Commodifying Compassion: Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things - Final Conference
On the 2nd of May, the research project Commodifying Compassion: Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things held its final conference at Dalgas Have. Commodifying Compassion (CoCo) research project (2017-2023), funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research, has aimed to open the “black box” of privatized humanitarianism, asking how ‘helping’ has become a marketable commodity and how this impacts humanitarianism symbolically and materially.
As part of the conference we heard presentations from our home team, as our CoCo researchers shared some of their findings. Alexandra Budabin presented her work done together with Lisa Ann Richey on celebrity humanitarianism and partnerships, which they have explored in detail in their book Batman Saves the Congo: How Celebrities Disrupt the Politics of Development (University of Minnesota Press, 2021). We also learned of the audacity and genius of "COVID-branding" as Maha Rafi Atal enlightened us with the marketing communication of companies during the COVID-19 crises. The "black box of humanitarian partnerships was partly opened by Mette Fog Olwig and Roberta Hawkins who took us through the World Development Special Issue. Lastly, we landed in a Peruvian prison as Lisa Ann Richey presented some of her new work on the imaginaries of sisterly solidarity that are constructed even with prison labour by high fashion brands.
Dan Brockington (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) held a fascinating keynote presentation on Blockchain and Data Justice and the new trends in digital giving. We also learned a lot about public dissemination from the invited presentation from Laura Seay (Assistant Professor of Government, Colby College and a regular writer for The Washington Post) on How Not to Write About the Majority World. The conference program can be found here.
The presentations and the conference day were followed by lively discussions on how to move beyond commodified forms of caring. Lisa Ann Richey, the PI of Commodifying Compassion, offered a take home conclusion: “Stop trying to help and start fighting for justice”.
Commodifying Compassion and Beyond: Do-Gooding Partnerships and Power in the Digital Age - Workshop
The following day, 3rd of May, the CoCo team continued with the Commodifying Compassion and Beyond: Do-Gooding Partnerships and Power in the Digital Age workshop, exploring digital giving and partnerships. Digital technology is transforming the way we buy, sell and communicate, as well as how we “help”. This growing role of digital technologies, and the companies that produce them has shaped the humanitarian sector and the constellation of actors and alliances that navigate it. Is ‘tech for good’, providing us with new innovative solutions to global problems or do they continue to turn humanitarian causes into profitable, technocratic, and apolitical solutions?
With nine invited workshop papers the day explored a wide range of themes within privatized humanitarianism from the role of VR in refugee assistance to Feminist Commodity Activism. Together with a fantastic group of discussants the day successfully combined scholarly excellence, difficult questions, diverse and rich data and a great crowd of people.
A Warm thank you to everyone who has been part of the Commodifying Compassion journey! Your support has been invaluable!
Call for Abstracts!
Submit to our Special Issue on "Commodifying Compassion in the Digital Age: The Promise and Perils of “Tech for Good” for Big Data & Society by August 7th.
This special issue will engage in current critical debates about datafication and power (Iliadis and Russo, 2016) and the ways in which the political economy of big data intersects with crises and ideas of “giving” (Fourcade and Kluttz, 2020), “care” (Taylor, 2020) and “public value” (Thornham and Gómez Cruz, 2016; Cinnamon, 2020). We welcome papers that address these themes by investigating the role of a wide range of actors, including humanitarian organizations, private sector actors, and civil society. Across this diverse area of focus, we are keen for submissions that answer any of the following questions:
What are the range of motivations that drive humanitarian actors to gather, process or commodify big data in a development context? These might include a desire for greater accountability, to promote civil society engagement, or to close perceived empathy gaps between donor and recipient communities.
What is the role, self-styled or otherwise, of technology companies as humanitarian actors, including as data intermediaries who alter the relationships between donors, traditional humanitarian agencies and beneficiaries?
Can digital technologies, from data platforms to AI, fulfill their promise to deliver greater cost-effectiveness and objectivity? In particular, while digital media makes a promise to bridge physical distance between communities, papers might consider whether it can also introduce new forms of digital distance and mediation.
How is the increasing reliance on big data transforming both the internal practices and external impact of humanitarian agencies? Has digital technology in the humanitarian arena enabled a greater privatization and professionalization of humanitarian action? Does the reliance on big data and the technologies that depend upon it merely compounded, or qualitatively transformed, the ongoing commodification of humanitarian compassion?
How, if at all, can digital technologies and novel uses of big data provide new avenues for marginalized communities in the Majority World to resist or contest the way they are portrayed or treated by would-be humanitarians in the Global North?
Submission Details and Timeline
Titles, abstracts and a short author bio should be submitted to Maha Rafi Atal (firstname.lastname@example.org), Sofie Elbæk Henriksen (email@example.com) and Lisa Ann Richey (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Monday, August 7th. Following this, the expected timeline is:
September 2023: Selected authors invited to progress to full paper.
November 1st: Full papers due to special issue editors.
November 15th: Authors receive editorial feedback from special issue editors
January 15th, 2024: Revised papers due for journal submission.
Cinnamon, J. (2020) ‘Platform philanthropy, “public value”, and the COVID-19 pandemic moment’, Dialogues in Human Geography, 10(2), pp. 242–245. doi: 10.1177/2043820620933860.
Fourcade, M. and Kluttz, D. N. (2020) ‘A Maussian bargain: Accumulation by gift in the digital economy’, Big Data and Society, 7(1). doi: 10.1177/2053951719897092.
Iliadis, A. and Russo, F. (2016) ‘Critical data studies: An introduction’, Big Data and Society, 3(2), pp. 1–7. doi: 10.1177/2053951716674238.
Taylor, L. (2020) ‘The price of certainty: How the politics of pandemic data demand an ethics of care’, Big Data and Society, 7(2). doi: 10.1177/2053951720942539.
Thornham, H. and Gómez Cruz, E. (2016) ‘Hackathons, data and discourse: Convolutions of the data (logical)’, Big Data and Society, 3(2), pp. 1–11. doi: 10.1177/2053951716679675.