Humanitarian aid and the problem and politics of dirty hands (Years 12 and 13)

University of Birmingham
Wednesday 8 March 2023 (13:00-15:00)

Class capacity: 30

Year group: 12 and 13

Subject(s): International Development and Humanitarianism

Attendee requirements: None

About: An introductory lecture will present the concept of humanitarianism as an ideal and as a justification for interventions across sovereign state borders. Together, students and staff will then grapple with an ethical and moral dilemma that is central to humanitarian work - the problem of dirty hands. What if fulfilling a duty to intervene and to help a distant ‘other’ is harder than you think? What if it might make you complicit in wrongs during a messy humanitarian emergency? What would you do if helping one person affected by conflict or crisis might harm another? For example, what if the medical aid that you provide someone will help them to rejoin a violent war, and hurt others? Do you help them?

As part of this International Development masterclass, students will engage in a series of in-class simulations that will require them to make decisions about how to provide aid without doing harm. They will leave with a growing understanding of humanitarianism, concepts of sovereignty, 'do no harm', and the problem of dirty hands, as well as the ethical challenges that come with doing aid work. 

Additional information: Schools will be limited to 10 places for this class. Individual bookings can be made by students in Years 12 and 13.

To find out more about any of the masterclasses, please email

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