The Ironic Spectator

The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post -Humanitarianism Lilie Chouliaraki Polity £55.00.

Your alarm clock rings but you can’t get out of bed so you click the snooze button. Thanks to the snooze application, you can now pledge 25 cents to a non-profit part of the LetGive network whenever you oversleep. Instead of feeling bad for not managing to wake up, you can actually feel good by contributing to a charity. This sounds like a great example of how digital technology can foster new and creative ways to engage in global solidarity. But which ethics of solidarity lie behind this form of donation? Or, in other words, what do the new communication strategies of humanitarianism tell us about the kind of solidarity promoted in our global age? This is the core question that drives Lilie Chouliaraki’s latest book. As one of the leading researchers on humanitarian communication, she argues that we are witnessing a shift from traditional humanitarian campaigns – centered on the plight of the ‘Other’ – to what she labels “post-humanitarianism.” According to the author, at the heart of post-humanitarianism is a “selforiented morality, where doing good to others is about ‘how I feel’ and must, therefore, be rewarded by minor gratification to the self.” A perfect example is the Kony2012 campaign, which consciously promoted the empowerment of its donors – using a slick, youth oriented aesthetic based on social media, celebrity and dub step music – rather than those the charity sought to help in the first place (former child soldiers abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as those still under Joseph Kony’s control). By analyzing appeals, concerts, celebrities and the news media, Chouliaraki traces the emergence of this post-humanitarianism, which combines the marketing logic of the corporate world and online technologies, and eventually weakens the very idea of global solidarity. Her analysis does not only constitute, however, an extremely powerful and critical appraisal of post humanitarianism. It also tackles a crucial issue resulting from this criticism, one that will fascinate anyone working in the NGO sector: how can humanitarian communication move beyond the pitfalls of both traditional humanitarianism (which can reinforce stereotypical images of helpless victims from the South) and of post-humanitarianism? Chouliaraki provides an alternative theoretical model based on theatricality, but the extent to which it can be enforced in practice remains to be seen. Indeed, this is precisely why her book – written with brio, depth and sensitivity – is so valuable, and deserves attention. The Ironic Spectator is a must-read for anyone professing to a level of social consciousness, and proves that academic debates can play a role in both fostering improved ethics in the context of a pervasive aspect of contemporary global life, as well as informing new humanitarian practices.