The Technopolitics of Compassion : A Postphenomenological Analysis of the Digital Mediation of Global Humanitarianism

Abstract: Humanitarian organisations are central actors in the mediation of humanitarian disasters as objects of public, political and moral concern. Consequently, if we want to understand this key dynamic of world politics we have to understand how aid organisations use media. But whereas extant knowledge about media and global humanitarianism focuses primarily on issues related to discourses and images of distant suffering in mass media this dissertation argues that contemporary humanitarianism is incomprehensible without a detailed understanding of the socio-technological processes of digital mediation through which the suffering of global south others is increasingly witnessed, pitied and responded to by caring publics in the global north. Offering a postphenomenological perspective supplemented by key insights from science & technology studies and critical theory, the dissertation opens up analyses of the digital mediation of global humanitarianism to questions about power at the intersection of the technological materialities of digital media and the imaginaries invested into them. Applying this framework in a detailed analysis of the use of social media, virtual reality and donation apps for humanitarian purposes, the dissertation subsequently identifies the specific and problematic ways in which the visibility of humanitarian disasters, the emotional engagement of caring publics and everyday forms of humanitarian action are shaped in and through processes of digital mediation. Based on this, the dissertation proposes the term ‘the technopolitics of compassion’ to emphasise the global power asymmetries that are perpetuated and compounded by the aid sector’s use of digital media while keeping open the possibility of thinking about and using digital media differently.