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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Arzoo Osanloo
LSJ 510
Seattle Campus

Topics in Law and Society Studies

Current topics in law and society studies.

Class description

HUMANITARIANISM: What makes us care about the suffering of others? When, as a society, do we decide to extend our compassion and benevolence to those in pain, those living precarious lives (Butler 2004)? What ethical principles guide these commitments? And finally, what institutions and mechanisms comprise the social governance of pain? To answer the questions above, this course takes an anthropological and socio-legal approach to understanding humanitarianism, this “ethic of kindness,” that guides much social, political, and moral debate around how to address the suffering of groups and individuals, especially those far-away and bearing little resemblance to us, either physically or culturally. Through an interdisciplinary approach, we will trace the underlying moral and political considerations that lead us to care about the suffering of others. Readings will take up the issues of which lives we, as an international community, see as worthy of saving, and why. In this context, we will consider the meaning of ‘caring’ about others. This exploration into the meanings and expressions of humanitarianism begins with an examination of political and anthropological theories underlying our social concern with suffering. We then move on to consider the historical foundations and legal instruments of international humanitarian action. As we do, we will explore contemporary acts of humanitarianism in different upheavals, crises, and conflict situations. Throughout, there will be a focus on the politics that affect and shape humanitarianism as a response to human suffering.

While there is no pre-requisite, this course builds on critical human rights scholarship. We will not re-visit the introductory material, so familiarity with it is expected. Thus, it is preferred that students have taken LSJ 321/ANTH 323, LSJ 426, LSJ 497/ANTH 498, or have equivalent preparation.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Seminar: student-led discussion with instructor offering background and synthesis.

Recommended preparation

Previous knowledge, experience or courses in human rights and or humanitarianism, refugee studies, especially requisite: LSJ 321/ANTH 323, LSJ 426, LSJ 497/ANTH 498, or equivalent.

Class assignments and grading

written papers, oral presentations, and class participation


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Arzoo Osanloo
Date: 03/14/2014