ANT190-003: Freshman Seminar:Anthropology

Topic: Politic/Humanitarianism/Africa

August 24, 2016 - December 6, 2016
DaysTimeLocationInstructorGERCreditOPUS #
2:30pm - 3:45pm
New Psyc Bldg 220 (36 Eagle Ro
Phillips, Kristin
Appropriate for First Year students.

Seminar on various anthropological topics. Satisfies general education Freshman Seminar.

Special Evidence-Focused Seminar. For more information:

The last century has seen the rise of humanitarian aid – aid and action designed to save lives and alleviate suffering - to Africa by the Global North, even amidst seemingly contradictory projects of colonialism, neoliberal economic policy, and military intervention. Humanitarian projects in Africa have taken many forms, from delivering food, shelter, clothing, or other basic needs to people in crisis; to providing medical and psychological services; to offering military protection. Yet increasingly we also hear critiques of humanitarian aid’s unintended consequences and/or unspoken agendas. In this freshman seminar we will draw on historical and anthropological studies of humanitarian aid to understand its ethics, politics, and practicalities. We will ask the following questions:


  • How did humanitarianism in Africa arise alongside colonial conquest, control, and violence?
  • What new forms of humanitarianism emerged with neoliberal reforms in Africa and the West in the late-twentieth century?
  • What are the mixed effects of humanitarian projects, and what ethical and political dilemmas does such engagement pose?
  • Who is the contemporary humanitarian subject, disposed to labor on behalf of others and inclined – even needing - to help? What conceptions of “help” drive this engagement?
  • What motivates people to voluntarily live a “life in crisis”, and what emotional and physical costs do they bear?
  • Who bears the right to speak for those who do and do not survive crisis, and to represent their suffering to distant audiences? And of equal import, what is the nature of their obligation to do so?
  • And finally, how do diverse groups of people living in African contexts today understand, participate in, and experience humanitarian projects and their many contradictions?


This course provides students with a set of conceptual tools and lenses to analyze the discourse and practice of humanitarian aid in Africa. Themes to be explored critically in relation to humanitarianism include: colonialism, postcolonialism, and neo-colonialism; gender and generation; violence and suffering; ethics; media; representations of Africa; neoliberalism; and the politics of global health. Course materials will include historical accounts, ethnographic texts, theoretical articles from anthropology and history, film, news media articles, and political commentaries.



The schedule of courses on O.P.U.S. is the official listing of courses, including days and times they meet and the General Education Requirements they satisfy. Students should use course descriptions as general guidelines. Course requirements, grading details, book lists, and syllabi are subject to change.