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6AAVC312 Development and Humanitarianism in a Digital Age

Module convenor: Dr Peter Chonka
Credits: 15

Teaching pattern: Ten one-hour lectures and ten one-hour seminars
Module description:

This module explores contemporary debates around 'international development' and 'humanitarianism' in a world increasinglycharacterised by digital connectivity. 'Information Communication Technologies for development' (ICT4D) is a rapidly expanding field, and scholars and practitioners are increasingly interested in the ways in which digital connectivity can impact upon both macro-economic growth and human development.The module begins with a critical analysis of the historical and philosophical concepts of development and humanitarianism.We will examine the history of the emergence of a global development and humanitarian 'industry' and think critically aboutmany of the assumptions and power-dynamics that underpin popular, policy, practitioner and scholarly understandings of how these actors operate in the globalised world and how development 'happens'. After defining these key concepts, students will be encouraged to think about the historical relationship between the media and responses to humanitarian crises. We will analyse the extent to which the development of 'new media' technologies affects these dynamics as well as different forms of armed conflict which often cause or exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophes that modern aid agencies engage with. Aside from this politics of mediated humanitarian 'visibility', we will also explore the practical applications of digital media technologies (e.g. crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding, big data analysis) for responses to different types of natural and man-made disasters.Shifting focus away from crisis-orientated humanitarianism, the module moves on to consider the wider field of ICT for broader strategies of socio-economic development across the world. Starting from the broadest level, students will consider the opportunities and constraints faced by states in the 'developing world' in leveraging the technologies of the 'network society' for macro-economic growth. This will be followed by examination of the ways in which new media tools potentially facilitate 'market inclusion' in these changing economies for marginalised groups. This leads to a discussion of a broader conceptualisation of 'human development' and an exploration of the extent to which digital connectivity can lead to positive social change, empowerment, or new forms of contestation.The final part of the module looks at the relationship between digital connectivity and the emergence of so-called 'new'development actors. Shifting the focus away from 'traditional' (primarily Western or Western-based) donors or agencies, we will consider the role of groups such as digitally connected diasporic populations, powerful non-Western development orientated states, and transnational social movements in both contributing to and challenging orthodoxies of development and paths to socio-economic change.

Module aims

The primary aim of this module is to provide students with the practical and theoretical tools necessary to understand howdigital media are influencing international development and humanitarian responses worldwide. Of benefit to students whomay seek employment in various sectors (the development industry itself, government, civil society or the corporate world), the module seeks to give students a broad introduction to theories of development and humanitarian response, and an appreciation of the changes and continuities brought by global expansions of ICT and digital media. It is intended that students will gain an understanding of the differences and linkages between development and humanitarianism, as well as some of the complexities of these global industries where digital tools are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Aside from gaining an understanding of the great potentials that ICT brings for economic and social development, students will be encouraged to think critically about how these potentials are represented and realised, as well as underlying power dynamics which affect their application in different parts of the world. Although the module is not entirely focused on the 'global south', the module is intended to contribute to the wider BA Digital Culture programme by pushing students to think about the impact of digital connectivity on social and economic change in non-western contexts.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to:

  • demonstrate understanding of the historical context of the development industry and the new challenges and opportunitiesbrought by the expansion of the global ‘network society’;
  • critically engage in debates around power and representation in digital media coverage of humanitarian issues;
  • demonstrate awareness of the interrelationships between the emergence of networked digital communications and botheconomic growth and ‘human development’;
  • understand the opportunities, risks and underlying power dynamics of digital technology use by development practitioners.

Core reading



30% Policy brief:(1000 word on particular technology and developmental potential)

70% Essay (3000 words, choice of questions)

 The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years. 

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