Alessandra Papi

Completion: 2010

What whiteness has to do with looking at UNICEF visual images? an autoethnographic exploration by a development practitioner

This auto-ethnography is framed within three main theoretical underpinnings: post-colonial theory, critical race theory and concepts of whiteness, and explores ways in which visual images are used by international organisations (in particular UNICEF, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund) to organise and influence public discourse on development and how they shape donors’ perceptions and interpretations of the “colonised other” (Fine, 1998, p. 70). Data in this thesis are derived partially from personal narratives and stories in which I have been the leading character, in my capacity as Chief of Child Protection in several UNICEF Country Offices from 2005 up to now. The findings suggest that visual images of childhood could be read in a very loaded political manner and could be manipulated in such a way to influence policies and public discourse on development while perpetuating hegemonic notions that – in light of post-colonial and race theories – can reinforce normative raced and classed stereotypes. The conclusions that can be drawn from this auto-ethnography is that a critical discourse on development issues and agendas can create opportunities for more thoughtful encounters between the colonised and their erstwhile colonizers, while foregrounding notions of inferiority, and classed and raced biases that are still so evident in interactions between donors and recipients of aid. As development practitioners we need to stop taking things for granted and question the status quo in the most honest, but lenient way possible, through the contestation of an epistemology of childhood in development that is paternalistic and condescending..

Thesis M.A. What whiteness has to do with looking at UNICEF visual images? an autoethnographic exploration by a development practitioner

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