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Posts tagged ‘poverty porn’

26
Aug

Catch-up Post: The Planning Party

1 - PPP Banner

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Hive Colab is the name of the office I worked at during the whole two months in Kampala. It’s a tech collaboration hub founded by one of my fellowship advisors, TMS or Teddy Ruge. As seen in the photo, it’s set up as a large open space with islets of desks spread throughout. It’s such a great space to work in because you never know who is going to drop in from which country, who you’re going to work with, and what projects you might discover. My colleagues range from coding nerds to serial entrepreneurs to mobile app gurus. A few weeks in, I found out that one of the creators of Winsenga, an award winning ultrasound app, was sitting at the desk just across me. The team, originally from Makerere University, had created this app to help reduce maternal mortality rates and most recently was awarded $50,000 by Microsoft. In the corner desks by the window sits my friend Anne Giuthu. She started a business in her early 20s, had it acquired by another company, is CEO of her second marketing company now, is deputy director of the marketing department at a university, and is a mother of one. Oh and she’s also only 25 years old.

Being at this space is how I easily got connected to my research partner, Joseph Wanda, pictured below. He doesn’t like having his photo taken so this is all you’re going to get.

Joseph Wanda

Joseph diligently taking notes in preparation for some epic field research.

He is serial researcher, having conducted all kinds of research for companies and universities, including Hive Colab. Once he came on board my research became a lot more concrete. I could finally determine what specific areas to sample around Uganda since Joseph knew the geography a lot better than me. Over the course of one week, we established a tentative schedule for 3 weeks of field research ranging geographically from central Uganda (Kampala) to eastern Uganda (Jinja and Mbale*). Kampala was a good starting point because we were already there and familiar with the place. We also knew of which slums to visit and could navigate ourselves around them because Joseph had done prior research in them. Jinja and Mbale were more foreign places to both of us but we knew we had to get out of central Uganda. One of the big reasons was to see if areas that were less industrialized with less access to media would have different perceptions of how they were represented in western media, if at all. Jinja and Mbale were less industrialized cities, both with large slums and many local NGOs present.

The blue poster seen above, and pictured below as well, illustrates the brainstorming process of my field research objectives. They were:

  1. To understand if the poverty-porn-is-bad argument is valid.
  2. To better understand how ‘victims’ of poverty porn want to be represented.
  3. To understand the effects of poverty porn on people’s dignity/self-esteem
  4. To understand African misconceptions of the west.

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The planning process was more about framing the issue of poverty porn rather than about the logistics of travel and appointments, although that was quite a challenge as well. Thanks to the generous wall space in my room and the pack of Super Sticky Post-its I brought from home, I was able to do some visual mapping of the underlying aspects of the issue. Many questions came up during this process. Is “poverty porn” even the right term? Who are the main constituents of NGOs? Is donor dependency okay? Do the ends justify the means? How does a stereotype come to be?

Current Status of Project

I am currently back in New York, still scrambling to write catch-up posts on this blog and keep you guys up to date. It’s been difficult coming back to this bustling city and trying to process the past two months of adventures. Bear with me as I try to present the meat of my project in the next few weeks before school starts.

The next few posts will tell the stories from each of our sites: Kampala, Jinja, and Mbale.

Stay tuned and cheers,

Leah

*Mbale is pronounced em-balleh just fyi. 

14
Jul

Catch-up Post: What is Poverty Porn?

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As I am here in Uganda to do research on poverty porn, I feel it is crucial to define it as best I can. Firstly, no. It is not a type of pornography. I’m not sure who coined the term, but I have mixed feelings about it. It’s provocative for sure and grabs people’s attention, but it’s a very biased term, in that it already takes a firm stance against the use of poverty porn. By predisposing readers to think negatively about it, it narrows and simplifies the debate to a pro and anti-poverty-porn banter. You’re either for it or against it. You use it or you don’t. And as we’ve seen in national debates, when we simplify debates to a pro vs anti competition, you get, for example, people who think the abortion debate is about stopping abortion, not unwanted pregnancies.

This project does not intend to take sides. Instead, it intends to understand what the problem really is. That’s as specific as I will get for now, but I expect that by the end of my time here, my project won’t be about poverty porn at all. But to begin, here is a primer on poverty porn as we know it now:

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THIS is the type of photo often criticized as “poverty porn.” It is also a classic example of the white savior complex, captured in a black and white photo. Angelina Jolie’s pale white face contrasts against the darker surroundings, where the anonymous child’s face is excluded from the shot, possibly for fear of detracting from Jolie’s savior spotlight. Who knows what was going on in this photo. Perhaps it was a truly candid shot that nobody can blame. But why is it in black and white? Who made that intentional editing choice? And for what purpose?

I don’t intend to micro-analyze every pixel of poverty-porn-guilty photos, but some photos just get you thinking – what in the world are they trying to say? Anyway, here is a more technical definition of poverty porn that doesn’t single out Angelina Jolie.

Definition from Aid Thoughts

“…any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause. Poverty porn is typically associated with black, poverty-stricken Africans, but can be found elsewhere.”

Though this is the technical definition of poverty porn, the issue goes deeper into problems with NGO marketing, post-colonial legacy (!), donor dependency, flawed business models, brand psychology, and approaches to development to name a few.

Current Status of Project

This introductory post should have come weeks back but there were some internet troubles as I was traveling to eastern Uganda for the field research component of my project. For the remaining 2.5 weeks, I will be analyzing the folders full of questionnaires and files and files of audio recordings and film to see what people think of poverty porn here. In the meanwhile, I will be posting several catch-up posts about the planning process, my workplace, my research partner, our approach, and the challenges in the field. Stay tuned.

Cheers,

Leah