As I wrote this book introduction, North—South relations were pessimistically characterized by a tone of humanitarian crisis over how to respond to the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history. During this time, I was receiving social media updates from a former student I taught in South Africa, whose profession as written on visa forms is “humanitarian.” He was working as the first emergency response team director treating Ebola in Liberia. He lamented the lack of attention and resources that had been committed to fight the disease. Ebola became a symbol of “the moral bankruptcy of capitalism” as coined by John Ashton the president of the UK Faculty of Public Health.i The US had promised to send troops, and the Cubans had pledged to send doctors, but in the early stages of the Ebola crisis, no one offered to send celebrities. ii

Then, as reported by The Independent newspaper in the UK, Sir Bob Geldof received a call from the UN that the Ebola virus was “getting out of control” so he decided to re-record the Band Aid single from 30 years before to “just stop Ebola.” iii Do They Know it’s Christmas? was re-released and immediately became the number one ranked song in 63 countries. The internet was awash with a wide spectrum of reactions to the new Band Aid, creating what optimists might consider a global public sphere for debating the role of celebrities in humanitarianism, the appropriate place of African artists in solidarity movements for Africa and whether or not the damage done by the outdated lyrics: “well tonight thank God it's them instead of you” could be repaired with the hurried change to: “well tonight we're reaching out and touching you.” While all the intrigue of which stars were in and which were out of Bob Geldof’s passion play pervaded the global popular media, the public remained uninformed about even the most basic aspects of the initiative: where would the money raised by the single actually go? iv

We know from nearly a decade of attention paid to global humanitarianism of the photogenic variety, that “offering support for global charities has become practically part of the contemporary celebrity job description and a hallmark of the established star.” v Selling products to “help” distant others, be it Band Aid or Brand Aid, has linked celebrities and corporations to global humanitarian causes in unprecedented ways (Richey and Ponte 2011). Correspondingly, the development sector and the celebrity industry have increasingly formalized relationships, based on a cadre of full-time celebrity liaison officers in NGOs, and specialized talent agencies linking performers to philanthropic causes. vi Geldof’s spectacle was only the tip of the iceberg of celebrity humanitarianism for Ebola. There was also a scaled-up global health response from philanthropist George Soros and “aid celebrity” Dr. Paul Farmer; vii “the Ebola Fighters” were named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2014; viii a total of $1.5 billion was eventually committed by public and private donors; ix and my former student’s co-worker was invited to the White House to participate in the US State of the Union Address on behalf of “thousands of Ebola health care workers.” x

When celebrities become involved in North—South relations money is pledged, individual and institutional networks are mobilized, and attention is drawn toward particular crises, and deflected from others. What are the specific configurations of power that take place when celebrities engage in humanitarianism? Does celebrity engagement provoke similar responses in different places across the globe? And what does this mean for humanitarian politics? This book aims to better understand the relationships of politics, place and power in grounded studies of celebrity humanitarianism.

Ebola, like the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s and its Band Aid response, provides the perfect catalyst for contemporary celebrity humanitarianism. As explained by Müller: “A disaster like a major famine makes it easier to uphold the fantasy that, in alleviating concrete suffering or preventing starvation, we contribute to justice; it should thus come as no surprise that a famine gave birth to Band Aid ‘common-sense humanitarianism.’” xi The cutting edge of contemporary scholarship on celebrity engagement with humanitarian interventions suggests that populist celebrity advocacy marks a disengagement between the public and politics across North and South. Celebrity humanitarianism and development advocacy, argues Brockington (2014), is the terrain of elites in the North, in spite of popular misconceptions that celebrities are successful because of their appeal to “the people.” Critics like Littler (2008) and Kapoor (2013) argue that celebrities actually appeal to “the people” by playing with the humanitarian needs of “others” — effectively selling the poor for profit in global capitalist relations — and making celebrity humanitarianism inherently destructive for the South. In contrast, supporters like Cooper (2008) suggest that celebrities can be an innovative, positive force in “changing the world” by forging new diplomatic links across contexts. Yet, social theorists like van Krieken (2012) chart convincingly that celebrity politics is nothing new, and that the history of celebrity humanitarianism runs alongside “development” and the drive toward “modernity.” Thus, we might assume that celebrity and North—South relations are intertwined, perhaps even in ways that we did not imagine.

Academic discussion over celebrity engagement is often limited to theoretical critique or normative name-calling between “the skeptics” and “the optimists” (Chouliaraki 2013, ch. 4), without much grounded research into what it is that celebrities are doing, the same or differently — in different or even the same places — throughout the world. This book provides a critical investigation into what celebrity humanitarianism in North—South relations suggests for contemporary configurations of politics, place and power. We examine politics to understand how values are linked with authority in global constellations of humanitarian helping, and in local recipient environments. We investigate the importance of place and context, and each chapter presents new empirical findings on celebrity humanitarianism on the ground in Thailand, Malawi, Bangladesh, South Africa, China, Haiti, Congo, US, Denmark and Australia. Celebrity interventions provide an empirical focus point for studying the relations of power that may be reproduced or disputed from one context to another. We gaze through the keyhole of “celebrity” in order to investigate fundamental concepts such as accountability, agency, authenticity, brand, development, mediation, humanity, inequality, pity, public engagement and representation.

Why is it important to understand celebrity humanitarianism?

Celebrity engagement in humanitarian causes and development interventions has raised the interest levels of numerous publics in both North and South. It has sparked a growing academic debate across disciplines and has been the subject of heated popular debate as well. Scholars, students and the general public are quick to support some celebritized causes and to condemn others. The terrain of intervention in development and humanitarian causes is rapidly changing with the engagement of new actors, relations and alliances across geographical, financial and political distances. But these changes come into a context of historical familiarity (see Littler forthcoming), and alongside long-established socioeconomic and political power relations, as reactions to Ebola clearly show.

We have scholarship that suggests that celebrity involvement changes humanitarianism in important ways. For example, celebrity humanitarianism has been held responsible for reproducing “neoliberal subjectivity” (Biccum 2007), and for “establishing a hegemonic culture of humanitarianism in which moral responsibility . . . is based on pity rather than the demand for justice.” xii Thus, celebrities need to be understood in their function as new actors in North—South relations. In her engaging book documenting changes in humanitarian communication over the past four decades, Chouliaraki argues that we have moved into the “post-humanitarian” age, in which solidarity is driven by neoliberal logics of consumption and where utilitarianism and doing good for “others” depends on doing well for yourself. As Chouliaraki describes, celebrity humanitarians are at the forefront of this societal shift:

The tearful celebrity, the rock concert, the Twitter hype and the graphic attention are . . . prototypical performances of post-humanitarianism which limit our resources for reflecting upon human vulnerability as a political problem of injustice and minimizes our capacity of empathy with vulnerable others as others with their own humanity. xiii

Celebrity humanitarianism can be read as a performance between the celebrity as benefactor and the public for whom the celebrity functions as a proxy philanthropist. As Duncombe has illustrated, “The ‘humble roots and common tastes’ celebrity stories not only make this contemporary Pantheon of Gods acceptable to a democratic audience... they also hold out the promise that this can happen to you”. xiv The popular attraction to celebrity fantasies is linked to a life without consequences, an escape into activities with no agency (ibid). Thus, celebrity humanitarianism provides the possibility to vicariously participate in the caring activities of our favorite celebrities, while disengaging from the consequential activity of what “really” happens in international development or humanitarianism on the ground.

Questions of power, accountability, and who actually constitutes “the public” of North—South relations need academic investigation. Chouliaraki also emphasizes that humanitarian communication in the new media favors partial, personal readings as opposed to more objective, shared interpretations of humanitarian problems, and thus is less effective at integrating audiences and providing a shared foundation for collective action (ibid). Therefore, critical scholarship must question the “optimists” who lead us to believe that globalization and mediatization are permeating all corners of the globe and “networking” everyone, while leaving isolation, misunderstanding and callousness as part of a “pre-humanitarian” past. xv Crucially, little scholarly attention has been paid to the Global South, either as a place where celebrities intervene in existing politics and social processes, or as the generator of Southern celebrities engaged in “do-gooding.” xvi This edited book is about what a diverse roster of celebrity humanitarians are actually doing in and across Northern and Southern contexts.

Situating celebrity humanitarianism within contemporary academic debates

Celebrities are now an increasingly studied topic on their own terms, with a history of critical concern for the relationship between celebrities and politics that Wheeler dates back to the German sociologist Leo Lowenthal’s (1944) critique of the replacement of “idols of production” such as politicians with “idols of consumption” such as film stars. xvii Contradicting some fundamentalist academic presumptions that scholarship on celebrity would be a purely cultural, fun and dumbed-down area of inquiry, the introduction to the first volume of the flagship journal Celebrity Studies could be productively confused with describing the goals of social science inquiry, or perhaps the discipline of anthropology. In the journal introduction, Holmes and Redmond specify that the aims of celebrity studies are “to defamiliarise the everyday, and to make apparent the cultural politics and power relations which sit at the center of the ‘taken for granted’” (2010, p. 3).

This book takes up this call to “defamiliarise” celebrity humanitarians with whom many Western media consumers have become saturated — such as the pop singer Madonna or the actress Angelina Jolie — while also making apparent the politics and power relations constituting important interactions in less visible “celebrity societies” (van Krieken 2012) such as those in Bangladesh, South Africa or China. We know that celebrity engagement in humanitarianism has become increasingly prominent and debated in academia and the popular media, yet we are lacking when it comes to a grounded understanding of the importance of context and the differences of politics, place and power in shaping celebrity engagements in North—South relations. Which publics are engaged, through which celebritized means and what does this mean for politics and how development and humanitarianism are “done”?

Wilson (2011) argues that celebrities represent a form of global governmentality that brings Western audiences into alignment with international programs. Celebrity advocacy is assumed to preserve stereotypes, particularly about the Western Self and the “Other”, which fit conveniently into the wider discourse of assumptions about the natural order of world politics. xviii When celebrities have taken on humanitarian causes, acting as “aid celebrities” to promote international development or as celebrity diplomats across North—South contexts, they have typically received academic criticism. xix

This book speaks to three relevant literatures for the study of celebrity humanitarianism: 1) the interdisciplinary literature on aid celebrities (primarily from the fields of international development studies and geography); 2) the literature on celebrities and representation of “Others” (particularly from media and communications studies, cultural studies and anthropology); and 3) the emerging literature on new actors and alliances in North—South relations (drawing on international relations and global studies). Scholarship on celebrity do-gooding in transnational contexts of humanitarianism, development and diplomacy has been blossoming in diverse specialist and interdisciplinary journals within these three research categories. xx

Celebrity humanitarianism can be best understood through the consideration of key books which have been published within the last year analyzing the multifaceted nature of celebrity humanitarianism from a rigorous academic perspective. From the interdisciplinary literature on aid celebrities, two different and critical books have taken on celebrity interventions in North—South relations. The most significant book in the field of empirically-grounded work on celebrity and development, focuses exclusively on celebrity advocacy and lobbying in international development, examining its history, relationships, consequences, wider contexts and implications. xxi Brockington argues that celebrity advocacy signals a new aspect of elite rule. From an in-depth analysis of actual celebrity advocacy in Britain, and drawing on some comparative material from the US, we understand how corporations, politicians and the NGO community have begun to orient around the aura of celebrity. A pragmatic conclusion suggests that if development is to work better, it must negotiate within this new terrain of celebritized relationships. A significant theoretical critique of celebrity humanitarianism is provided in the book by Kapoor (2013) on celebrity humanitarianism. Kapoor claims that celebrity legitimates and promotes neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This polemic engages an ideological critique, drawing heavily on the theories of Žižek, to argue that celebrity humanitarianism is a moral spectacle that entwines frenetic development NGOs, big business and sexy stars. Kapoor illustrates how celebrities’ involvement in international development advances the celebrity brand and contributes to a “post-democratic” political landscape managed by unaccountable elites.

From the literature on celebrities and representation of “Others,” a seminal text has been published by Chouliaraki (2013) arguing that contemporary humanitarianism is under pressure from economic, political and technological transformations which have significantly altered the possibilities for global solidarity. She shows how international development aid has become instrumentalized as international organizations and NGOs compete for market share and donor funding, while the scholars focus on administrative policy rather than critical, normative theory. Simultaneously, argues Chouliaraki, the grand narratives of solidarity have been replaced by individualist projects. This is linked to changes in technology and new media forms where audiences in the North have become both producers and consumers of a public communication that obfuscates the distant “Others.” Coming from media and communication studies, the book considers solidarity as “a problem of communication,” and analyses humanitarianism as performance, providing a convincing argument for scholars of humanitarianism that communication matters: words and images perform and significantly shape social reality across North—South relations.

Third, from the emerging literature on new actors and alliances in North—South relations, Mark Wheeler’s (2013) monograph, Celebrity Politics, looks specifically at the engagement of celebrities in “traditional” politics. Drawing on the foundational work of John Street for understanding celebrities doing politics and politicians performing as celebrities, Wheeler makes the case that “traditional civic duties are being replaced by alternative forms of virtuous participation” and that celebrities are actually engaging the public in. xxii While the book’s scope includes both national and global politics, the specific claims about celebrity transnational activism are based on the workings of celebrity diplomats (drawing on the classic Cooper 2008) and global activists. xxiii Wheeler offers a taxonomy of celebrity politics that can provide a macro-level, sense-making framework for understanding a variety of celebrity engagements in diverse places.

All of these books and the articles mentioned at the beginning of this section have created knowledge about how what Driessens (2013, p. 546) terms, “the celebrity apparatus”, which consists of the celebrity, the media, the public and the celebrity industry. However, the existing literatures still lack, for the most part, any empirical grounding from the side of the recipients of humanitarian “help.” The chapters in this book begin to build up the research corpus necessary to develop an understanding of celebrity humanitarianism that moves between Northern and Southern perspectives, and to test existing theories of celebritized intervention for “fit.”

The next section will provide an introduction to the critical concepts in understanding celebrity to be grounded in the following chapters in this book, starting with the concept at the core of our common enterprise, “celebrity.”

Defining the concepts: “celebrity”, “North—South relations” and “humanitarianism”

How do we make “celebrity” a theoretical concept that helps us to understand something about the constitution of our social world in the contemporary period of North—South relations? Our book focuses on the conceptualization of celebrity humanitarianism in order to stress the modality of interaction, and we are not engaging in the debates over what a “real” celebrity is, whether limited to the Hollywood A-list or expanded to include anyone with more than a handful of followers on social media. Celebrity constitutes an intellectual space where questions of authenticity, accessibility, popularity and brand can also be interrogated. However, it is important to clarify that this conceptualization is functionalist in its intentions: the point of this collection is not to understand celebrities as humanitarian actors in order to better understand the nature, function or relevance of celebrities. We argue instead that it is necessary to understand how celebrities function as new actors, to better understand contemporary processes of North—South relations of humanitarianism, development and, following Brockington (2014), of elite rule in post-democracy. One need not buy into a historically deterministic grand theory of representation and democracy to recognize that there are new alliances and competitive spaces that shape the ways that North—South relations are conceived, and celebrities have become increasingly visible as part of the “development” brand. xxiv


Since the purpose of this book is to use “celebrity” as an instrumental concept, and other recent work has reviewed the literature on its various definitions in scholarship (Driessens, Oliver 2013), here I will discuss only briefly how this book engages with the celebrity concept and why the findings in the following chapters suggest that “celebrity” is a concept in need of further development. Driessens presents a “tentative mapping of celebrity definitions” that is organized along the components of the “celebrity apparatus” (celebrity, the media, the public and the celebrity industry). In our approach to celebrity humanitarianism, we focus primarily on two of these components: the celebrity and the public. xxv Thus, theoretically, we considered defining celebrity as put forth in Boltanski and Théveno. xxvi They define “celebrity” as a state of superiority in a world where opinion is the defining instrument for measuring different orders of “greatness.” In their approach, being a celebrity is characterized by having a widespread reputation, being recognized in public, being visible, having success, being distinguished, and having opinion leaders, journalists and the media as your testimonials. xxvii The test of celebrity is the judgment of the public — but who are the celebrity public in the context of North—South relations? The chapters in this book demonstrate how celebrity humanitarians are constituting “caring” publics and particular politics. For example, in chapter 3, Mupotsa introduces us to the celebrity philanthropy of Sophie Ndaba whose spectacular orphan benefit/wedding event became a way for South Africa’s newly rich “Black Diamonds” to “give back” to needy “others” who are not constituted by the expected distances of race, geography or culture. Chapter 8 challenges us to consider how celebrities costumed as genitalia for a development fundraising show in Denmark can amalgamate popular opinion in favor of international aid, while offending both the “others” of the aid itself and many others in the donor North.

Instead of focusing analytically on celebrities as actors, the authors in this collection engage celebrity actions, the processes of making an intervention in North—South relations, as a celebrity humanitarian. When considering how to reconcile analytically such diverse examples of celebrity humanitarians as Angelina Jolie, the A-list Hollywood actress (featured in chapter 1) with Mohammed Yunus, the Bangladeshi founder of the Grameen Bank (featured in chapter 3), we draw foundationally on Brockington’s definition of “celebrity”:

Celebrity describes sustained public appearances that are materially beneficial, and where the benefits are at least partially enjoyed by people other than the celebrity themselves, by stakeholders whose job it is to manage the appearance of that celebrity. According to this definition, members of the public interviewed by roving reporters would not be celebrities. Academics promoting their books in the media would qualify if those media opportunities were provided by an agent promoting their book. xxviii

This definition is useful for orienting contextually grounded studies because it focuses on the materiality of celebrity as performance for profit. It is also a functionalist argument: celebrities are such because they function as such — there is no ontology in celebrity per se. This allows for significant flexibility in the concept: to include non-film stars and those who claim to be anything but celebrities. Celebrities under study in this book are both individuals from the entertainment industry who cross over into fields of humanitarianism and international development, as well as experts (intellectuals, politicians, professionals) who are reconfigured as celebrities vis-à-vis the mediatization of their persona. Just as celebrity itself is an unstable category xxix, celebrity humanitarian may be a category that can change over time or with place. For example, chapter 7 suggests that the actor Sean Penn may be considered a celebrity humanitarian of considerably more standing in Haiti than in the US.

Humanitarian celebrities provoke questions about mediatization, representation and aspirational distance. When celebrities are “narrowcasting” representations of the relationship between North and South (images of global inequality, of transnational need, etc.) what is their context? Which audiences are being targeted? Which audiences are reached? What are the geographical and cultural boundaries of the celebrity engagement? What are the identities and practices represented to these audiences? Is there any possibility for interrogating these representations of North—South relations? If so, who does that and from which standpoint do they claim to speak?

North—South relations

To define the scope of celebrity action across these texts a term is borrowed from international relations and development studies — “North—South relations.” The traditional meaning of the term draws from political science descriptions of the relationships that emerged at the end of World War II and decolonization. Its common usage dates back to the 1970s when the North was the “wealthy, industrialized nations of the non-communist world,” aligned diplomatically against the “countries of the so-called developing world” in the South. xxx While remaining a contested term, North—South relations came to be used commonly in describing trade relations, security policy, diplomacy, development aid, capital flows, or economic integration between states or groups of states. Yet, in the postcolonial era of trade and aid regimes characterized more strongly by global transnational governance and less by negotiations between states, North—South has come to take on a different scope of understanding. Today, it is used to capture differences at multiple levels (from global flows to local communities) and to highlight relationships that are neither spatial nor geographical. There is no “North” as an empirical place, but rather “North” as a position in an hierarchy between North and South, across levels and geographies.

In this book, our conceptual context is described as “North—South relations” meant to encompass both international development and humanitarian interventions. “Development” is typically understood as those aid relationships aiming to combat poverty and/or and reduce economic inequality. In contrast, “humanitarian” interventions are viewed as short-term responses to unanticipated crises, typically caused by war, and environmental or “natural” disasters. xxxi Brockington explains the “fundamental difference between the two is that development is something that you, or your community, can do to yourself or itself. But humanitarianism requires a needy other. The history of humanitarianism begins with the recognition of the humanity of distant strangers.” xxxii

In spite of the potential distinctions in conceptualization and practices, our book merges “international development” and “humanitarianism” under the marker of “North—South relations.” This is a deliberate choice to both connect the past forms of North—South linkage, from slavery and empire to 1970s development as modernization (in the classical Rostowian “stages of economic growth” sense). It is also to open up the field of scrutiny to include the many other, increasingly relevant, terms of engagement between North and South that fall outside of traditional international development assistance — corporate social responsibility, remittances, consumption-based humanitarianism or “brand aid”, and investment. North—South relations suggest a flow, a mobility and a necessarily transnational character to the object of our study.

Celebrity actors operate within and across North and South with consequences for development and humanitarianism. In the South they perform site visits, establish development organizations, serve international governmental organizations, and behave as “disaster tourists.” In the North, they act as witnesses, ambassadors, fundraisers and activists. The diverse sites of engagement offer varying opportunities and constraints. A comparison of contexts reveals the underlying dynamics of power of celebrity humanitarians. Celebrities gain power based on their ability to reach audiences — building authority, legitimacy and influence — and impacting local and global processes of governance. Thus, there is a pressing need to examine celebrities and the role of context in the power relations that constitute North—South relations.


Humanitarianism, with or without celebrities, is being conceptually debated, understood, and reworked through a large and diverse academic literature that, for the most part, we will not cover in this book. xxxiii International relations scholars use “humanitarianism” with a specific historical reference to the 1864 Geneva Convention’s recognition in international law of humanitarian principles to govern the moral practice of war. The expansion of humanitarian space from the governance of war to more nebulous interventions on behalf of an assumed shared humanity dates back to the 1970s crisis in Biafra (see Vestergaard forthcoming for an in-depth review). As suggested by its title, “The problems with humanitarianism,” Belloni (2007) argues that intervention in the domestic affairs within states on the grounds of a shared humanity, as humanitarianism is currently practiced in North—South relations, serves to support the interests of powerful elites and undermine the moral basis of human rights on which this intervention is predicated. One of the unanswered questions addressed in this book is the following: to what extent are the problems with celebrity humanitarianism actually indicative of, or derived from, ongoing problems of humanitarian intervention in general? Our empirical cases expand beyond the Western international relations scope of humanitarianism — with South Africa, Bangladesh and China in chapters 3, 4 and 5 — and thus suggest that more work is needed on the contemporary trajectory that is taken by the concept “humanitarianism” to move it from post-Westphalian notions of international versus state and into the realm of global governance of North—South relations.

However, as part of our pragmatic analytical framework, we have chosen to retain the term “humanitarianism” to signify the practices of the celebrities described in the following chapters. Kapoor notes that the terms “charity,” “philanthropy” and “humanitarianism” are often used interchangeably, but that “charity” carries an explicitly Christian genealogy, while “philanthropy” is used for secular, and typically corporate interventions. xxxiv Littler used the term “do-gooding” to describe a particular type of response to suffering at a distance — one that “generates a lot of hype and PR but is relatively insignificant in relation to international and governmental policy.” xxxv This is a useful catch-all concept that works across the public—private and the religious spectrum, but our empirical examples suggest that celebrity “do-gooding” actually interacts in interesting ways with international policy and how it is understood (for example, Angelina Jolie’s work for UNHCR with Burmese refugees in chapter 1) and also with governmental policy (for example, the use of Madonna’s projects in Malawian political debates in chapter 2).

“Humanitarianism” for the authors in this book signifies the “do-gooding” response to distant suffering, whether this distance is actually geographical or geopolitical (historically-derived inequalities characterized by an economic disparity), that includes an explicit or implicit claim for the moral basis of its good-doing. In chapter 9, van Krieken, acknowledging that humanitarianism arises when the devout worry about the moral character of society, points out that “establishing the moral character of society takes on a life of its own, overshadowing the sorts of social, economic and political issues underpinning the problems being addressed.” Celebrities play important roles in representing, embodying and also in shaping the meanings of what is considered to be “moral” through the management of affect, or feelings, between audiences of donors and recipients. Thus, traditional understandings of humanitarianism help us to grasp why this realm is fertile for interventions by celebrities:

“The humanitarian imperative” is in this sense a vague, moral goal. What is the “dependent variable”? ... The basic problem, then, is that the “product” of humanitarian organizations’ activities is mushy … the product is measured in terms of what are in effect needs and “good feelings” of a distant constituency, political advantages of distant countries, and so forth. This is why publicity is so important in the manner in which relief programs are administered. The point is not the good feelings of clients, the refugees, but those on the other end of the mercy calculation, the feelings of the donors. xxxvi

Even authors who are deeply critical of the “actually existing practices of humanitarianism” do not neglect the moral imperatives that it, however imperfectly, attempts to manifest in the world. In his classic book on famine, De Waal argues that his critique is “not to abandon humanitarianism, which can again be a force for ethical progress. But a humanitarianism that sets itself against or above politics is futile.” xxxvii Our chapters demonstrate the kinds of politics, both global and local, that are actually taking place around celebrity interventions, and the epilogue makes a strong case for how these politics can and should be taken seriously.

Organization of the book

Methodology and research questions across the chapters

This book is based on the contributions of scholars of geography, development studies, anthropology, cultural studies, political science, and sociology. Thus, our common analytical approach is pragmatic and aims to clearly situate each of the empirical case studies within the most relevant literatures for understanding the research puzzle of the chapter. Similarly, there is no single, “best” methodological approach to the study of celebrity humanitarianism. The chapters in this book, however, do deviate from much of the work on media and culture in that they consider both the material and the representational sides of the celebrity intervention. Studying celebrities “up close” is a difficult task of course, and much of the conceptual debate about the production of authenticity around the personae of celebrities applies to issues of data collection as well. Therefore, the chapters present a fuller picture of celebrity humanitarianism when the frame of reference is expanded beyond the mainstream media coverage of the celebrity’s “good deed.”

The chapters in this book use grounded empirical cases to answer the following questions:

How do celebrities mediate elite politics between North and South? Particularly in chapters 3 (Schwittay), 6 (Budabin), 7 (Rosamond) and 8 (Olwig & Christiansen).

Which publics are engaged in diverse places, through which celebritized means and what does this mean for politics? Particularly in chapters 7 (Rosamond), 8 (Olwig & Christansen) and 9 (van Krieken).

How do celebritized interventions impact local politics of development that take place in the South? Particularly in chapters 1 (Mostafanezhad), 2 (Rasmussen), 4 (Mupotsa), and 5 (Hood).

How can the perspective of Southern celebrities shape our understanding of development practices? Particularly in chapters 3 (Schwittay), 4 (Mupotsa), and 5 (Hood).

How do humanitarian representations of power (concepts of “need” and agency) change in different places as celebrities try to “sell” a particular cause to a particular audience? Particularly in chapters 1 (Mostafanezhad), 3 (Schwittay), 4 (Mupostsa), 6 (Budabin), 7 (Rosamond) and 9 (van Krieken).

These research questions are addressed by thematically-organized chapters divided across two themes: 1) What impact do celebrities have in the global South? and 2) What does celebrity engagement mean in the donor North? The use of the term “North—South relations” has been outlined above as describing the scope of analysis in each chapter’s case studies, but further clarification is necessary to explain why the book is organized according to what our critics might argue is an artificial divide between North and South, or clinging to unhelpful typology between geopolitical spheres of “oppressor” and “oppressed.”

First, we begin by highlighting the contribution that this book makes toward analysis that begins and ends with the global South. This is a purposive choice in tracing the trajectory of contemporary celebrity humanitarianism back to its “noble” historical roots in universal human rights and emancipating individuals from the oppressive powers of their states, but also back to its “dishonorable” roots in slavery, colonialism and ongoing forms of exploitation. The “South” in this book is a relative position in a power structure that has historically and geographically specific roots and takes culturally specific forms. Our chapters demonstrate how the “South” can produce different kinds of celebrity humanitarians (for example, Pu Cunxin in China or Sofie Ndaba in South Africa). The chapters also show how celebrities can produce different kinds of “South” or intended recipients of humanitarian do-gooding (comparing Haiti and New Orleans in chapter 7, or Washington and Kinshasa in chapter 6). Using the perspective of “celebrity impact in the global south” allows us to unpack these variations across politics, place and power in each of the different chapters.

Second, we explore what the processes of celebritization suggest for participatory democracy and for the “donor North.” Here again we are not embracing an archaic notion that only Western OECD countries are “donors” or humanitarian actors, but we are exploring empirically the theories outlined above that suggest that the entry of celebrities into the realm of humanitarianism has produced changes in what is considered possible and actually practiced. When celebrities signify “the public” or the agents of humanitarianism, who is their audience and which public are they actually constituting? The chapters in this section all subject the donor North to critical examination, both in its relation to the recipient South and in the relationship constituted amongst the “helpers” themselves, be that problematically elitist as argued in chapter 6 or problematically democratic as argued in chapter 8. These sections can be read independently, but should be considered together to understand why celebrity humanitarianism is an effective lens for viewing the multiple and diverse relationships that constitute the links between North and South.

[pages 14-20 removed from original chapter]

Conclusion: politics, place and power

As complexity in North—South relations intensifies and democratic face-to-face accountability becomes increasingly impossible, back talk is incomprehensible, and culture is confusing, there are openings for celebrities as mediators of this global social distance. This sort of complexity is at the very foundation of North—South relations exemplified by contemporary humanitarian and development realities, such as the Ebola anecdote that began this introduction. Yet, as celebrities (and corporations) become increasingly involved in shaping the meanings of humanitarianism, the field itself will be increasingly shifted toward the elite, the profitable and the photogenic. It would be naïve to imagine a time when “development” was more “authentically” concerned with mitigating the negative effects of poverty and inequality. If anything, as chapter 9 clearly demonstrates, at the heart of the humanitarian impulse is the push for modernity that we see in both colonialism and development. It would be intellectually arrogant and culturally Anglocentric to assume that global celebrity cultures of iconic suffering are unilaterally shaping “local” celebrity cultures across the globe. Chapter 8 suggests the impervious nature of a local culture more ironic than iconic. However, to understand their relationships, linkages, misconnections and transnational flows, we need far more attention to the actual practices of elite leadership in comparative contexts. Thus, this book’s conclusions, not its premises, are critical. Nine substantive chapters focusing on the impact of celebrity humanitarianism in the Global South and celebritization, participation and democratization in the donor North illustrate the social structuring of celebrity through institutional forms of life, or in other words, the staging of inequality.


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1 London and New York: Routledge (2016): 1-23. Republished with permission from Taylor & Francis

i Independent on Sunday newspaper from 3 August 2014, referenced in “Give me the money, now! But what will happen tomorrow? Ebola as a symbol for the ‘moral bankruptcy of capitalism’. ” aspiration&revolution blog by Tanja R. Müller, 14 Oct. 2014, last accessed 20 Jan. 2015.

ii Although it should be noted that the reported that film writer Tunde Kelani “disclosed that he plans to converge Nollywood celebrities to help create an awareness campaign on the dreaded Ebola virus.”, last accessed 3 Oct. 2014.

iii “Band Aid 30: Bob Geldof rewrites classic lyrics for Ebola-fighting 30th anniversary release” The Independent, 12 January 2014., last accessed 12 January 2015.

iv “Band Aid 30: ‘Buy the song. Stop the virus’. Just don’t ask how.” Róisín Read on Manchester Calling Blog at, last accessed 20 Jan 2015.

v (Littler 2008, p. 237).

vi (Brockington 2014)

vii “Does Paul Farmer have the Ebola Solution? George Soros is Spending $4 Million to Find Out.” Forbes, 16, Sept. 2014. (Richey and Ponte 2011), last accessed 20 Jan 2015.

viii, last accessed 20 Jan 2015.

ix The largest donors were the US government and the World Bank, followed by the UK, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Gates Foundation, Mark Zuckerberg and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation also gave donations to fight Ebola. “UN Ebola chief calls for final funding push to defeat virus in West Africa,” The Guardian, 20 Jan. 2015., last accessed 20 Jan. 2015.

x, last accessed 20 Jan. 2015.

xi (Müller 2013, p. 481)

xii (Müller 2013, p. 470; Boltanski 1999)

xiii (Chouliaraki 2013, p. 187)

xiv (2007, p. 108)

xv (for a useful overview see Robertson 2015)

xvi (Littler 2008)

xvii (Wheeler 2013, p. 1)

xviii (Repo & Yrjölä 2011)

xix (Cooper 2008) (Richey & Ponte 2011)

xx (Brockington 2014; Chouliaraki 2012; Dieter & Kumar 2008; Goodman & Barnes 2011; Huliaras & Tzifakis 2010; Littler 2011; Müller 2013; Repo & Yrjölä 2011; Scott 2014; and Wheeler 2011)

xxi (Brockington 2014)

xxii (Street 2004, 2010, 2012) (2013, p. 2)

xxiii (from the first book to examine this: Tsaliki, Frangonikolopoulos & Huliaras 2011)

xxiv (Richey & Ponte 2014)

xxv 2013.

xxvi 1991.

xxvii ibid. pp. 222—230

xxviii 2014, p. xxi

xxix see Driessens 2013, p. 557

xxx “North-South Policy — What's the Problem?” Foreign Affairs. 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2015., last accessed 30 Jan. 2015.

xxxi There is a significant gap between the portrayal of the causes of humanitarian disasters as “emergencies” and considerations of their historical and political roots, and these differences shape both conflict itself and institutional resilience, as argued by Roberto Belloni (2007).

xxxii 2014, p. xxii

xxxiii for a selected overview, see books by Barnett 2011; Fassin 2012; Waters 2001

xxxiv 2013, p. 4

xxxv 2008, p. 240

xxxvi (Waters 2001, pp. 41—42)

xxxvii 1997, p. 6

Copyright (c) 2016 Lisa Ann Richey