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Book chapter

Finding the right image

2 February 2015


It may be difficult now to recall with what passion and persistence the question of imagery was discussed among development practitioners in the late 1980s and 1990s. The history of development is a comparatively short one; the largest and most prominent development organizations in the United Kingdom – Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children Fund – have institutional histories confined to the last century. Conceived as small social justice organizations that emerged as a response to the need for peace and reconstruction in Europe, rather than elsewhere, they saw their role in development secured in the 1960s. Yet the proper use of images was a preoccupation that emerged only in the 1980s. This chapter examines the image of development – in visual and verbal terms – and considers why it became an issue of concern in the 1980s for British development NGOs. Focusing on an advertising campaign produced by the British-based Christian Aid, I explore how images of development mobilized and represented complex ideas about development process and practice in seemingly ingenuous ways. The first to address the question of representation and imagery was Jørgen Lissner in a thesis entitled The Politics of Altruism (1977). Radical for its time, this book effectively delineated the parameters of a debate that would subsequently emerge in the aftermath of the Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s. Lissner’s argument was based on the following premises: (1) that development nongovernmental organizations in the North (NNGOs) were harboring a destructive internal conl ict between fundraising and education, (2) that this was symbolized in the images and messages these discrete groups of professionals produced, and (3) that the image of development fundamentally impacted on development practice: negative images of development encouraged negative development practice and vice versa.


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