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Session Overview
6-SP077: Making Solidarity Sexy, Funny, and Cool? Challenges of Framing Interventions and Engaging the Public in Development and Humanitarianism
Wednesday, 07/July/2021:
12:30pm - 1:45pm

Session Chair: Prof. Lisa Ann Richey, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Session Abstract

The increasing ‘privatization of helping’ in both its material and symbolic forms has made engaging in international development and humanitarianism a desirable practice that can be ‘sexy’, ‘funny’ and ‘cool’. Development outcomes themselves become so imbued with ‘symbolic’ and ‘ethical’ value that they are used to market consumer goods through virtual and interactive products where the spectacle or experience itself becomes a commodity. The ways in which these new engagements are experienced in the Global South and their effect on intercultural aid relations are in need of further study and reflection. We invite papers (full or draft, including fieldwork reflections) to engage new and ongoing scholarship on the diverse forms of public engagements (virtual and legacy) in humanitarianism and international development (which could include among others, online activism, fundraising, interventions, disaster relief, charity, remittances and Corporate Social Responsibility CSR).

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#Hack4Refugees: Hackathons as Everyday Humanitarian Engagement in the Global Refugee Crisis

Sofie Elbæk Henriksen

Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Since 2015, hundreds of civil hackathons have been organized in response to refugee crises globally, as one of many new forms of humanitarian engagement spurred by the European Refugee Crisis of 2015-2016. Hackathons are intense, multiday events, often taking place at night, on weekends or during conferences, in which teams of volunteers compete to design software that best solves a problem defined by the hackathon organizers. In recent years, the use of hackathons as spaces for innovation has been adopted by for-profit, non-profit and public sectors and is increasingly used to promote the innovation of technical solutions to social, political, environmental and humanitarian issues, now including what is often referred to as the global refugee crisis. This development has been interpreted as a growing incorporation of digital technologies in the delivery and design of humanitarian action. However, the increased focus on digital technologies not only stimulates new ways of delivering aid, but also new forms of public engagement in humanitarianism. This ethnographic paper explores hackathons as new practices of Everyday Humanitarian engagement (Richey, L. A. 2018. “Conceptualizing ‘Everyday Humanitarianism’: Ethics, Affects, and Practices of Contemporary Global Helping”. New Political Science 40:4) that contribute to making refugee solidarity cool, fun and marketable. Furthermore, the paper considers the broader discursive context of these practices. While the popularity of hackathons as spaces for humanitarian innovation continues to grow, scholars remain critical of the actual value of the projects developed for refugees at hackathons, many of which end up as digital litter on the Internet. Why, then, are hackathons continuously presented as a way to “hack” the refugee crisis? This paper follows critical academic inquiries into hackathons as materializations of the new technological frontier of global humanitarianism and examines refugee hackathons as material expressions of a highly marketable discourse that promotes tech-business solutions as innovative, cool, and efficient forms of humanitarian aid in refugee crises.

Woman Yelling At Erbil Cat–An Exploratory Study Into The World Of Humanitarian Memes

Tobias Denskus

Malmö University, Sweden

The interest in communicating development and humanitarian issues in digital, subversive formats has only received scholarly attention. Humor, irony and satire are increasingly used to engage audiences such as volunteers or voluntourists or to ‘hold up a mirror’ to the inner workings of global aid industry.

My project expands this research in methodological and empirical ways; rather than engaging with an existing online project, video, campaign or digital artefact, I became one of the founding members of a humanitarian meme group on Facebook which quickly grew to more than 3,000 members. As mentioned in the title, the ‘viral photo of a blonde woman yelling at a confused looking white cat sitting in front of a plate of vegetables’ (Oprah Magazine November 2019) is one of the templates that is frequently used to create new humanitarian-themed memes about the absurdities of (mostly expatriate) aid work. In line with other popular digital activities, cat-themed memes have been popular, especially after ‘Erbil cat’ appeared-an ironic response to a query in a different popular Facebook group about importing cats into North Iraq as an aid worker.
With more than 3,000 members, frequent postings and high levels of engagement the group has gained traction within the humanitarian community.

As moderator and participant of the group I also post memes, comment on posts and generally engage in ‘normal’ Facebook behavior rather than simply observing and/or analyzing the developments in this closed group.
For this Seed Panel I would like to share insights into the group which is addresses humanitarian communication in an unruly, disruptive and sometimes absurd or ‘senseless’ way that is different from carefully crafted videos, aid work sit-coms and other forms of humorous takes on global development.

As an active participant my engagement also raises interesting questions about the role of humor in development research and studies and new forms of ‘netnographic’ research. As I am beginning to interview participants about their motives for creating memes, I am also faced with a challenge of how to approach something ‘fun’ through the lens of traditional academic research and linking it to broader questions of public engagement and new forms of solidarity that come with the shared experience of living joyless aid worker lives in the 'deep field'.

Gendered Solidarity and 2nd Generation Brand Aid: Pushing the Boundaries of Ethical Consumption

Lisa Ann Richey

Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Brand Aid partnerships were originally characterized by causes that were disconnected from the products on sale (e.g. selling coffee to set aside funds to buy anti-retrovirals for African women affected by HIV/AIDS), but they have now started to include engaged modalities where the cause is directly embedded in the value chain of the ‘good’ product being sold. Today’s marketplace is inundated with products supporting humanitarian causes that promise to give aid to distant beneficiaries, provide ‘good feelings’ to consumers and promote the brands of corporations and humanitarian NGOs. My intervention will present an exceptional new case that pushes the boundaries of compassionate consumption to their extreme. Because this is a highly-sensitive ongoing research project, details about the initiative remain confidential until ethical agreements are in place for dissemination, and fieldwork has been completed. However, the talk will be based on fieldwork in a Latin American prison, expert interviews with corporate leaders in the initiative and a visual and discursive analysis of their online media presence. The case study uses highly gendered representations of solidarity to market high-end fashion produced by prison labor. These ‘2nd Generation Brand Aid’ initiatives provide a neoliberal solution to humanitarian crises and sustainable development challenges by linking privatized politics of consumption to global change.

Nigerian Celebrity Philanthropy in the Age of Technology:When and Where Charity and Camera Collides

Rosemary Oyinlola Popoola

Covenant University, Ota Nigeria, Nigeria

Scholars of Europe and North America have extensively studied the interconnections of popular culture, celebrity politics, celebrity humanitarianism, celebrity feminism, development, and public politics. However, their counterparts in Africa have paid limited attention to this significant branch of scholarship, despite the increasing involvement of celebrities in various aspect of public life. While not using European and North American knowledge as the standard for judging Africanist scholarly production, I examine Nigerian celebrity philanthropy, humanitarianism and advocacy for the poor and needy in the age of internet technology. The field of philanthropy in Africa is a wide and evolving field of study that have received considerable attention from scholars, policy makers and donors a like. Studies in this area range from those that focus on the inequality in capitalist philanthropy in Africa to those that examine it as a salvationist or white savior complex. More so, other studies argue passionately for and against the role that celebrities can play in attracting attention to humanitarian causes. While the value of Global North philanthropy in Africa remain largely contested, limited attention has been paid to philanthropy of African in Africa. Significant scholarly attention has been paid to philanthropy of the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, western celebrities, corporations and capitalist icon in Africa, limited attention has been given to Nigerian celebrity philanthropic intervention in the lives of ordinary people. Yet, celebrities in Nigeria have intervened in the lives of ordinary people. In Nigeria, this philanthropic gesture ranged from donation through their foundation, fund raising for sick patient who cannot afford the cost of health service, skill acquisition and empowerment initiative, “give away” through their various social media and digital platforms. Scholars in America and Europe have criticized that celebrity philanthropy and humanitarianism replace the complexities of poverty eradication and alleviating human suffering with symbolic gestures? Other argue that philanthropy is “a capitalist institution” . The validity of this claim in the case of Africa and particularly Nigeria would require a careful interpretation of data and a critical understanding of the unique nature of context in which celebrity philanthropy takes place. Using Gramsci’s and Bourdieu’s work and their conception of philanthropy, I examine five major Nigerian celebrity philanthropy and humanitarian cases that received media attention in Nigeria over the last five years. This work poses the following questions: What model of philanthropy do Nigeria celebrity embrace? Is it human rights model or “marketized philanthropy approach? What is the motivation for Nigerian Celebrity Philanthropy gesture? Is Nigerian celebrity philanthropic intervention done from a salvationist gaze or a “black savior complex” or is it a convenient marriage of capitalism with corporate social responsibility? Is Nigerian celebrity philanthropy altruism or attention seeking? Public good or publicity? In what way is celebrity philanthropic gesture a new form or ways of enhancing celebrity public relations? What are the complexities and contradictions in Nigerian celebrity philanthropy and humanitarian gesture? More so, reports continue to show that most Nigeria live below $1 per day. Does Nigerian celebrity philanthropic gesture have impact on poverty level in Nigeria? Can Nigeria celebrity philanthropy alleviate poverty or is it just a mere palliative measure? My research sits at the crossroads of multiple fields in the humanities and the social sciences—from political science, media, development and sociology of everyday life to history and popular culture. What more, It provides an African and indeed a Nigerian centred perspective to global narratives and studies on philanthropy and humanitarian studies while providing further area of study for celebrity humanitarianism in Nigeria and Africa by extension.

Capitalism 'With A Human Face': Ideology and Face-to-Face Fundraising

Jake David Job Flavell

University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Face-to-face charity fundraising (F2F) emerged in Austria in 1995 and quickly spread across much of the Global North. Although by some of its originators own admission it stands in direct lineage with traditional charity fundraising, the use of paid fundraisers - typically recruited or employed through for-profit agencies - and their aggressive ‘sales’ tactics has generated such a public distaste for the practice that, in the UK, they have been given the nickname ‘chuggers’, a portmanteau of ‘charity’ and ‘mugger’. Thus, despite being crucial to many ‘activist’ NGOs (i.e. Oxfam, Save, Action Aid etc.) finances and public engagement, and in some sense manifesting their ‘human-centred’ or ‘personal’ ideological challenge to neoliberal development, it simultaneously appears to embody the worst of neoliberalism: an activity guided by a ‘cost-effective’ rationale, the exploitation of flexible, precarious and immaterial labour, and the centrality of ‘economic’ evaluation.

Coming from the perspective of Slavoj Zizek’s reactualisation of a (Marxist) critique of ideology, and drawing empirically on interviews with fundraisers, fundraising managers and fundraising regulators, along with fieldwork observations/reflections and various secondary data, I argue that this contradictory status of F2F renders it a symptomatic point of NGO ideology. In common sense or ‘medical’ usage, symptom represents a surface appearance of some deeper disease, whereas from the psychoanalytic perspective the symptom is rather a relation of ‘ex-timacy’: a point internal to its ideological edifice which simultaneously undermines it, lays open its false pretensions to universality and closure. Far from signalling an essence to be retrieved from the subterranean depths beneath an ideological appearance (as in the ‘medical’ model), the psychoanalytic symptom not only manifests on the same level as its cause - thus avoiding the epistemological limitations of more orthodox Marxist ideology critiques - but is also symbolically overdetermined. F2F’s two primary symbolic determinations (‘human’ and ‘cost-effective’) form its whole without being reducible to either element, and the tension which is interrogated is between these two threads of meaning, rather than between its ideological appearance and its underlying essential truth.

As such, this paper not only makes an empirical contribution - by dissecting the ideological twists and turns by which F2F’s symptomatic status is affirmed and negated - but also a theoretical one, endeavouring to demonstrate the value of a critique of ideology informed by Zizek’s curious combination of Marx, Lacan and Hegel. Regarding the former, it fills a crucial lacuna by elucidating the ideological dynamics of F2F. Despite its ubiquity in commercial spaces of the Global North, and the extent to which it invokes as much praise as popular denigration, there is currently no systematic study of the phenomenon within critical literatures. Regarding the latter, a critique of F2F and its ideological underpinnings provides an arena to advance a challenge to typical Marxist critiques of various phenomena subsumable under the rubric of ‘capitalism with a human face’. What F2F as symptom demonstrates is not only the epistemological inadequacy of the ‘depth’ model which animates much of Marxist ideology critique, but also its analytical or explanatory limitations, insofar as it reduces the ideological appearance to mere epiphenomenon more or less directly functional to existing capitalist social relations.

This is part of my PhD project which seeks to explore the relationship between contemporary NGO’s ‘human’ ideology and F2F in the UK. Whilst F2F as symptom animates the entire thesis, the proposed paper more closely accords with my first empirical chapter on the more ‘symbolic’ aspects of F2F ideology. The latter two are in the process of writing and correspond more specifically to its ‘materiality’ and its ‘spectral’ materiality (as in the materiality of commodity fetishism) respectively.

The Sounds of Poverty: How Music Shapes Emotional Engagement with Global Development

John D. Cameron

Dalhousie University, Canada

This paper critically examines the representation of global poverty and development in the music that accompanies the videos used in the fundraising and public engagement campaigns of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). The goal of the paper is to stimulate greater interest in the representation of social and environmental justice issues in sound and music. While numerous studies have analysed the representation of global development in text, images and video, we are unaware of any research that has systematically examined the ways in which poverty and development are represented in music. This paper draws on music theory as well as critical theories of representation and post-colonialism and research on the ways in which music influences human emotions and in turn human decision-making. The paper examines the ways in which INGOs use music to engage potential supporters, and specifically how techniques of music theory are used in efforts to manipulate particular emotional responses from viewer-listeners as a strategy to motivate action (e.g. charitable donation). The paper then analyses representations of poverty and development in music with other forms of representation (i.e. in text, images and video) in an effort to identify how the music represents development issues – for example as hopeful, sad, frightening, urgent. Our initial research, based on analysis of the soundtracks of 20 fundraising / public engagement videos produced by Canadian INGOs, reveals a common musical strategy: INGO videos use minor scales to represent poverty (thus evoking emotions of sadness), followed by a transition to major scales towards the end of the musical composition when the role of the INGO is introduced (thus evoking positive, happy emotions). These musical strategies thus implicitly represent the global South as sad (minor scales) and represent INGOs and charitable donors from the global North as the source of hope and agency (major scales) - thus reproducing stereotypical underderstandings of poverty and the global South more broadly. Other musical strategies are also evident, but the minor to major / sad to happy strategies of representations was used in 15/20 videos. For this paper we will expand the analysis to include case studies of additional INGOs from other countries in the global North.

Legitimating Solidarity: Corporate Partnerships and the Political Climate for NGOs

Maha Rafi Atal

Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

The political climate for non-governmental organizations and other charitable nonprofits has grown more challenging over recent decades, due to the growing preference of multilateral donors like the United Nations for private sector led-initiatives, the efforts of donor governments to more closely tie aid funding to security and foreign policy interests, and related hostility from some recipient governments to aid organizations as representative of foreign political interests. This paper situates an ongoing, multi-tiered collaboration between IKEA and Save the Children in light of these developments which includes both donations from IKEA's corporate foundation and proceeds from certain sales in IKEA stores to Save the Children's programs around the world but with a particular focus on anti-child labor efforts in South Asia. It considers the strategic logic of this partnership from both IKEA and Save the Children's perspectives. For IKEA, this exercise in humanitarian branding is closely linked to its participation in UN-led development efforts like the Sustainable Development Goals, while for the UK-based Save the Children, such partnerships with industry can potentially mitigate the effects of the securitization and politicization of aid in both the British and Indian contexts. I use this case study to consider how the partnership with IKEA, as a multinational business, affects Save the Children’s legitimacy with governments and communities in this politically fraught environment for international aid actors, and how the partnership with Save the Children affects IKEA's positioning as a humanitarian business. The presentation will focus on early stage findings from fieldwork which will be ongoing during summer 2020.

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