The growing literature on imagined cosmopolitanism (Schein, 1999), mediated cosmopolitanism (Rantanen, 2005; Robertson, 2010; Skrbis & Woodward, 2013), a global imagined community (Poster, 2008), a global imaginary (Orgad, 2012) and mediated humanitarianism (Chouliaraki, 2013) suggests that a cosmopolitan opportunism may be gaining foothold in media studies.
In this context, the extent to which various mediated appeals to the moral sensibilities of Western publics generate support for distant others on the lesser side of “the global” has become a key concern in contemporary media studies. With a few important exceptions in which actual audiences are studied (e.g. Höijer, 2004; Kyriakidou, 2011; Scott, 2013a), the methodological bias in the field of “media and morality” favors the study of the power of text (Ong, 2009; see also Joye, 2013). The epistemological tendency is, subsequently, to locate a globalizing or cosmopolitanizing agency in the media themselves. By way of the analysis of genres such as contemporary art (Papastergiadis, 2012), documentaries (Bondebjerg, 2013), specific news coverage (Chouliaraki, 2006; Moyo, 2010; Orgad, 2012), socially networked humanitarian campaigns (Madianou, 2013), or mediated concerts and celebrity (Chouliaraki, 2013), the cosmopolitan is understood as “brought forth” by the media through their messages. In this strand of research, the work of Chouliaraki (2006; 2013) has come to occupy the center of the stage (Franks, 2012; Joye, 2013; Ong, 2013; and Scott, 2013b).
By way of a critical reading of Chouliaraki’s most recent contribution to the field of “media and morality” - The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism (ibid, 2013) - this paper discusses the consequences of a media-centric approach to understanding communication for social change in general, and the relation between media and cosmopolitanism in particular. Chouliaraki’s main argument is that certain changes in the “aesthetics of humanitarian communication” (her object of analysis) have turned Western publics into “ironic spectators”. As such, the “theatre” (the media) has largely failed to establish what Silverstone referred to as “proper distance” (2007).
Firstly, we consider the implications of this approach for research on the cosmopolitan dispositions and actions of citizens of donor countries. Secondly, we turn to its implications for the communicative strategies of multilateral agencies and international NGOs towards engaging those citizens in morally and practically significant ways. We argue that there are limits to how much a media-centric approach can inform an understanding of audiences as citizens of the world, and favor instead a research agenda that studies audiences in their heterogeneity, as they orient themselves in a complex media landscape. Furthermore, we claim, in line with Ong (2013), that Chouliaraki’s call to improving the content of international NGOs’ appeals and news coverage falls short of linking the important debate around mediated proper distance that she forwards with a meaningful critique of the neoliberal project and its standard operating procedures as expressed at the interface between the international development system and the media industries in a context of financial crisis, austerity measures and concerns about waste and corruption in the delivery of aid (Glennie, Straw and Wild, 2012).
International symposium on sustainability and the celebrity-business-development nexus, Köpenhamn 8 Maj