Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

No poverty Reduced inequalities Climate Action Peace, justice and strong institutions

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course the student will be able to critically evaluate and comprehend the different concepts and methods used in the field of social and humanitarian communication. In particular, through the use of examples and case studies, the student will become acquainted with: the complex system of relations that connects poverty, development, solidarity and the representation of sufferance; the different forms of communication employed in the media by social and humanitarian organizations, the processes of construction of social problems, the principles regulating the design of social communication campaigns, the different implications that the use of strategic tools (e.g. storytelling, celebrities, branding) have on this specific segment of communication.

Course contents

The course is organized in lectures and seminars, as detailed in the following program. In seminars, active participation through presentations of existing scholarship and case studies will also be expected.

This course introduces students to humanitarian and social communication and discusses how social problems are constructed and represented. In particular, the course will explore how humanitarian issues and crises have been historically publicized through the media and examine the challenges posed to humanitarian organizations by the advent of digital media. The course will critically discuss how the use of poverty porn, celebrity humanitarianism, and new media narrations of otherness affect the communication of organizations looking for effective ways to bring about change in the developing world. The use of case studies will prepare students to lead strategic planning for NGOs’ communication and government agencies while also understanding the role that communication has in affecting social change.

Students are encouraged to think critically about the readings and the material provided in class. This course is meant to expand the students’ conceptual frameworks and develop their ability to critically engage with media representations and narratives of crisis, development, and social change. At the end of the course, the student will have an in-depth understanding of the key concepts that underpin international aid, philanthropy work, and social marketing campaigns.


Required readings for ALL students (attending and NOT attending):

Abidin, Crystal, Dan Brockington, Michael K. Goodman, Mary Mostafanezhad, and Lisa Ann Richey. "The tropes of celebrity environmentalism." Annual Review of Environment and Resources 45 (2020): 387-410.

Boltanski, L. (2000): The Legitimacy of Humanitarian Actions and their Media Representations: The Case of France. Ethical Perspectives, 7(1), pp. 3-16

Chouliaraki, L., (2008). The Mediation of Suffering and the Vision of a Cosmopolitan Public. Television & New media, 9(5), pp. 371/391

Chouliaraki, L., Stolic, T., (2017). Rethinking media responsibility in the refugee crisis. A visual typology of European news. Media, Culture & Society, 39(8), PP. 1162-1177

Hilgartner, S., Bosk, C.L. (1988). The Rise and Fall of Social Problems. American Journal of Sociology, 94, pp. 53-78

Jansen, T., (2014). Welfare Commonsense, Poverty porn and Doxosophy" Sociological Research Online, 19 (3)

Manzo, K., (2008) Imagining humanitarianism: Ngo identity and the iconography of childhood. Antipode, 40(4), pp. 632-657

Mitchell, K., (2016). Celebrity humanitarianism, transnational emotion and the rise of neoliberal citizenship. Global networks, 16(3), pp. 288-306

Olesen, T. (2020). Greta Thunberg’s iconicity: Performance and co-performance in the social media ecology. New Media & Society

Özdemir, B. P. (2012). Social media as a tool for online advocacy campaigns: Greenpeace Mediterranean's anti genetically Engineered Food Campaign in Turkey. Global Media Journal, 5(2), 23.

Silverstone, R. (2002). Complicity and collusion in the mediation of everyday life. New Literary History 33(4): 761-780


Additional required readings for NON ATTENDING students/ Suggested readings for attending students

Borum Chattoo, C., Feldmann, L., (2017). Storytelling for social change: leveraging documentary and comedy for public engagement in global poverty". Journal of Communication, 67(5), pp. 678-701

Lefebvre, R. C., (2012). Transformative Social Marketing: Co-creating the social marketing discipline and brand. Journal of Social Marketing, 2 (2), pp. 118-129

Phing, A. N. M., & Yazdanifard, R. (2014). How does ALS Ice bucket challenge achieve its viral outcome through marketing via social media?. Global Journal of Management and Business Research.

Ponte, S., Richey, L.A., & Baab, M. (2009). Bono’s Product (RED) Initiative: corporate social responsibility that solves the problems of “distant others”. Third World Quarterly, 30(2), pp. 301-318

Shildrick, T., (2018). Lessons from Grenfell: Poverty propaganda, stigma and class power. The Sociological Review Monographs, 66(4), pp. 783–798

von Engelhardt, J., Jansz, J., (2014). Challenging humanitarian communication: an empirical exploration of "Kony 2012". The International Communication Gazette, p. 1-21

Teaching methods

Active learning is an important part of this course. Some days I will lecture for much of the class, however, on most days, I will expect the class to engage actively in the discussion of the readings and of the media texts that we will have the opportunity to examine together.

Assessment methods

Attending students

Individual or group presentation........... 20%

Term Paper.........................................30%

Final exam……………………………………………….50%

Individual or group presentation

Students will be responsible for participating in a group/individual presentation on a topic of interest. In particular, students will be asked to critically engage in the analysis of a social communication campaign or to design a campaign over a topic of their choice. Substantial use of class materials and readings is expected for this assignment. There will be space for an interactive dialogue with the rest of the class after each presentation. The presentations will be scheduled by the end of the semester. Term paper

The final paper is intended to provide students with the opportunity to fully explore their favorite topic and to examine it from a more empirical perspective. The paper should incorporate course material (textbook, lectures, and/or discussion), as well as students, own opinions and reflections in order to provide a depth analysis of an example of your choice.

The aim of the class is to think critically about humanitarian and social communication, as well as to reflect on how social problems are constructed and represented, so this is the opportunity for students to think through what they have learned in greater depth.

Please be aware that the final paper is not intended to be a collage of comments that other people had made about the topic of choice. Moreover, despite the importance of anyone’s own understanding/analysis of the topic, please also consider that the term paper is intended to be an academic paper, and as such students should look at the media with a scholarly eye.

Students should incorporate at least four (4) of the readings from this class. A modest number of follow-up readings could also, of course, be useful.

On a technical level, the paper should be 5 to 8 pages long, 12 pt. font Time New Roman and 1.5 spaced (approx. 2500-4000 words). I expect that the paper will have a clear structure and that it will be free from basic errors.

The paper is due on the day of the exam. You must send me an electronic copy of your paper (via email) and provide me with a hard copy of your work on that exact day.

More details on the assignment will be given later in the course.

Final exam

The final exam will be on all the required readings for attending students.


Students that are NOT attending classes:

Term Paper.........................................30%

Written exam………………………..70%

Term paper

See above: same indications as for students attending class apply.

The Paper is due on the day of the exam. You must send me an electronic copy of your paper (via email) and provide me with a hard copy of your work.

Final exam

The final exam will be on all the readings.

NB: Attendance and class participation

Attendance is strongly encouraged and expected. Students are expected to read the assigned chapters or material prior to class and participate in class discussions. Ask questions, be curious!

Teaching tools

Lectures, slides, video, websites, reports, case studies

Office hours

See the website of Chiara Gius