Politics of Protection

Academic year2018-2019                                                                       
Days and TimeThursday 18.00-21.00
Number of meetings        7
Dates of all meetings    4, 11, 18, 25 April, 2, 9 and 16 May 2019
LocationVrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081HV Amsterdam
Roomwill be announced later (number 1091 at this map)
LecturersTanja Aalberts (coordinator) and various guest lecturers

Course Description

What do the formal adoption of the Responsibility to Protect Paradigm, safe havens a la Srebrenica, the current refugee crisis around the Mediterranean Sea, climate change and the melting of the Arctic tell us about contemporary world society? Who is included who is excluded? Who and what deserves protection? Whose security? This course explores new modes of global governance linked to the emergence of an international politics of protection. This politics of protection comes in different forms and is intimately bound up with contemporary humanitarianism, international development, security and law.

We will reflect upon the forms of power that this politics might give rise to, authorize, delimit, and preclude (Orford 2011). In what ways might it open up new possibilities for greater human rights, international rule of law, and democracy? Or does the politics of protection rather signal a new age of empire, based on Western values, or even a ‘human right to dominate’ (Perugini and Gordon 2015)? Could governance and regulation produce new forms of vulnerability and victimization for the victims it seeks to protect?

This course will discuss pressing issues in contemporary world politics. Building on debates in political philosophy, international politics and international legal theory the course critically reflects upon whether and when political programs in the name of “protection” can provide the intended relief or security they promise.

The course will provide a thorough understanding of the rise of the politics of protection as a mode of global governance. Students will engage in key debates, and gain in-depth knowledge of different perspectives and the legal rules that (seek to) govern world society. The course readings, discussions and assignments (see below) are intended to guide students to a level of critical thinking and writing on complex and pressing issues linked to global governance in world society. With the help of a variety of texts and sources as well as guest lectures and documentary screenings, we will reflect upon the ethical, political and legal dimensions of protection within world society.

Each seminar will use the guiding questions and concepts as tools for reflection, and invite students to actively participate in the debate.

Topics to be discussed:

  • Peacekeeping and the ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica
  • Private Military companies and the combat against piracy
  • Refugee crisis on the Mediterranean Sea
  • Cyber security and European Surveillance
  • Protecting Humanity through International Criminal Justice
  • Counter terrorism and Blacklisting
  • Climate Change and global governance

Working formats and activities: 

  • interactive seminars 
  • guest lectures 
  • simulations 
  • documentary screenings


  • write a short response paper on the basis of the prescribed academic literature (20%) 
  • prepare discussion points for each meeting as basis for their participation in class discussions (10%) 
  • act as discussants and prepare a response to one of the guest lecturers or documentary screenings (20%). 
  • write an individual essay (50%)
  • we will use newspaper pictures to reflect upon

In addition to these graded assignments, students will also be asked to collect news paper articles to relate the academic literature to ‘real life’ issues. We will use pictures to reflect upon what the politics of protection means in contemporary world society.

Attainment targets/learning outcomes (“eindtermen”)
In this course, students will gain 

  • thorough knowledge and understanding of key concepts in world society (such as politics, power, security, sovereignty, rights, responsibility) 
  • thorough knowledge and understanding of relevant theoretical perspectives within legal theory, philosophy and international relations 
  • thorough knowledge and understanding of nature and dynamics of protection in global governance, including the interaction between law and politics within different issue areas