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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“Change a life. Change your own” : child sponsorship, the discourse of development, and the production of ethical subjects Ove, Peter


This project explores the practice of child sponsorship and its role in helping construct ethical subjectivities in the North. Employed by organizations like World Vision and Plan International, child sponsorship is one of the most prominent and successful fundraising techniques for development efforts in the global South. Child sponsorship is more than an effective marketing tool, however; it is a powerful apparatus for the conveyance of representations about the global South, the North, and the relationship between the two. Using a discourse analytic approach, this project examines Canadian sponsorship programs, the advertising they produce, and sponsors they attract. This analysis addresses not only the representations contained within sponsorship promotional material but also the contexts in which this material is produced, interpreted, and acted upon. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 31 child sponsors and 18 sponsorship staff, this research explores how sponsorship programs and sponsors are represented – and represent themselves – as trying to “make a difference” in the world, and how these representations relate to contemporary understandings of poverty and development. In the end, it is argued that the success of child sponsorship is not related as much to the way it focuses on the needs of poor children as it is to the way it constructs a vision of ethical action in the work of international development that coincides with the personal development of Northern sponsors, the “natural” bio-psychological development of Southern children, and the organizational development of sponsorship programs. In other words, child sponsorship and its advertizing (re)positions what it means to live ethically in an unequal and unjust world. Through child sponsorship, the desires to become better people(s), secure appropriate childhoods, and raise lots of money end up taking priority over the goal of living together well on a global scale.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International