"Nothing is Whiter than White in this World": Child Sponsorship and the Geographies of Charity
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In light of a scant, fragmentary geographical literature attending specifically to charity and charitable giving (cf. Bryson et al, 2002), this research presents an in-depth exploration of one particular (and highly popular) ‘charity’ mechanism- child sponsorship –by way of delineating a more coherent set of geographical understandings and sensibilities towards the topic. Using research carried out in the UK between 2011 and 2012 with both child sponsorship charities and ‘sponsors’, and drawing together an array of theoretical and conceptual resources from within geography and beyond, I seek to engage particularly with the ways in which charity is organised, promoted and practised; the spatial, relational ways in which charitable action is configured and performed, and the flows of ethical concern, embodied praxis and power which co-constitute it. As such, and mobilising ‘relational’ geographical work on networks and assemblages, I present an alternative reading of ‘charitable space’ which allows for its dynamic complexities to be more fully appreciated. Given my focus on child sponsorship, I set these interests within broader debates on the UK’s Third Sector, international development and humanitarian aid, particularly debates regarding neoliberalism and (post)colonialism. As such, the research also contributes to an emerging literature on Global North ‘development constituencies’ and their mobilisation (Baillie Smith, 2008; see also Smith, 2004; Desforges, 2004), as well as to well-established geographical literatures on voluntarism. I also foreground a focus on the dynamics of ‘faith-based’ giving, since the empirical landscape of child sponsorship displays a distinct orientation towards Christian modes of charitable organisation and action, though in complex, often blurry ways. In all, the work seeks to critically appraise and (where appropriate) disturb common narratives and assumptions used to apprehend charity in both popular and academic discourse, and offer instead a more critically attuned set of understandings which re-imagine charity in more enlivened ways.
University of Exeter
PhD in Geography