Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, Vol 7, No 1 (2013)

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Humanitarian Relations: Emotion and the Limit of Critique

David Jefferess


This paper provides a critical analysis of the Radi-Aid “Africa for Norway” project in order to identify a “humanitarian relation” that informs development agency marketing, as well as global education initiatives. Taking Vanessa Andreotti’s Heads Up critical literacy tool as a starting point, the paper addresses three related questions that we must be attentive to in developing critical practices of engaging with humanitarian discourse: 1) How do our social positions and attendant perspectives shape our analysis? 2) How do approaches that focus on critique fail to address the appeal of development marketing as a practice of benevolence? and 3) How can structural violence be effectively represented? While the Radi-Aid project seeks to challenge the negative stereotypes of Africa that circulate in Europe and North America, I argue that it ultimately reaffirms a humanitarian relation. The problem, I conclude, is how to unpack and undo this relation, not just in intellectual terms – the delineation of the relationships of inequality that produce suffering – but in the terms of how that relation is felt as a sense of purpose and status for the Western-situated humanitarian.



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Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices is a non-commercial initiative committed to the ethical dissemination of academic research and educational thinking. CLTP acknowledges the thoughtful dedication of authors, editors and reviewers to develop and promote this open journal initiative. The journal receives copy-editing sponsorship from the Faculty of Education at the University of Oulu, Finland. CLTP has previously received  copy editing support from the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham, UK.