Project Publications

Branding in the COVID-19 Pandemic

In this briefing note, we present a preliminary analysis of Covid-branding by companies in Europe and North
America during March and April 2020. Our analysis finds that messaging clustered clearly into two ways could
engage: ‘Covid-helping’ and ‘Covid-coping.’ These messages of ‘managing the pandemic’ and ‘managing yourself’
frame the consumption of goods and services as a way that consumers can show they care, presenting shopping
as a form of everyday heroism. In this way, they make the case that private sector has a role to play in
humanitarian response.

Maha Rafi Atal and Lisa Ann Richey

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The Tropes of Celebrity Environmentalism (2020)

Celebrity advocacy for environmental causes has grown dramatically in recent decades. An examination of this expansion and the rise of causes such as climate change reveals the shifting politics and organization of advocacy. We address these changes to the construction and interpretation of celebrity advocacy and detail how they have produced a rich variety of environmental celebrity advocates. We also account for differences between legacy (e.g., radio, TV, newspapers) and online celebrities and their practices (e.g., hashtag publics, brandjacking, online communities). Environmental celebrity advocates’ performances can be divided into nine tropes, each characterized in part by the particular varieties of environmentalism that they promote. We present the tropes and discuss their five cross-cutting themes. We conclude with a set of questions for future research on celebrity environmentalism.

Abidin, C., Brockington, D., Goodman, M. K., Mostafanezhad, M., & Richey, L. A. (2020). The Tropes of Celebrity Environmentalism. Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Annual Reviews.

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Saving the world by doing business? Background paper on the role of the private sector in Danish aid (2020)

In recent years publicly funded development and humanitarian aid is being reduced, while the private sector is increasingly being considered a key development actor. This working paper provides an overview of the institutional framework that currently influences these processes in Denmark. We find that in Denmark, this new approach to aid has taken place in the context of a significant change in the Danish national narrative concerning engagement in aid. Whereas the narrative formerly emphasized the importance of selfless global solidarity it has now opened up for approaches that are overtly strategic and self-interested in relation to safety, values, and business interests. While business has always been part of development, the change in narrative has further legitimized combining profit and development. We show how the Danish Government has encouraged civil society to engage in joint ventures with the business sector and describe a spectrum of humanitarian and development initiatives with private business. Together these trends and initiatives have resulted in a Danish institutional framework that, we find, strongly supports and promotes the involvement of business in the development sector. This will have important implications for the scope and agenda of development, as well as for standards for accountability and measurement of results, that need to be further studied.

Mette Fog Olwig, Julie Andersen Schou (2020). 'Saving the world by doing business? A background paper on the role of the private sector in Danish aid'. CBDS Working Paper 2020/1


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Celebrity Humanitarianism: Using Tropes of Engagement to Understand North/South Relations (2019)

Celebrity humanitarianism has been transformed in its scope, scale, and organization in the last thirty years. Its flourishing has generated considerable academic interest from a wide variety of disciplines that share two characteristics. First, these studies are—unusually—well connected, which means that different disciplines have not tended to develop their own separate literatures, but learn from each other’s approaches. This makes it useful and important to identify ways different disciplinary approaches can complement each other. Second, most of this attention has focused on politics of celebrity humanitarianism in the global North. Yet focusing also on the South and on North/South relations will move the field forward. We argue that celebrity humanitarianism must be interpreted through the broader systems of which it is a part. We offer a heuristic typology of celebrity humanitarianism that continues to bridge between different disciplines and which identifies ways in which political science can complement existing studies. We also use this typology to refocus work on the politics of celebrity humanitarian relations away from merely Northern politics. This approach allows us to identify what sorts of politics and political solutions are being advocated by current forms of celebrity humanitarianism.

Richey, L., & Brockington, D. (2019). Celebrity Humanitarianism: Using Tropes of Engagement to Understand North/South Relations. Perspectives on Politics, 1-17. doi:10.1017/S1537592719002627


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Caffeinated Solutions as Neoliberal Politics: How Celebrities Create and Promote Partnerships for Peace and Development (2019)

How do celebrities exert power to influence elite and popular thinking and policy around peace and development? Drawing from research on neoliberalism, celebrities, and ethical consumption, I build an interpretive analysis of two case studies of Brand Aid initiatives to argue first, that celebrities mobilize financial and political capital to create partnerships across businesses, NGOs, and the government in ways that embody neoliberal politics by ushering in new private actors; and second, that celebrities reinforce these neoliberal politics by promoting these partnerships to popular and elite audiences. I discuss how this paper contributes to unmasking neoliberal trends by showing how celebrities are deepening their engagement in ways that hold implications for democratic politics. 

Budabin, A.C. (2019). Caffeinated Solutions as Neoliberal Politics: How Celebrities Create and Promote Partnerships for Peace and Development. Perspectives on Politics


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Humanitarian humor, digilantism, and the dilemmas of representing volunteer tourism on social media (2019)

How is volunteer tourism practice portrayed and policed in an online setting? First, this article describes three humanitarian-themed campaigns—Radi-Aid on YouTube, Humanitarians of Tinder on Tumblr, and Barbie Savior on Instagram—to consider the ways edgy humor might be employed to rebuke and resolve problematic humanitarian practices as well as representations of the African “other” and the humanitarian self. Second, through an inspection of repeated semi-structured interviews and visual content uploaded to Facebook, this article shows how a group of UK-based international volunteers took measures to avoid “stereotypical” volunteer photography (embracing children, selfies) when communicating their experiences in Kenya to a public audience, determined to avoid the scrutiny of “in the know” audience members. We consider these counter-narratives in light of Jane’s concept of “digilantism,” an emerging style of networked response to injustice. 

Schwarz, K. C. & Richey, L. A. (2019). Humanitarian humor, digilantism, and the dilemmas of representing volunteer tourism on social media. New Media & Society


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Book Review: Why we lie about aid: development and the messy politics of change. By Pablo Yanguas (2019)

Do we lie about aid? Absolutely, and reading Why we lie about aid: development and the messy politics of change will explain both how and why. But do we also lie about development, delinking it from its noble history of cross-border helping, rebuilding and alliances as well as from its ignoble history of slavery, colonialism and exploitation? The main argument in this book is that development requires fundamental changes, indeed transformations, and that these can be catalysed by foreign aid, yet doing so produces a highly contentious moral politics.

Richey, L. A. (2019).  Why we lie about aid: development and the messy politics of change (Book review). International Affairs 95(2): 488-489. 

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Eclipsed by the halo: ‘Helping’ brands through dissociation (2019)

‘Helping’ distant others through ‘Brand Aid’ humanitarianism may be one of the most successful dissociational branding practices of all. In this short commentary, I argue that humanitarian ‘helping’ itself can become a branded commodity, as understood by Ibert et al. (2019). I draw on the dissociational framework to reconsider the concept of ‘brand aid’ as a link between ethical consumption, international development, and the commodification of humanitarianism. In brand aid, the ‘ethical’ action proposed by a consumption choice triggers the ‘helping’ of distant and disengaged Others. This results in reshaping the real or imagined ethical obligations across networks of solidarity, where dissociational symbolic value moves from consumption back to production and is deflected onto suffering Others. In these chains of value, the conditions of production become eclipsed by the halo of helping through consumption. Ethical consumption is becoming less possible, humanitarianism is increasingly commodified, and ‘partnerships’ meant to alleviate global suffering are becoming more complicated than ever before. Cultural economic geography can deepen our knowledge of how maintaining inequalities can produce surplus value through ‘helping’, and how this is embedded in strategic and habitual forms of dissociation from global ills.

Richey, L. A. (2019). Eclipsed by the halo: ‘Helping’ brands through dissociation. Dialogues in Human Geography 9(1): 78-82.

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The Corporate Karma Carnival: Offline and online games, branding and humanitarianism at the Roskilde Festival (2018)

This chapter asks whether it is possible to harness the powers of ‘the popular’ and media culture in the service of humanitarianism. There is a need to critically balance an analysis of the potentially progressive and/or problematic aspects of a popularised humanitarian event. Exploring the energies that are at play in the popular ‘carnival’ of the Danish Roskilde Festival, this chapter examines how the carnivalesque can function both as a form of corporate branding and as a means to destabilise the status quo identified with a negatively branded segment of the population. The chapter also analyses the expansion of the festival into cyberspace, and the offline–online interconnectivity of the festival’s humanitarian events.

Christiansen, L. B. & Olwig, M. F. (2018). The corporate karma carnival: Offline and online games, branding and humanitarianism at the Roskilde Festival. In Global humanitarianism and media culture, eds. Michael Lawrence  & Rachel Tavernor. Manchester University Press.  

Open access version

Conceptualizing “Everyday Humanitarianism”: Ethics, Affects, and Practices of Contemporary Global Helping (2018)

Humanitarianism has become increasingly widespread in our public life— from celebrity culture to Twitter messaging and from Christmas shopping to concert-going. This Special Issue introduces the concept of “Everyday Humanitarianism” for understanding an expanded series of practices in the lives of citizens that purport to make a difference outside the traditional boundaries of professional humanitarian activity. The term can also refer to the quotidian practices of humanitarian workers as they negotiate within the boundaries of formal structures. Everyday humanitarianism can be found in shopping malls and International Organizations alike, and the struggles over its ethics and politics are consistent. Key questions arise: What does helping look like in the age of market-driven, digital media-based action? What are the implications of such practices for the ethics and politics of contemporary compassion? The contributions to this Special Issue examine everyday humanitarianism and provide unconventional, interdisciplinary approaches to understanding selected aspects of this civic and organizational benevolence.

Richey, L. A. (2018). Conceptualizing “Everyday Humanitarianism”: Ethics, Affects, and Practices of Contemporary Global Helping. New Political Science 40(4): 625-639.

Online version

An Imperative to Act: Boarding the Relief Flights of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Biafra,1967–1970 (2018)

This article analyzes the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) humanitarian politics of intervention during its relief operation in the Nigeria–Biafra conflict (1967–1970). The humanitarian response to the conflict was a foundational moment for everyday humanitarianism marking a shift from “traditional” state-oriented humanitarianism to an expansion in scope, actors,

and practices operating outside of the formal structures of the state. By examining recently declassified archival records, I trace the ICRC’s shifting categorizations of victims in a changing humanitarian landscape. The article makes two main contributions: First, I demonstrate empirically how the Nigeria–Biafra conflict challenged the ICRC’s definition of humanitarian engagement and understandings of victimhood. Second, I argue that the ICRC had a clearer understanding than usually conveyed of how the Biafran leadership used the language of humanitarianism and victimhood to deploy an international response. Conclusively, I reflect on what the history of the ICRC in Biafra can teach scholars of contemporary humanitarianism.

Vestergaard, M. (2018). An Imperative to Act: Boarding the Relief Flights of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Biafra (1967–1970). New Political Science 40(4): 675-690.

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The Elite Politics of Media Advocacy in Human Rights (2018)

Advocacy nongovernmental organizations based in the North adopt digital tools to bypass repressive regimes, raise awareness amongst global publics, sustain grassroots activists in the South, and engage in political action. Social media was

expected to offer innovative platforms for mobilizing participants to act on behalf of “distant others.” But the practices of some organizations signal that something else is at play. Rather than empower individuals, digital campaigns reify elite politics, using outsider strategies to support insider lobbying. Through communicative processes of mediatization, organizations pay homage to the existence of a movement, but only afford thin forms of participation. Using the framework of media advocacy to explore Human Rights Watch and the Enough! Project, we argue that social media becomes a top-down platform that exacerbates the elite design of organizations, enabling them to assert legitimacy for political actions, while disingenuously marketing themselves as democratic with bottom-up credibility.

Budabin, A. C. & Pruce, J. R. (2018). The Elite Politics of Media Advocacy in Human RightsNew Political Science 40(4): 744-762.

Online version

Special Issue: Everyday Humanitarianism: Ethics, Affects and Practices (2018)

Our starting point in this special issue is in opening up traditional understandings and practices of humanitarianism to bring multi-faceted approaches to a classical area of political inquiry. As the rhetoric and practice of humanitarian good-doing becomes increasingly widespread in our public life—from celebrity culture to Twitter messaging and from Christmas shopping to concert-going—key questions arise. What does humanitarianism look like in the age of market-driven, digital media-based action? What happens to traditional humanitarian ideals, at the time of increasing bureaucratization and celebrification of humanitarian practice? What are the implications of such practices for the ethics and politics of contemporary benevolence? Do we live in an age of “post-humanitarianism” where doing good for others is intrinsically linked with feelings of gratification for the self? Universal questions of justice and equality, which once justified humanitarian intervention, seem to be fading into the background as humanitarianism takes on myriad forms and practices at all levels of society from the individual to the state and from the community-based organization to the corporation. What other forms of justification or multiple conceptions of “the good” have taken their place?

This special issue attempts to address such questions, by opening up existing understandings of humanitarianism to interdisciplinary and multi-method approaches toward the study of “good-doing” and its multiple conceptions and forms of justification, today. Its aim is to define and analyze the diverse practices of everyday humanitarianism—their technologies, affects, and dispositions—and to reflect on their consequences for our public life.

Richey, L.A. and L. Chouliaraki, eds. (2018). Everyday Humanitarianism: Ethics, Affects and Practices. Special Issue of New Political Science.

Open access version

Advocacy Narratives and Celebrity Engagement: the Case of Ben Affleck in Congo (2018)

Global celebrities are increasingly important in human rights--promoting causes, raising awareness, and interacting with decision-makers—as communicators to mass and elite audiences. Deepening the literature on transnational advocacy and North-South relations, this article argues that celebrities shape human rights narratives by selecting issues and interacting with dominant framings. This hypothesis is tested through a discourse analysis of professional entertainer Ben Affleck’s spoken and written texts along with organizational materials covering the establishment of the Eastern Congo Initiative. The study explains how the ability for celebrities to contend with narratives reflects elite practices in human rights advocacy. 

Budabin, A. C. & Richey, L. A. (2018). Advocacy Narratives and Celebrity Engagement: the Case of Ben Affleck in Congo. Human Rights Quarterly 40: 260-286.

Open access version

Afropolitanism, celebrity politics, and iconic imaginations of North–South relations (2018)

In discussions of African cultural politics, a new label of ‘Afropolitan’ refers to diverse engagements by Africans who are typically members of the cultural elite, and participate in diaspora politics, online activism, fashion and literature debates. Simultaneously, in discussions of development aid, celebrity has become a way of mediating between proximity and distance in imagining relationships between South and North. Afropolitanism can be usefully considered as an Africa-specific, post-colonial form of cosmopolitanism that spans discourses of elite pan-African culture to theories of elite global aid culture. We argue that there are essential connections between the rise of Afropolitanism and the celebritization of North-South relations. In this realm, “Afropolitanism” is an idea combining cosmopolitanism’s notions of kindness to strangers in a world where the ‘kindness’ is aid and the ‘strangers’ are Africans. We analyse two archetypical Afropolitan performances by Danish aid celebrities to argue that their representations of Africa’s external relations are theoretically more interesting, and politically more dangerous, than is currently understood. In doing so, we expand the debates around Afropolitanism and celebritization from the realm of cultural politics to one of International Relations.

Richey, L. A. & Christiansen, L. B. (2018). Afropolitanism, celebrity politics, and iconic imaginations of North–South relations. African Affairs 117(467): 238-260.

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Celebrity-led development organisations: the legitimating function of elite engagement (2017)

The past decade has seen a frontier open up in international development engagement with the entrance of new actors such as celebrity-led organisations. We explore how such organisations earn legitimacy with a focus on Madonna’s Raising Malawi and Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative. The study draws from organisational materials, interviews, mainstream news coverage, and the texts of the celebrities themselves to investigate the construction of authenticity, credibility, and accountability. We find these organisations earn legitimacy and flourish rapidly amid supportive elite networks for funding, endorsements, and expertise. We argue that the ways in which celebrity-led organisations establish themselves as legitimate development actors illustrate broader dynamics of the machinery of development.

Budabin, A.C., Rasmussen, L.M. & L.A. Richey (2017). Celebrity-led development organisations: the legitimating function of elite engagement. Third World Quarterly 38(9): 1952-1972.

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Crafting Humanitarian Imaginaries: The Visual Story-Telling of Buy-One Give-One Marketing Campaigns (2017)

In the Buy One Give One (B1G1) business model, social enterprise companies respond to humanitarian causes by linking consumers to recipients through the commodification of a shared product experience. Ponte and Richey deem these interfaces “new imaginaries”, with consumption elevated as the mechanism for humanitarian action. Using a case comparison of two B1G1 companies, I argue that the visual story-telling of B1G1 marketing materials constructs a “humanitarian imaginary” that shapes how consumers understand engagement. Using visual analysis, I consider the opportunities and ethical limits of building solidarity through social marketing.

Budabin, A.C. (2017). Crafting Humanitarian Imaginaries: The Visual Story-Telling of Buy-One Give-One Marketing Campaigns. Proceedings 1(9): 905-919. 

Open access version

Related Publications

Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans (2016)

From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important actors in promoting humanitarian causes in Africa. Yet the growing visibility and proliferation of celebrity humanitarianism has been critiqued for legitimating and promoting neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This article, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. We conclude that the celebritization of African conflicts in the DRC—as understood from the interventions of Affleck—remain linked to the needs of marketing causes, celebrities, and products, and considerably removed from the voices of Congolese on whose stories these interventions rely. As a result, the constraints of celebrity humanitarianism in an age of media saturation limit the possibilities that individual celebrities might have in engaging in alternative, more complex, and less sound-bite friendly discourses.

Richey, L. A. & Budabin, A. C. (2016). Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans. Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development. University of Pennsylvania Press 7(1): 27-46.

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Festive environmentalism: A carnivalesque reading of eco-voluntourism at the Roskilde Festival (2016)

In this chapter we provide a reading of popular forms of engagement in environmentalism that is alternative to familiar interpretations in the literature on ecotourism and voluntourism. In doing so, we endeavor to more fully understand the cultural meanings that are created in festive or celebratory versions of participation in popular environmentalism. We do this by applying the Russian literary philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque to a case study of eco-voluntourism at the Roskilde Festival, an international culture and music festival held each summer in Denmark. This chapter represents a view on what Robbins terms ‘environmental subjects and identities’. This view focuses on a setting outside the geographical, political and historical contexts that are conventionally the subjects of such studies, that is, communities affected by colonial practices of exploitation and/or environmental degradation. This is primarily a place-based study, which applies the Bakhtinian concept chronotope  to understand the historically situated cultural context of the Roskilde Festival and its relation to Danish societal norms and forms of public engagement. Methodologically, the chapter is based on participant observation at the Roskilde Festival (henceforth referred to as ‘the Festival’), as well as a textual analysis of official Festival communication and volunteer blogs on ‘good cause’ initiatives at the Festival, focusing especially on environmental causes. All interviews were conducted in Danish, and all translations appearing here are the authors’ own.

Olwig, M. F., & Christiansen, L. B. (2016). Festive environmentalism: A carnivalesque reading of eco-voluntourism at the Roskilde Festival. In Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment, eds. M. Mostafanezhad, R. Norum, E. J. Shelton, & A. Thompson-Carr, pp. 108-127. London: Routledge.

Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power (2016)

Discussion over celebrity engagement is often limited to theoretical critique or normative name-calling, without much grounded research into what it is that celebrities are doing, the same or differently throughout the world. Crucially, little attention has been paid to the Global South, either as a place where celebrities intervene into existing politics and social processes, or as the generator of Southern celebrities engaged in ‘do-gooding’. This book examines what the diverse roster of celebrity humanitarians are actually doing in and across North and South contexts. Celebrity humanitarianism is an effective lens for viewing the multiple and diverse relationships that constitute the links between North and South. New empirical findings on celebrity humanitarianism on the ground in Thailand, Malawi, Bangladesh, South Africa, China, Haiti, Congo, US, Denmark and Australia illustrate the impact of celebrity humanitarianism in the Global South and celebritization, participation and democratization in the donor North. By investigating one of the most mediatized and distant representations of humanitarianism (the celebrity intervention) from a perspective of contextualization, the book underscores the importance of context in international development.

Richey, L. A., ed. (2016). Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power. Oxford & New York: Routledge.

Ben Affleck goes to Washington: Celebrity advocacy, access and influence (2016)

This chapter considers Hollywood actor and director Ben Affleck as a celebrity humanitarian by examining the organization he created, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). ECI was crafted not from inside the eastern Congo, but in the offices of a strategic advisory firm based in Seattle, Washington State. The chapter briefly introduces the case study background of the eastern Congo. It analyses the celebrity humanitarianism in US elite politics in relevant literature around celebrity advocacy, the post-democratic context, and the US political environment. The chapter examines Affleck's entry into development causes, the establishment of ECI, and the efforts of the strategic consulting firm williamsworks. It explores ECI's dual objectives around US advocacy and grant-making in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrity humanitarianism mediates elite politics across the Global North and South. The chapter, finally, addresses how celebrity-led NGOs are emblematic of post-democratic politics and why this matters for humanitarianism.

Budabin, A. C. (2016). Ben Affleck goes to Washington: Celebrity advocacy, access and influence. In Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power, ed. L. A. Richey. Oxford & New York: Routledge.

Open access version

Irony and politically incorrect humanitarianism: Danish celebrity-led benefit events (2016)

This chapter illustrates how the Danish celebritized benefit events promote humanitarianism by focusing on a case that differs from the dominant Anglo-American standard and drawing on a combination of international trends while referring to national sets of cultural norms. It argues that contextualizing celebrity-led benefit events with regard to local cultural norms is of pivotal importance to understanding the rationales behind their execution and potential impact in terms of local perceptions and practices of humanitarianism. The chapter discusses the concept of irony and how it can lead to political incorrectness, counterintuitively through notions of enlightenment and democracy. It shows that folkelighed enframes the benefit events serving democratizing and inclusionary functions. The chapter considers studies of two Danish benefit events: the annual national telethon and week-long media event Danmarks Indsamling, which is the largest fundraising event in Denmark; and an annual one-day fair-trade benefit concert, which referred to as the Fairtrade Concert.

Olwig, M. F & Christiansen, L. B. (2016). Irony and politically incorrect humanitarianism: Danish celebrity-led benefit events. In Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power, ed. L. A. Richey. Oxford & New York: Routledge.

Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World (2011)

In Brand Aid, Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte offer a deeply informed and stinging critique of “compassionate consumption.” Campaigns like Product RED and its precursors, such as Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong and the pink-ribbon project in support of breast cancer research, advance the expansion of consumption far more than they meet the needs of the people they ostensibly serve. At the same time, such campaigns sell both the suffering of Africans with AIDS (in the case of Product RED) and the power of the average consumer to ameliorate it through familiar and highly effective media representations. Using Product RED as its focal point, this book explores how corporations like American Express, Armani, Gap, and Hallmark promote compassionate consumption to improve their ethical profile and value without significantly altering their business model, protecting themselves from the threat to their bottom lines posed by a genuinely engaged consumer activism. Coupled with the phenomenon of celebrity activism and expertise as embodied by Bono, Richey and Ponte argue that this “causumerism” represents a deeply troubling shift in relief efforts, effectively delinking the relationship between capitalist production and global poverty.

Richey, L. A. & Ponte, S. (2011). Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Introduction chapter 

​© 2018 by Lisa Ann Richey

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