Doing Good, Feeling Bad: Humanitarian Emotion in Crisis

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For decades humanitarianism has captured and shaped the dreams of the populations of the global North, dreams of a better world, of a common humanity, of goodness, of solidarity, and of global healing. In this article I argue that when taking art and cultural objects into account humanitarian reason seems however to be in some sort of crisis. Looking at the interpretation of humanitarianism undertaken by cultural artifacts such as film, theater, contemporary art, literary fiction, and humanitarian communication, we realize that such cultural phenomena regularly reflect not only upon various humanitarian crises, but also upon a crisis within the humanitarian imaginary itself. I read two scenes of collective interpretation of the everyday humanitarian call to action, which is always a call to donate. The first scene is from the 2012 edition of the recurring televised Danish fundraising show, Danmarks Indsamling [Denmark Collects], and the second is from Norwegian playwright Arne Lygre’s 2011 play, I Disappear. What is at stake in both of these scenes is the status of humanitarianism as a good-enough fantasy and promise of doing good.
TidsskriftJournal of Aesthetics & Culture
Antal sider12
StatusUdgivet - 2017


  • Det Humanistiske Fakultet - Moral sentiments; compassion; aid telethons; postdramatic theater; Arne Lygre; Sianne Ngai

ID: 182935693