Chapter Nine: Underline, Celebrate, Mitigate, Erase: Humanitarian NGOs’ Strategies of Communicating Difference
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Underline, Celebrate, Mitigate, Erase
Humanitarian NGOs’ Strategies of Communicating Difference
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are amongst the central producers of representations of humanitarianism in the contemporary global mediated space. Their messages rely heavily on symbolically representing ‘the other’—victims of atrocities, natural disasters and human rights abuses, and children and women in the global South—to elicit care, compassion, and action from audiences primarily in the global North. This paper expands debate on representation of distant suffering and international development by exploring how NGO practitioners’ frames of thinking and understanding inform their communications practices and shape particular choices of how to portray difference and otherness. It examines four strategies employed by NGOs in their planning and production of communications of international development, humanitarian aid, and human rights abuses, namely underlining, celebrating, mitigating, and erasing difference. The discussion is based on a thematic analysis of in-depth interviews with 17 NGO professionals in 9 UK-based organizations, responsible for the design and production of international development, humanitarian crisis and human rights abuse communications, and an analysis of 12 communication items selected by representatives of those NGOs.
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