This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde of the University of Southern Denmark.
As evidenced by inventive movements and campaigns (for a future example see Half the Sky Movement: The Game), the field of charity is undergoing considerable dynamics. As a skeptically-optimistic observer, I am happy to see research that explores such developments against the backdrop of broader material and social change, appreciating their innovativeness and critically questioning the suppositions, mechanics and stakes at play.
I recently stumbled upon a book sharing my skeptical optimism. Surveying historical change in Amnesty International and Oxfam advertising, Chouliaraki argues that poverty is increasingly instrumentalized, setting the focus on the “self” (of the Western donor), turning charity into an ironic spectacle largely shaped by “compassion fatigue” (a.k.a. avoiding stuff that is unpleasant). Rather than amplifying the voice of those in need, many charities end up prioritizing the interests/pleasures of donors.
I like what I have read so far (I’m halfway through), not so much for this (less-than-unique) argument as for the author’s sensibility to the broader shifts in the cultural make-up of humanitarianism. The ways in which we conceive of poverty, progress and our responsibility to help are fragmenting and fomenting, with marketing (by charities and otherwise) playing a significant role. Which brings me to touting my own horn – I am a marketer by training, what do you expect?
My long-overdue research on the cultural and ideological innovation of microfinance’s darling, Kiva is finally out! (see the abstract below)
As the impact of market actors and their doctrines on philanthropy gradually increases, the debate between the proponents and the critics of ‘marketization’ of philanthropy intensifies. Curiously, the debate has largely centred on ‘philanthrocapitalists’ and philanthropic professionals, while less attention has been devoted to the ways in which the newly emergent philanthropic ideologies and practices are ‘marketed’ to and adopted by the broader audience of philanthropic givers. In response, we explore the ideological elements that make lending through Kiva, an emergent micro-finance charity, meaningful to its creators and supporters. A combination of interpretive methods is used to outline Kiva’s ideology of entrepreneurial philanthropy. This utopian ideology is found to legitimize ‘marketized’ philanthropic practices by invoking alternative conceptions of poverty, social progress and philanthropy (i.e., representations of philanthropic giving, philanthropic benefactors and beneficiaries and the relations between them).