The Frontier of Anthropological Research: Anthropology of humanitarianism



Mål og innhald

This course gives a comprehensive introduction to a specific area of contemporary anthropological investigation. Current research trends and recent theoretical developments are explored through critical discussions with emphasis on anthropology's evolving engagement with the selected field. The course offers a unique opportunity to be acquainted with diverse aspects - methodological, epistemological and theoretical - of the research process, aspects that lie at the very basis of anthropological analysis and practice, and of ethnographic production.

Course theme spring 2023

The course will have two main goals: 1) to introduce students to the field of humanitarian studies, and 2) to explore dynamics of humanitarian access and negotiations via an ethnographic perspective. Students will familiarize with the scope and implications of humanitarian interventions and emergency relief, and will have the opportunity to discuss the political and cultural categories that have marked the relationship between the "giver" and the "receiver" in humanitarian contexts.

The course will introduce students in the conceptual universe of humanitarianism. Since at least the mid-nineteenth century, humanitarian relief has spread worldwide to become a global salvific narrative that today is captured in the notion of "humanitarianism" - whereby the suffix "ism" embodies a whole set of beliefs, practices, categories, discourses, and procedures that, although flexible and apt to change quickly, are recognizable as "humanitarian." Humanitarianism is manifested in a plurality of actions, movements, and ethics, which are different in their forms of implementation and expression and yet are coherent in their idealistic intentions.

While these intentions build on core humanitarian principles such as "Neutrality", "Independence", "Humanity," and "Impartiality", they go beyond these to define a modern redemptory attitude that is expressed in forms of compassion and government. Humanitarianism is not simply a reaction to crisis but a vast, articulated, evolving, and multiscale mesh of different actors, politics, and structures. It is a modality of intervention in the world (with the aim of improving it), a global ethos that is driven by a call to address human needs in extraordinary, unbalanced, or unequal circumstances.


A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


  • provide an overview of the field of study addressed in the course, with particular reference to its history and theoretical and methodological debates in social anthropology


  • explain the current state-of-art of research in the field of study addressed in the course
  • explain the various methodological and theoretical considerations that must be taken in order to further develop the field of study

General competence

  • apply key concepts and perspectives from the course and its field of study independently, in the understanding and analysis of local and global processes
  • apply an understanding of the correlation and difference between empirical data, theory and analysis in text production

Studiepoeng, omfang

5 studiepoeng

Studienivå (studiesyklus)

Bachelor level


Krav til forkunnskapar
No previous course in Social Anthropology is required.
Tilrådde forkunnskapar
Introductory courses in Social Anthropology  
Krav til studierett
This course is open to students at University of Bergen
Arbeids- og undervisningsformer
Lectures and group discussions
Obligatorisk undervisningsaktivitet

Minimum 50 % attendance to lectures is compulsory.

Approved compulsory requirements are only valid for the semester they are approved.


Take home exam, 5 days. Words: 2000-3000

The exam will be given in the language in which the course is taught.
The exam can be submitted in English, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish.

Grading A-F
Assessment in teaching semester.
The reading list will be ready before 1 December for the spring semester
All courses are regularly evaluated according to UiB´s quality assurance system.
The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses
Administrativt ansvarleg
The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses