The labour of giving

Global networks, humanitarianism, and the visual culture of Haitian earthquake relief

Francosphères (2015), 4, (1), 85–104.


Shortly following the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake, humanitarian communications specialists hailed a ‘new culture’ in disaster relief, one enabled by advances in new communications technology. The latter, they argued, were poised drastically to transform practices of rescue and aid. In this article, I argue that this ‘new culture’ should be seen as a mass phenomenon as it extended well beyond the professional humanitarian community to include average internet-users of the Global North. US users not only accessed a wealth of digitized (most often visual) material from the quake zone, but they were also encouraged to participate in the relief effort by downloading fund-raising kits, making digital donations, or merely following and ‘liking’ their favourite aid organizations. I argue that post-quake digital advocacy and action functioned as affective or immaterial labour, the unpaid work of communicating messages, ideologies, and knowledges, and of producing bio-power. As such, I suggest that, following the quake, the average citizen-user of the Global North was integrated into ‘strategic complexes’ (alongside humanitarian institutions, the state, private interests, the military, etc.), and that these power complexes (with their aim to police, contain, and profit from disaster) were the real beneficiaries of the added value gained from advocacy, action, affect, and charitable giving.


Author details

Kaussen, Valerie