WATCH: The Ideology of Celebrity Humanitarianism


Kapuscinski Development Lecture

May 12, 2015

UNHCR Special Envoy actor Angelina Jolie takes part in a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman


“Celebrity charity work is deeply tainted and ideological. Its altruistic pretensions are belied by several accompaniments: its tendency to promote both the celebrity’s brand and the image of the ‘caring’ (Western) nation; its entrenchment in a marketing and promotion machine that helps advance corporate capitalism and rationalizes the very global inequality it seeks to redress; its support to a ‘postdemocratic’ liberal political system that is outwardly democratic and populist, yet, for all intents and purposes, conducted by unaccountable elites; and its use and abuse of the ‘Third World’, making Africa, in particular, a background for First World hero-worship and a dumping ground for humanitarian ideals and fantasies. But what about our own complicity in this ideological work? As audience members and fans, or indeed even as detractors or critics, we too easily carry on our lives, consoled that someone is doing the charity work for us, just as long as we don’t have to.” [Source: Kapuscinski]

Excerpt from “The production and Construction of Celebrity Advocacy in International Development
by Dan Brockington:

“Within British development ngos there has been a questioning of the values promoted by relying on celebrity. Within the academe there is a flourishing body of criticism of the role of celebrity in recreating and reproducing hegemonic capitalist inequality. Kapoor adopts the most radical position, arguing that celebrity is part of the forces which create and produce inequality, and that celebrities might in fact be ‘sadists’ delighting in their position at the top of the pyramid. He further suggests that the only way out of this dilemma is through a Marxist revolution and that following conventional means of tackling poverty (such as supporting ngos) is no solution – it is better to do nothing.”



[Ilan Kapoor is a Professor of Critical Development Studies at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University. He teaches in the area of global development and environmental politics, and his research focuses on postcolonial theory and politics, participatory development and democracy, and more recently, ideology critique. He is the author of The Postcolonial Politics of Development (Routledge 2008), and more recently, Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity (Routledge 2013). He is currently writing a book on psychoanalysis and development.”]



  • David Otness on Jul 10, 2018

    Asking Tyronius:
    And, the “White Helmets?”
    And Paul Hewson?

    • Tyronius on Jul 23, 2018

      White helmets in the traditional sense are NGO organisations there to help, right? Each one is an individual and some are more self serving than others. Nearly any help is help, however.

      Bono doesn’t HAVE to do anything ever again but lay about. He’s plenty rich already! Why does he engage in such activism? Because he genuinely wants to make a contribution! How many former rock stars just flame out or overdose? Whatever additional compensation, Fame or music sales come his way as a result of his activism is well deserved.

      Are there more direct ways to help? Sure! They just need political will- and funding. Since that’s often hard to come by, maybe it’s more helpful to be grateful for what is out there.

  • Tyronius on May 22, 2018

    I think this attitude is sour grapes run dangerously amok. There can be no don’t that there very celebrity of such individuals brings attention to pressing problems everywhere, including in the developing world. If celebrities merely wish to indulge in self promotion, there are easier ways than charity appearances in such places. No, in fact they do it because they want to make a difference, same as the rest of us.

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