involves the following: analysing the common origins and differences between human rights and humanitarians; analysing the specific assumptions about what it means to be human embedded within human rights and humanitarianism; analysing the ways in which human rights and humanitarianism are embedded within specific political configurations; analysing the relationship between the aspiration and practice of human rights and humanitarianism; and applying social science approaches to key controversies within the fields of human rights and humanitarianism.

By illustration, topics might include the following: human rights activism, torture, freedom of conscience, refugees, trauma, transitional justice, humanitarian intervention, and international criminal justice.

Student Learning Experience:
The course will consist of 10 one hour lectures with an accompanying one hour seminar. The seminar will give students the opportunity to raise questions, to discuss topics brought up in the lecture and the readings, and to give short presentations on themes of their interest.
The seminars will be partially structured around a close analysis of the readings marked * on the syllabus. Students should come to the seminars prepared to say two things they like and two things they do not like about the starred reading.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show an extensive and critical understanding of key debates relating to human rights and humanitarianism.
  2. show an advanced and critical understanding of the contribution of anthropology and other qualitative social sciences to the critical analysis of human rights and humanitarianism
  3. show an advanced and critical understanding of the historical and cultural particularity of contemporary ideas about human rights and humanitariani
Reading List
Indicative Reading:

Barnett, Michael and Thomas G. Weiss. 2009. Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Cornell University Press.
Fassin, Didier and Richard Rechtman. 2009. Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Princeton University Press.
Ignatieff, Michael. 2001. Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. Princeton University Press.
Kennedy, David. 2004. The Dark Side of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism. Princeton University Press.
Merry, Sally Engle. 2005. Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice. University of Chicago Press.
Moyn, Samuel. 2010. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Columbia University Press.
Sontag, Susan 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. Picador.
Wilson, Richard A. and Richard Brown, eds. 2009. Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy. Cambridge University Press.
Wilson, Richard. 2001. The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Leila Sinclair-Bright
Course secretaryMiss Becky Guthrie
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information