Scheda insegnamento

Anno Accademico 2017/2018

Conoscenze e abilità da conseguire

At the end of the course, the student will be able to understand and analyze the way the western media covers the developing world and the humanitarian emergencies. Being more specific, the student will be able to understand and analyze: - the emerging and historical humanitarian narratives, with particular reference to the way in which the activities of NGOs are reported; - how we understand and explain faraway disasters; - how the media representations of suffering and violence has changed in the post cold war period and in the digital era; - the relationship between media, aid, corporate communication and branding; - the relationship between power, media and migration.


Media has for long played a central role in shaping the humanitarian field — and perhaps more specifically, the international community’s representations of the humanitarian field. The media’s role in covering humanitarian issues are manifold: from mediating and mediatizing humanitarian crises, initiating or serving as a platform for alerts about unfolding crises, to reporting on underlying causes of crises. Its power to frame perceptions about the key issues at stake in a crisis, or to spark attention through a carefully selected image are well-known. Humanitarian actors are also well aware of this power of media in drawing attention to crises, and thus attracting more political attention and international donations, as can be seen in the ways humanitarian organizations’ campaigns are organized.

This course aims to encourage students to think sociologically about a range of issues and “social problems”  related to the different ways in which media is used to report on humanitarian situations, and what impact this has.

 It also serves as an introduction to some important themes and issues within humanitarianism and migration. Areas under study include: the construction of “social problems”, media, ethics, human rights, disaster relief, war, famine, refugee camps, social movements, NGOs. A special focus is dedicated to the mediated performances that contribute to create the spectacle of the humanitarian border, which is physically and simbolically enacted by the different actors involved in contemporary management of migration.

Moving from the assumption that our awareness of nearly all humanitarian issues is defined by the media, this course looks at the literature associated with humanitarian organizations and the NGO narratives, tracing the imagined and real encounters between solidarity, participation, and citizenship in the context of larger social processes of mediation and globalization.

Examining humanitarian communication through various forms of aesthetic activism - documentary, photojournalism, benefit concerts, celebrities, live blogging -  the course invites students to explore how the circulation of humanitarian images and narratives impact the peoples it aims to serve, and what can we learn about global inequality from the stories associated with it.


  • Andersson, Ruben (2016): Europe’s failed ‘fight’ against irregular migration: ethnographic notes on a counterproductive industry. In: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42 (7), 1055-1075.

    Barnett, Michael/Weiss, Thomas George (2008): Humanitarianism: A Brief History of the Present. In: Barnett, Michael/Weiss, Thomas George (eds.): Humanitarianism in Question. Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1-48.

    Calhoun, Craig (2008): The Imperative to Reduce Suffering: Charity, Progress, and Emergencies in the Field of Humanitarian Action. In: Barnett, Michael/Weiss, Thomas George (eds.): Humanitarianism in Question. Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell University, 73-97.

    Chouliaraki, Lilie (2012): The Ironic Spectator. Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Chouliaraki, Lilie (2016): Cosmopolitanism. In: Gray, John/Ouelette, L. (eds.): Media Studies. New York: University Press, 2-4.

  • Fassin, Didier (2007): Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life. In: Public Culture, 19 (3), 499-520.

    Freedman, Jane (2016): Sexual and gender-based violence against refugee women: a hidden aspect of the refugee “crisis”. In: Reproductive Health Matters, 24 (47), 18-26.

    Hall, Nina (2017): Innovations in Activism in the Digital Era. Campaigning for Refugee Rights in 2015-16. In: List, Regina (eds.): The Governance Report 2017. Oxford: Hertie School of Governance, 143-156.

    Musarò, Pierluigi (2011): Living in Emergency: humanitarian images and the inequality of lives. In: New Cultural Frontiers, http://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/11212846.pdf.

  • Musarò Pierluigi, “Africans” vs. “Europeans”: Humanitarian Narratives and the Moral Geography of the World, Sociologia della Comunicazione, 45, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 2013

  • Musarò, Pierluigi (2016): Mare Nostrum: the visual politics of a military-humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean Sea. In: Media, Culture & Society, 39 (1), 1-18.

    Wihtol de Wenden, Catherine (2016): Actual Patterns of Migration Flows: The Challenge of Migration and Asylum in Contemporary Europe. In: Grimmel, Andreas/Giang, Susanny My (eds.): Solidarity in the European Union. Heildelberg: Springer, 67-79.

    How Europe's far right fell in love with Australia's immigration policy: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/12/how-europes-far-right-fell-in-love-with-australias-immigration-policy

Further readings and references (book chapters, articles, papers, documents, video) will be provided during the course.

Metodi didattici

A mix of lectures, seminars, collective discussion, student's presentations, documentaries and films on the issues of media and humanitarianism.

Modalità di verifica dell'apprendimento

Active participation and discussions    30%

Presentation and midterm exam  40%

Final paper                  30%

Participation: Since this is a seminar, active participation in class is a crucial part of your learning.  Through news articles, videos,  web sites, or readings you will help the teacher to stimulate discussion during the class.

Presentation and midterm exam: This is a research-based presentation – intended as a synthesis of both the literary and political materials we have discussed during the course - that you (or your study group) will read or present to the class in whatever format you wish. Further, there is a midterm in class exam in which the students are required to answer to some open questions.

Final Paper: This will be on a focused topic of your choice, drawing on research and careful analysis of select readings for the class. Further guidance will be given in class

To pass the course you must pass ALL assessments.

To register the final grade is necessary that you enrol in the official dates in the website Almaesami (https://almaesami.unibo.it/almaesami/welcome.htm) .

For those students who did not pass the exam, or wish to improve their score, it is MANDATORY to write a paper of 5000 words that includes-quotes ALL the papers of the program.

You have to deliver it printed in my office at least 2 weeks before the data of the oral exam and then you will discuss your work (and the program) during the exam.

It is NOT POSSIBLE to do the oral exam if the paper was not delivered before.



Strumenti a supporto della didattica

Papers, articles, films and documentaries, web sites.

Orario di ricevimento

Consulta il sito web di Pierluigi Musarò