Forging Everyday Humanitarianism: Prof Uma Kothari visits for Seminar Series

20 Apr
Professor Uma Kothari

We were fortunate to have Professor Uma Kothari all the way from the University of Manchester, UK share for our seminar series. Uma presented her talk ‘Visualising Solidarity: Forging everyday humanitarianism through public representations of development.’

As Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies, she sees her research in two distinct but related areas. Focusing on critical analyses of histories, discourses and representations of international development as well as transnational migration and diasporas.

Abstract for the seminar:

Since the 1980s there has been a vast proliferation of campaigns, charity adverts, musical movements, fair trade marketing, celebrity endorsements and media promotions to support humanitarian causes. More recently, we have witnessed a growth in the role of visual media in guiding diverse publics on how they might perceive and act upon calls for a shared responsibility. Foundational to the success of these visual representations is their capacity to invoke care and compassion for suffering others, to motivate people in some parts of the world to donate money and other forms of assistance to people elsewhere. Despite their increased profile, the visual strategies that such campaigns deploy have provoked critiques that they reproduce stereotypes, reinforce global hierarchies and embed inequalities, notably through reproducing iconographies of, for example, conflict, famine and poverty. Nevertheless, might these popular representations of humanitarianism and development have the potential to instil ideas of global interconnectedness and forge new kinds of global solidarity? Alternatively, do visual images and the increasing involvement of public figures, celebrities and the media obscure the structural realities of inequality and limit the possibilities for forging a common humanity? In this presentation, I will explore these issues through an analysis of historical and contemporary uses of popular, visual campaigns that have aimed to strengthen global connections. I subsequently examine forms of resistance and creative subversion that contest problematic depictions of other people and that aim to challenge the meanings that inhere in mediatised representations. The presentation concludes by considering what kinds of visual representations might lead to more critical thinking about prevalent concepts of self and other, and difference and commonality. How can such representations solicit more considered responses to charity campaigns and thereby promote and sustain new forms of transnational solidarity?

Photo taken by the University of Windsor and permission to use photo provided by Professor Uma Kothari. 

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