Journal of Global Ethics 9 (2):201 - 214 (2013)

This paper examines how Western humanitarianism has attempted to work through its simultaneous commitment to individualized moral universalism and ambivalence about substantive global egalitarianism via what is identified as humanitarian sentimentalism, namely an ensemble of narrative and visual mechanisms designed to cultivate charitable moral sentiments among Euro-American publics toward victims of humanitarian crises in the global South. After briefly discussing how the aforementioned ambivalence is rooted in the founding philosophical principles of humanitarianism, the paper examines the visual economy of humanitarian sentimentalism, constituted through four iconographic tropes found in the history of Western representation of humanitarian emergencies and injustices (personification, massification, rescue, and care), each of which aims to trigger sentimentalizing responses on the part of viewers. Hence, it is argued that if the Western humanitarian movement's dependence on visually based sentimentalism has been effective in generating a sense of concern for distant others, such concern has not been converted into a more radical and egalitarian set of political practices of global solidarity, which would aim structurally to transform the current world order in an egalitarian manner to tackle the systemic sources of humanitarian crises
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DOI 10.1080/17449626.2013.818461
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The Theory of Moral Sentiments.Adam Smith - 1759 - Dover Publications.

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