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Imaging Humanitarianism: NGO Identity and the Iconography of Childhood

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This paper asks how images of children are used by prominent signatories to NGO codes of conduct. The answer is that images of childhood and shared codes of conduct are both means through which development and relief NGOs produce themselves as rights-based organisations. The iconography of childhood expresses institutional ideals and the key humanitarian values of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, and solidarity. Images of children are useful for NGOs in reinforcing the legitimacy of their ‘emergency’ interventions as well as the very idea of development itself. But the dominant iconography is also inherently paradoxical, as the child image can be read as both a colonial metaphor for the majority world and as a signifier of humanitarian identity. The question then for NGOs using this image in social justice campaigns is whether overtly political accompanying texts can nullify the contradictory subliminal messages that emanate from the iconography of childhood.
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Keywords: NGOs; childhood; development; humanitarianism; iconography

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK;, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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