Media, Politics, Compassion, and Citizenship in the Post-humanitarian Debate

Visual Storytelling and the Humanitarian Imaginary

Authored by: Robin Andersen

The Routledge Companion To Media and Humanitarian Action

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138688575
eBook ISBN: 9781315538129
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the definition of humanitarian communication, its history, language, visual renderings and narratives structures. In doing so it identifies key theoretical foundations that have come to define some of the major debates in the field. It seeks to assess the challenges that complex emergencies and human suffering pose to journalists, media organizations and aid agencies, and address the media pitfalls and dominant critiques of crisis representation, from images of famine to narratives of conflict. From early published photographs of starving children, to aid appeals for Syrian Refugees, issues of stereotypes and narrative exclusions are understood along a trajectory of historical development and context. Building on the historical effects of media depictions and their relationship to aid appeals and public response, the chapter engages the concepts of empathy and compassion, post-humanitarianism, the formulation of an ironic spectator, the contentious notion of compassion fatigue, the ethics of solidarity and the articulation of global citizenship. Building in these foundations, it hopes to move the dialogue forward and offer suggestions about the ways in which humanitarian communication may stay true to an accurate representation of human suffering, and undergird the humanitarian imagination at the same time.

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