Visualising Solidarity: Forging everyday humanitarianism through public representations of development
Prof. Uma Kothari
Since the 1980s there has been a vast proliferation of campaigns, charity adverts, musical movements, fair trade marketing, celebrity endorsements and media promotions to support humanitarian causes. More recently, we have witnessed a growth in the role of visual media in guiding diverse publics on how they might perceive and act upon calls for a shared responsibility. Foundational to the success of these visual representations is their capacity to invoke care and compassion for suffering others, to motivate people in some parts of the world to donate money and other forms of assistance to people elsewhere. Despite their increased profile, the visual strategies that such campaigns deploy have provoked critiques that they reproduce racialised stereotypes, reinforce colonial hierarchies and embed inequalities, notably through reproducing iconographies of, for example, conflict, famine and poverty. Nevertheless, might these popular representations of humanitarianism and development have the potential to instil ideas of global interconnectedness and forge new kinds of global solidarity? Alternatively, do visual images and the increasing involvement of public figures, celebrities and the media obscure the structural dimensions of race, racism and inequality thus limiting the possibilities for forging a common humanity? In this presentation, I will explore these issues through an analysis of colonial and contemporary uses of popular, visual campaigns. I subsequently examine forms of resistance and creative subversion that contest problematic depictions of other people and that aim to challenge the meanings that inhere in mediatised representations. The presentation concludes by considering what kinds of visual representations might lead to more critical thinking about prevalent concepts of self and other, and difference and commonality. How can such representations solicit more considered responses to charity campaigns and thereby promote and sustain new forms of transnational solidarity?
Uma Kothari is Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies and former Director of the Global Development Institute, at the University of Manchester, UK. Her research interests include international development and humanitarianism and migration, refugees and diasporas. Her research has involved a number of funded projects, most recently an Australian Research Council project on International Volunteering and Cosmopolitanism and a Norwegian Research Council project on Perceptions of Climate Change and Migration. Her current research is on Visual Solidarity and Everyday Humanitarianism. She has published numerous articles and her books include Participation: the new tyranny?, Development Theory and Practice: critical perspectives, and A Radical History of Development Studies. She was recently made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and conferred the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal for her contributions to research in support of global development.