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  • Slides and Supplement:

Commodification of Contexualisation:

  • A major part of ICs advocacy strategy is its appeal to 14-24 year old suburban white girls, who are Christian and have enough disposable income to donate or buy the products in their store
    • Jason Russell describes this group as their core and that they work off of the idea that they are advocating to someone “who would have never thought of being part of something like this” (p.18)
    • They recognise that their demographic is aware of their privilege and are looking for a “sexy way to get involved” (p.18)
    • One of the main ways to engage this demographic is to present them with stuff to buy so that they can help and have something which tangibly represents the fact that they have helped.
    • While this idea is not entirely problematic, the method which IC takes has some major issues.
    • The online IC store contains 40 items the cheapest of which is $5 (a car vinyl sticker) the most expensive of which is $95 (MEND TREAHOUSE CROSSBODY bag).
      • Most of the items are simple products designed to get the message out about Uganda while providing little to no background story.
        • In fact one product (the crane shirt) has an additional info video about the designers process with regards to making the shirt and his feelings on the  power of art in humanitarianism
  • HOWEVER a few of the products (the bracelets and the MEND bags are designed to provide a voice to Ugandan refugees)
  • The bracelets come with a DVD of a child associated with the colour of the bracelet (there are 6 different ones in total)
  • The bags come with “the name of the woman who made your bag, so you can follow her story online. Your purchase supports her goals for her life since her escape from abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).”
    • This is problematic for variety of reasons:
      • The emphasis on the products and not on contextualisation of the conflict.
        • The IC website if fairly sparse on information regarding the conflict
          • The videos are not very informative and the “History of the War” section only goes as far back as the start of the conflict with the LRA rather than discussing any of the participating factors before the start of these hostilities.
          • Instead IC emphasis the store as a means of “focusing young people’s attention to what they can concretely do” (p.8)
            • That being buying a product to help provide the funds that can be used to alleviate the problem.  This explains the “store” links privllaged position as the first one on the right on the website.
            • The problem with this is that as Liisa Malkki points out in her work on Rwanda doing humanitarian work without addressing the full political and socio-economic history of the conflict leads to uninformed and harmful solutions.
              • One might argue that those buying the products don’t need to be well informed because it is IC itself that it is utilizing the funds fails to recognise two things
                • First, it prevents the purchaser from being critical of ICs on the ground work
                • Second, a main pillar is ICs strategy is to produce advocacy which will produce more advocacy.  If the advocates they produce are ill-informed then the advocates those advocates produce will be equally ill informed which in turn further narrows the critical lens with which IC can be judged.
          • While this is an important attempt to introduce the Ugandan voice to the IC advocacy campaign it is troubling that all the products which provide a voice of a Uganda cost upwards of $20.
            • http://www.invisiblechildren.com/videos/6952093
            • One of the claims of this video is that through the Mend bags IC re-establishes the personal connection between the purchaser and the producer
              • Which implies the establishment of a connection between the purchaser and a victim of the conflict in so far as the purchaser becomes a more intimately informed
              • While providing more contextualisation of the conflict is important the high price of the items that offer any such connection or contextualisation prevents a barrier to the equal accessibility of that information
              • This seems counter intuitive to the goal of any group that claims to be about advocacy.
          • The store reinforces ideas on who can legitimately help and who cannot.
            • The emphasis on money over understanding suggests implicitly that material resources are all that is necessary to fix the problem
            • In this sense then understanding is not necessary, therefore Ugandan knowledge is unnecessary beyond emotional appeal.
            • This reinforces the relationship not only between Uganada and the humanitarian community vis-a-vis being recipients of aid and not active agents in their own recovery
              • BUT ALSO, excludes certain individuals within the US who do not have the financial resources to participate in IC schemes
              • Again, for a advocacy agency this seems counter intuitive.
  • How to set up a good advocacy store.
    • If advocacy is the main aim, then there MUST be a greater commitment to informing who they are appealing to about the conflict
    • If the store is one of the main efforts to draw in new advocates it is imperative that the store have more products which create a personal attachment to the conflict
      • These need not be as involved as the bracelet DVDs.  Instead they can be simple diary style stories taken from Ugandans
      • met in the field
      • Corollary to this, a published diary of Ugandan experiences in the field could be a useful and engaging product to sell.
      • This should be supplemented with a greater emphasis on a in-depth historical contextualisation of the conflict to date in order to promote the greatest possible competence of the crisis within its advocates.
    • Prices should not be fixed.
      • Instead they should be set at a minimum price to ensure production costs are recuperated as we as some money is generated to go towards advocacy and programmes in Uganda, however donations above the asking price should be accepted.
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