Convenor: Dr Suzanne Temwa Gondwe Harris

Today more than ever, images and narratives of vulnerable people in zones of poverty, disaster, violence and conflict routinely populate everyday lives in the West, produced by a wide range of organisations and individuals, and appearing in a wide range of platforms (NGO websites, news networks, social media and celebrity advocacy). In this course, we explore the changing practices of humanitarian communication, addressing questions such as: What are the histories of humanitarian communication? How is it changing today and why? What are the tensions and dilemmas that organizations face as they struggle to communicate the plight of distant others? What kind of politics of visibility and voice is played out in humanitarian communication? What are the ideological and ethical positions informing and informed by the digital narratives and spectacles of vulnerable others - and how do these change when ‘others’ speak for themselves? And finally, what are the challenges of 21st century humanitarian communication and can we do it better? 

To explore these issues, students will participate in Harvard-style seminars each week, debating the theoretical principles and empirical realities of humanitarian communication, its contemporary power and moralising force, as well as the tensions and complexities that underpin its practices and effects.