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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seeing through NGOs : poverty, visuality and the first and third worlds Stryker, Alyssa


Poverty alleviation, both at home and abroad, is a major preoccupation of socially aware and ethically motivated individuals in Canada. Examining the work of Canadian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work explicitly towards this goal, I explore the ways that discourses surrounding poverty alleviation are influenced by the dominant imaginative geographies of separate First and Third Worlds. I examine recent public relations material distributed by Canadian-based NGOs, both those that target Third World poverty (working in the field of “development”) and those that focus on domestic poverty. I explore the dominant visualities employed by these organizations when they represent poverty in their fundraising and publicity material, and investigate the way that these representations reflect (and occasionally challenge) prevailing understandings of the First and Third Worlds as fundamentally separate and internally coherent geographies. Judith Butler (2004) theorizes the United States’ experience of suffering and vulnerability on September 11, 2001 as a moment that offered a clear choice between two possible responses: “[D]o we now seek to restore [First World complacency] as a way of healing from this wound? Or do we allow the challenge to First World complacency to stand and begin to build a different politics on this basis?” (p. 7-8) My thesis will explore a parallel question in the context of a different kind of suffering and vulnerability: that that arises from poverty (experienced differently – but experienced nonetheless) in nations of the First World as well as nations of the Third.

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