The Gender Politics of Celebrity Humanitarianism in Africa

  • Citation: Jemima Repo & Riina Yrjölä (2011) The Gender Politics of Celebrity Humanitarianism in Africa, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 13:1, 44-62
    • Topics:
    • Human Rights
    • Keywords:
    • gendered humanitarian
    • celebrity
    • neoliberal international system

This article examines Anglo-American news media through a discourse-theoretical framework to study first, how celebrities are constituted as gendered humanitarian subjects acting on behalf of African problems, and second, how the concept of ‘Africa’ is produced, not only as a place, but also as a purpose in the world system. The debate surrounding celebrities is at an impasse, where they are seen as either instrumental or detrimental to African development. To break this standoff, we begin by placing celebrities in their neo-colonial context. We argue that the legitimacy of Bono, Bob Geldof and Angelina Jolie as humanitarian actors is underpinned by particular reproductions of race, class and gender. They are positioned in a heteronormative world political framework in which celebrities recreate Africa and its proper place in the neoliberal international system through a performative perpetuation of historically embedded subjectivities. The analysis then turns to Madonna’s Malawian adoption in 2006 as a case that does not entirely ‘fit’ and probes its subversive capacity. The article argues that the adoption controversy made visible the privileged, neo-colonial position from which celebrities, and western humanitarianism broadly speaking, happens, and gives rise to further questions pertaining to Africa’s childlike position in the western imaginary.

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