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Girl power and 'selfie humanitarianism'

Koffman, O., Orgad, S. S. & Gill, R. (2015). Girl power and 'selfie humanitarianism'. Continuum, 29(2), pp. 157-168. doi: 10.1080/10304312.2015.1022948


The aim of this article is to examine the ‘turn to the girl’ and the mobilization of ‘girl power’ in contemporary global humanitarian and development campaigns. The paper argues that the ‘girl powering’ of humanitarianism is connected to the simultaneous depoliticization, corporatization, and neo-liberalization of both humanitarianism and girl power. Located in broad discussions of campaigns around Malala, Chime for Change and the Girl Effect, the paper seeks to understand the construction of girls as both ideal victims and ideal agents of change, and to examine the implications of this. It suggests that this shift is intertwined with what we call ‘selfie humanitarianism’ in which helping others is intimately connected to entrepreneurial projects of the self, and is increasingly figured less in terms of redistribution or justice than in terms of a makeover of subjectivity for all concerned. The structure of the paper is as follows. First we consider the literature about the depoliticization of humanitarian campaigns in the context of neoliberalism and the growing significance of corporate actors in the world of international aid and disaster relief. Next we examine similar processes in the commodification and export of discourses of ‘girl power’. We then argue that these have come together in the emerging ‘girl powering of development’ (Koffman and Gill 2013), a cocktail of celebratory ‘girlafestoes’ and empowerment strategies often spread virally via social media; celebrity endorsements; and corporate branding which stress that ‘I matter and so does she’ and elide the differences between pop stars and CEO of multinational corporations on the one hand, and girls growing up poor in the global South on the other. Our paper focuses on contemporary examples from the Girl Up campaign. The paper argues that far from being ‘post’ girl power, global humanitarian and development discourses constitute a new and instensified focus upon the figure of the girl and a distinctive, neo-colonial, neoliberal and postfeminist articulation of girl power.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Continuum on 19 May 2015, available online:
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries > Culture & the Creative Industries
SWORD Depositor:
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