This project investigates the local experience of celebritized development, through an ethnographic case study of Madonna’s Raising Malawi foundation.
Since 2006, the Raising Malawi foundation has supported orphanages and community-based organisations that help orphans and vulnerable children, ventured into controversial school construction projects and supported local paediatric surgeons.
Because celebrities are beginning to be taken serious seriously as actors in international politics, environmental conservation and climate change, fair trade etc., the implications of ‘celebritization’ is urgent to explore. However, contemporary scholarship on celebrity engagement with international development has primarily focused on how this engagement works to mobilize Northern publics. Questions about the implications of celebritized development in the Global South remains acutely under researched. This research project attempts to fill this gap by focusing on how celebritization impacts upon the local practice of development, as well as how it more broadly interacts with the local politics of development.
The project thereby assumes that the communication practices that characterize celebritized development affects the way that development project can be envisioned and are practiced on the ground. Moreover, it seeks to place the experience of increased, personified media exposure of specific projects with the ambiguous experiences of development in Malawi in the past decades.
Since Malawi’s democratic transition in the mid-1990s, the country has experienced a massive growth of NGOs. Yet, neither democratization nor the NGO growth has managed to deliver on their promises of greater political equality and better living conditions. There is widespread suspicion towards the motivations of foreign development actors, and a perception of international and local NGOs lacking in transparency and accountability as much as the government.
On the basis of six months ethnographic research with Raising Malawi partner organisations, government ministries and other NGOs that work with orphans and vulnerable children, this project examines how the connection to a controversial celebrity shapes local perceptions of and interactions with Raising Malawi. Thereby the project sheds light on how celebritization may impact upon the local politics of development in the Global South.