Select Page

A ‘pornographic gaze’ or a necessary tactic?

by | Oct 5, 2017 | Uncategorized | 54 comments

Neil Howard, a Research Fellow at the University of Antwerp, wrote in April 2017 that, too often, the media and aid organizations represent young people as ‘victims’. Not only is this sensationalizing, he says, but it misrepresents young people who are actually migrants, seeking better life opportunities rather than to be rescued.

Read the article, ‘When NGOs Save Children Who Don’t Want to be Saved’, and give a brief comment below on what you think (write your full name so I can mark your task properly). Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? What does he say is the problem with these representations? What might be a counter-argument to his view? How could this view be communicated to journalists and aid workers in a way that would make them listen and change (is it already doing that)?


  1. Ella Davies Oliveck

    Howard’s article is interesting in its challenge of the typical ways in which Western institutions make sweeping assumptions about children in other countries, and their responsibility for them. Howard’s evidence on the return of children to these boats in order to find economic opportunities makes many NGO and governmental decisions seem useless. However, many different international discourses on children promote protection of this group of people due to their inability to protect and make decisions for themselves. Howard highlights the sensationalist way in which the media makes out that these children are often forced or coerced into problematic situations, but in fact they are often acting on their own accord out of want for a better economic lifestyle.
    Moreover, Howard notes how ignorant reporting such as this negatively affects these children often, exemplified by Senator Harkin’s work on fighting child labour, which led to more children working in arguably worse jobs. Howard is recognising the complexities of situations in which young people act in ways that contradicts typical Western perceptions of the ‘child’, such as moving to find employment, and trying to demonstrate the intricacies of specific situations which the media and NGOs often ignore. I find fault with Howard’s article in his inability to propose a real solution to this, and it seems immoral to accept that some children in certain parts of the world must work because of the situations they are born in to, while this is not the case in more privileged societies. Howard needs to be more coherent in explaining whether he believes that some children should expect the inequalities bred in a society of neoliberal capitalism. However, Howard does demonstrate a solution to the ‘pornographic gaze’ in his argument that journalists and aid workers could better understand these stories if they worked with different groups of people for longer. This seems to be a start in not making naïve laws about children’s rights that have unpredicted but problematic consequences.

  2. Mercedes Thompson

    The article is interesting, explaining a topic I was previously aware of in more detail; I do agree with the author in that the subjects of such sensational writing should be given the chance to share their stories – they may not need help in the way as they are perceived, but if one approaches a situation from the bottom-up then it is more likely that their lives can change for the better, whilst also improving global structures that create such scenarios. One could argue that some children may be victims of trafficking and such, and that there are situations in which sensationalist journalism does have true roots; however, as the author said, it is better to allow such people to keep their jobs while providing them with better working and living conditions. If the author – along with others on the same wavelength – spoke directly to his journalist friends as well as NGOs, it would be far more effective in encouraging change than writing response articles that less people are likely to engage with.

  3. Catherine Long

    I feel this articles touches on the main difference between ethnography and journalistic research. In order to meet a deadline and to ‘sell the story’, a journalist uses the limited information they can collect in a short period of time whilst creating a narrative that their readers will be interested in. I do believe there are still remnants of colonialism in the story Howard critiques, since occidental societies are often interested in the plight of people in the developing world and post-colonial countries. This could mean that individual cases and social contexts are lost, as seen in the childrens’ ideas of labor and migration in comparison to the Guardian journalist’s. Admittedly, the whole social and political context around these children and their labor cannot be put across in one article yet the story plays in Western assumptions of the developing world, which- as Howard states- can be dangerous in understanding and aiding countries like Benin. Inaccurate information from journalist becomes part of public knowledge, meaning that aid carried out by an NGO that doesn’t fit this narrative could be seen negative and the NGO’s reputation may suffer. There are incidences of child slavery that should not be ignored, yet a wider understanding of the social and political context and accurate representations would be beneficial for NGO’s and recipients of aid.

  4. Laurie Sinclair-Emerson

    Howard’s article highlights critical issues not only in the practicalities of development and foreign policy, but also the role of the journalist and the development worker in reporting on, and responding to global inequalities and economic practices.

    Through the example of a what he acknowledges to be well-meaning Guardian article, Howard walks the reader through the dangers of misinformed journalism, and the responsibility of what he calls ‘meaning making power’ in creating an image of economic practices such as migration. He shows how a misinterpreted situation led to young economic migrants being internationally depicted as child slaves being trafficked. The result of this was that they were taken home, where they had to save up the money necessary again to be able to pay smugglers to get them to Gabon again.

    A further point that is made in this article is that in order to grab media attention across the world, global issues are all too often dressed up as things they are not, news is inflated and warped in order to sell papers, or at the very least because of a misinformed journalist. The results of this can be catastrophic, as illustrated in this article. The example given is of US policy aimed at helping perceived child slaves in Bangladesh resulting in these children losing their jobs and putting them in much more precarious work, or completely out of work all together.

    The underlying message of this article for me was the critical nature of informed decisions. Much like the methodological arguments for ethnographic research in the social sciences, the journalist and the development worker need to see firsthand the worlds that they are working with. These people, as Morgan suggests, need to live in these communities to gain a deep and realistic understanding of the worlds that they are involved in, rather than making uninformed assumptions. When this happens, policy and public understanding will benefit.

    This, however, is seemingly incompatible with the nature of the global press. This is because, although the press’ aim may be partially to illuminate the world’s issues, it is principally to generate profit. This means that ‘sexy’ topics of child labour and slavery are preferable to jargonistic academia describing the minutia of developing countries economic structure.

  5. Riva Japaul

    In this article, Howard criticises development workers and journalists for not carrying out long term research in the same way that ethnographers do. Without living within a community, it is possible that the authorities in charge (NGOs, press etc.) are unintentionally reproducing ‘sensationalist’ ideas that align to their preconceived notions of what poverty and so-called child trafficking looks like in regions like Africa and South/South-East Asia.

    One worker at an NGO tells Howard “The trouble is that stories about poor kids migrating because of political-economic injustice simply don’t sell. It’s suffering that sells in Africa. You have to be sexy to raise money, and trafficking or slavery is sexy”. This shocking quote proves to the readers that not all journalists and NGOs are simply as naive as they seem. Whilst they may have the best intentions for the people they are trying to help, these NGOs and journalists understand that they may have to portray these children as victims in order to get the funds that can help alleviate political-economic injustices. However, does this over-simplistic reduction of ideas about poverty unintentionally reinforce ideas of racism about ‘less developed’ people? Howard calls this the pornographic gaze, in the sense that ‘individualising suffering and exploitation, it detracts from the global structures that make these things possible’.

  6. Melanie Spear

    This article provides an interesting critique on the discourse and actions of NGOs and journalists who are trying to ‘save’ children from trafficking. Howard emphasises that NGOs and journalists often do not spend long enough with young migrants to discover their own understandings of child labour, migration and poverty. If development workers and journalists took an ethnographic approach of living among these communities – or at least visiting them for longer than a few days – they would be better able to understand young people’s actions and motives before producing sensationalist headlines.

    I found the quote from the senior UN employee disturbing, as she describes suffering, trafficking and slavery as ‘sexy’ headlines. Howard argues that by reproducing this image of all children as inherently vulnerable and African peoples as culturally backward, media agencies are selling to a white Western audience. Thus, profit is made from dismantling one of the few ways of making a living for many young migrants, leading them to worse conditions, e.g. on the street or in sex work.

    Howard argues that this ‘pornographic gaze’ disempowers the people it looks at and depoliticises the conditions they live in. This can relate to Ferguson’s argument of development agencies as being ‘anti-politics machines’, as they often allow for government intervention and expansion whilst ignoring the deeper political structures which allow poverty to persist. Howard argues that perhaps instead of banning trade with factories which allow child labour, Western governments and corporations could promote the expansion of labour rights and equal pay all the way down to young workers.

  7. Elle Mcqueen

    This article highlights how journalist and NGO’s have created a set gaze that disempowers those it looks at with ideas that ‘sell’ not facts. Due to most people taking what they read in the news as complete fact and therefore acting accordingly it is causing more harm than good, with misinformed actions. The article shows how no one looks into the thoughts and feelings of those the articles are actually about; whereas in a fair society we should see both sides as this article provides.
    By looking from the point of view of those ‘child slaves’ you can see that many of the articles we read and act from our, in fact, more damaging than helpful, with many of the children on the ship who were returned to their villages leaving again once they save up enough to do so. This shows that the NGO’s and journalists are not properly informed and they are the ones informing us. The example use of US Senator Tom Harkin who in his attempt to do good causes a worse situation for those he tried to help, highlights the key issue this article discusses – misrepresentation; although his example is extreme you can see how easily help turns to hurt when there is a lack of knowledge and understanding.

  8. Jacob Green

    I found this article succinct and clear, concurring with the point that western media is often sensationalist and that this hinders the ability to enact international change which could really help those neglected by capitalism and its governments. This could be seen almost as a failure of development anthropology – a discipline wrought on bringing fair and accurate representation to the targets of aid projects – yet as highlighted by other readings in the course, they often enjoy only a peripheral positions in major aid initiatives.

  9. Tessa Bannister

    This article clearly highlights how various NGO’s, journalists and Western governments have created an unrealistic ‘gaze’ that supersedes those they are aiming to try and help, by trying to sell the “sexy” side of poverty through publishing false articles. The author explains how, due to most people reading the news as factual, many of the issues journalists are writing about are being taken out of context and are therefore misinforming the public. The article here focuses on child slavery, and how, for many young people who are considered ‘slaves’ in the eyes of the Western ‘gaze’, are actually just young migrants looking for work. The writer explicitly states how many journalists and NGO’s are misinformed due to spending a lack of time with the people they are actually writing about and trying to help, expressing how, in order to solve this issue, they need to spend more time with the people they are writing about, and to actually hear and record their stories, rather than creating their own.

  10. Ollie Swan

    Howard’s article highlights an issue becoming more and more prevalent in the world of humanitarianism and development; the sensationalisation and confusion of issues and facts.

    One of Howard’s criticisms at the response to the issue was that NGOs and journalists had spent insufficient time in the areas they were supposedly helping or reporting on. To me, this appears to be a glaring hole that ethnography can fill. It is, in my opinion, the greatest asset to humanitarianism and development that anthropology can provide. The misinterpretation of facts could easily have been avoided if more attention was paid to ethnography and as is shown by Howard’s recollection of research on the issue, finding that the children and teenagers were actually migrating for work and were not part of child trafficking.

    Additionally, the sensationalisation of the situation, or the “pornographic gaze” as Howard called it, is again a result people confusing the situation. The issue here is that financial aid is heading in the wrong direction and people’s understanding of the situation becomes misguided. This echoes the West’s colonial past and “otherisation” of non-Western societies.

    Solutions to crises become flawed in ways damaging to the people they intend to help. Howard here cites Senator Tom Harkin’s efforts and failure during the early 1990’s to aid children working in Bangladeshi factors. This highlights the importance of anthropology in determining what action should be taken with regards to a crisis. As shown in the case of the migrant children, sending them home did not change anything.

    This article corroborated views I have read elsewhere, such as those found in D. Mosse’s introduction to The Aid Effect: Giving and Governing in International Development (2005). Mosse calls for more attention to ethnography with regards to aid which appears to be a solution to Howard’s critique that not enough time is spent with the communities which journalists are writing about or who NGOs are attempting to help.

    In short, the article concisely raises an important issue facing humanitarianism and development and exemplifies it well. It will not go too far in solving such issues alone, but it certainly provides a good platform to raise awareness by those less aware of the issues of humanitarianism and development today.

  11. Joana Salles

    Neil Howard makes a very good point when he argues that Western means of information are victimising these children without actually trying to understand why they are doing what they do. Indeed, before talking on behalf of these children aid workers, journalists and “authorities” should try to understand the deep implications that child labour involves. As Howard argues, instead of drawing up conclusions about their living situation, living within their community and talking to them might be a good start to understand the actual situation they live in.
    I believe the broader debate that Howard is introducing is about the lack of cultural relativism taken by Westerners analysts when reporting about the “slavery” issues in some African countries like Togo and Benin. Many of the stories that inform the Westerner audience leads to misinterpretation about the real problems locally. Indeed, as Howard mentions, when we individualise the issue of child labour by writing “sexy” and touching stories, we forget about the global issues in the running of those countries.
    Some scholars may argue however that the main problem about these children is not the journalistic piece that picture them as victims of a badly working system but the system itself. Indeed, to many, the fact that children need to take care of themselves money-wise to go to school and so on is wrong. Again it might be seen as a cultural issue that Westerners have no say in, but Howard fail to address the mere idea that children of 13 years old (as the one he interviewed at some point) should be learning instead of illegally crossing borders to find a job to help their households. Obviously what Tom Harkin did with his ban on Bangladeshi-US textile trade made the situation worse for many Bangladeshi children, but surely something else can be done to “improve” their lives other than letting them choose what’s best for them. Indeed, as many scholars argue individuals rarely know what’s best for them, and children even less.
    To conclude, Howard is right to say that Westerners journalists and aid workers should not talk about complex situation they haven’t thoroughly analysed beforehand, especially when it involves stories about “poor starving children in Africa” that are simply written to sell. However, the debate is broader than simply slavery against voluntary work. If these children have no other choice to make a “satisfying” living then it is not really voluntary, and something should be done about that as well (preferably by their own government and not through US intervention as happened in the 90s and so many other times).

  12. Gemma Robbins

    Howards article is one I found incredibly interesting, it brings to light how NGO’s and journalists reports often do not show the full picture. Howard states that this is due to the short period of time spent there saying how many never actually meet the communities that they are reporting on. Howard explains that through the media, NGO’s show children, who have been portrayed as victims being rescued. The portrayal of children as in need and suffering, generates a huge amount of attention in the Western world, when in reality these children are not being accurately shown. Howard explains how this is because the truth, that these children are looking for work elsewhere, is less interesting and so would not generate enough interest. I believe that this article is an example of where anthropological data is very different to that of a journalists. The example ofUS Senator Harkin, who aimed to help children be relieved from working in factories, in fact caused more damage to these children, who were without jobs or income. The article shows how the truth behind what we are being told is often misconstrued, as it does not tell us why these children are behaving in such a way, rather it labels them as in need of our assistance.

    • Shamima Khonat

      Throughout the article Howard highlights some key issues on the way western journalism and NGOs portray children with the aim to provoke public interest to ‘sell a story’. Howard points out the root of this issue is journalists and development workers not spending enough time within the community, to gain a deeper understanding of their lives and decisions. As well as this, the UN visit these areas with predetermined ideas and assumptions based on sensationalising information they have received from journalist who’ve previously visited the area. In turn reproducing inaccurate information, creating a circle of sensationalised stories which are translated to the world through the media.

      Howard argues that the children are portrayed as victims of trafficking, when in reality these children are migrating to find employment. The consequence of saving the victim results in more damage, as these children are returned home to worse conditions. He indirectly implies that it is okay that these children are migrating to find employment. Failing to emphasise that it is socially and mentally damaging for them, as well as an interference with their ability to educate themselves. Many organisations would label this as exploitative, in turn making them victims of child labour, hindering their development.

  13. Grace Davies-Browne

    Howard’s article raises some controversial ideas about NGO’s notably that often they don’t actually ‘get it right’ in every situation, such as the case illustrated in Bangladesh which resulted in children being removed from employment. Whilst we would assume child labour is inherently bad and anything to stop this is beneficial to children, in certain cases this would take away their only form of income, hence pushing them further into poverty or even more dangerous forms of money making. This question’s many basic assumptions of aid work, and highlights that many people in charge do not know what’s happening in the locations they are ‘helping’. The problem of labelling and identity is also interesting, the fact that people in power are intentionally mislabelling people for the purpose of raising sympathy or funds is morally questionable. Particularly the quote from a UN Employee which stated that ‘suffering in Africa sells’ or that ‘slavery was sexy’ was shocking to me but at the same time not surprising. After all, without financial support none of this work could be done, hence the use of sensationalist ideas. For instance, economic migrants found on a boat would not tug at the heart strings of the western world as much as trafficked slave trade children. Howard is critical of NGO’s work, but certainly doesn’t denounce it, instead suggesting that those who report on cases such as the ‘trafficked children’ need to spend more time in the places they are reporting on before making such substantial claims.
    I agree with Howard in the sense that people with power in decision making organisations whom can impact on the lives of people far away from them need to take more responsibility for their actions. Representations within these power relations, affect people’s lives, often vulnerable people and incorrect action can worsen situations. Or in the case of those found on the boat in the article they were ‘rescued’ when they didn’t need nor want to be, in fact the actions sent them back to the home country and restarted their journey. This situation would be an issue of the illegal migrant trade rather than human trafficking. The fact that Howard was able to uncover this with a few interviews with members, is damning in showing that those people on the ground didn’t take time to ask the migrants why they were there and instead allowed their pre-conceived ideas of migration and ‘cultural backwardness’ in Africa to govern their actions.

  14. James Lever

    Howard’s article sheds light on the problems inextricably bound to representations of ‘victims’ without complete insight on their situations. The call for a deeper understanding is loud and Howard makes a sound argument attacking misinformed journalism. For me, this highlights the importance of the role of the anthropologist as a mediator between locals and activists with the intention of doing good. It seems evident that a space must be filled to ensure the prevention of unintentional misrepresentation and the resulting damaging action.

    It is later explained that constructed images of ‘victims’ are not only a result of poorly made assumptions, rather fashioned, or what Howard deems pornographised, in such a way to attract backing from a wider audience. Although this may appear problematic on a surface level, I argue that this strategy has the potential to improve and perhaps save lives. A sensationalist message does not necessarily need to inform practice, merely arouse interest and support. Howard claims that a ‘sexy’ portrayal of ‘sufferers’ takes attention away from global power structures that perpetuate economic inequality. Despite whatever truthfulness this may hold, tackling such structures may prove too difficult a task. One may find more success in utilising the sympathy of a wider audience to boost local conditions in target regions.

  15. Megan Jones

    This article is very interesting as it discusses the dangers of both development workers and journalists not spending enough time in a place before making, often sensationalised, assumptions about the people within it. The author goes on to state that the ethnographic gaze is best when trying to understand a situation, such as migration, in its entirety.

    Howard explains how the Guardian article in question, however well meaning it may be, is misinformed journalism. Young economic migrants, making a boat journey in search of better prospects, was labelled as a ‘slave-ship’. Howard argues that this is because those which have access to what he calls “meaning making power”, such as journalists and NGO agencies produce sensationalised ideas about such social phenomena without even questioning it.

    Furthermore, Howard argues that in order to grab the world’s attention, journalist’s have a tendency to exaggerate the truths in order to sell. As one NGO worker is quoted, “the trouble is that stories about poor kids migrating because of political-economic injustice simply doesn’t sell. It’s suffering that sells in Africa. You have to be sexy to raise money and trafficking or slavery is sexy”. Reproducing an image of vulnerable African children, when that is often not the case, is damaging as it plays in the Western assumptions of the ‘developing’ world. This is what Howard calls the ‘pornographic gaze’, individualising the exploitation and suffering “detracts from the global structures that make these things possible”.

  16. Yanling Guo

    Neil Howard pointed out in this article that the focus of information is that the media and relief organizations use their powerful voice to distort the “victims” of young people. Of course, from the perspective of the reporters and the government, they may be very wrong to respond to such accusations. Reporters with the camera and writing close-up young people desolate expression, with this perspective in exchange for people’s attention to regional issues. And the members of the rescue organization in such a topic to attract under the road of relief, trying to these “victims” to do some “good”.

    In fact, Howard did not deny that these people may be working with good intentions to carry out the work. But we must let the focus of the discussion return to the results of concrete actions under this discourse system. Journalists tend to have clear topics and purpose in the process of reporting. What they can do is to capture the more impact of the material within a limited time, to reinforce this perspective, to further stimulate people’s feelings. People living in this area, they continue to try to improve the efforts of poverty, is described as the story of ruthless parents and tragic children. Aid organizations have not been able to challenge this cognitive system. In this story, the young people are recognized as victims, they choose to “rescue”. The children seem to have escaped a catastrophic human trafficking but have been forced to continue to struggle in the poverty cycle.

    Due to the lack of long-term, systematic investigation of the event itself, this perspective not only ignores the subjectivity of the “victim” in the event but also fails to relate the whole of the event to the specific social scene. The anthropological perspective and the ethnographic approach are thus likely to be a solution to this problem. On the one hand, anthropological fieldwork helps to fully grasp the facts of the region as a whole, to understand a richer, more complete, more historical story. This way of thinking helps to make improvements directly to the relief work, with more holistic thinking to help people here to overcome the difficulties. On the other hand, ethnographic interpretation is never a single one. The presence of multiple sounds is allowed in anthropological texts. All kinds of subjects have the right to sound. Thus, different expressions can be presented in the picture of the event. And this is the introduction of anthropological perspective for journalists and members of the meaning of relief organizations, but also the thinking of anthropology to break the Western style of “development” discourse system can do the effort.

  17. Rebekah MacDonald

    Howard’s article provides an insight into how events in the media depict a crisis, captures worldwide attention and then produces various discourse. Without doubt I think it shifts from the political structures involved and highlights a need for engagement and interviews with young people as socio-political actors at odds with the humanitarian model and political issues.

    While I agree that the representations used disempowers and depoliticises situations, we have to remember at the same time that the children he highlights are leaving for a reason, and not all people are what he calls ‘comforted’ by stories of African cultural backwardness. He argues how ‘NGO’s save children who don’t want to be saved’, but I can’t help but wonder if without the portrayal of children as ‘slaves’, the millions of dollars that was generated to help what the international public thought would end ‘the scourge of child trafficking’ would have been generated at all. In much the same way he has used the words ‘pornographic gaze’ to gain attention to his article, the tactics used in bringing to light these issues do reproduce sensationalist ideas but generate huge amounts of money that those who have given to the cause hope is being used in the correct way.

    There is clearly a vital role for anthropology to play in placing the debate of people within its correct political context. Through accounts of everyday lives, amidst conditions that shape them, there is the ability to look into the individual’s environment and the perception of their needs and capabilities. This insight to find out what propels young people to board boats, alongside many other things that depict them as victims can then be used in alerting people and the media to what actually makes these things possible, in turn producing a more accurate discourse.

  18. Alasdair Kerr

    Howard’s article is a well needed critique of journalistic practices, particularly with regards to the effect journalist pieces have on the wider world view of migrants and slavery. In the current political climate where the media is consistently said to be misrepresentative and “fake”, Howard’s article provides a useful outline of how journalists can improve their image along with their reporting.
    Journalism and Aid work are constantly in a battle with their desire to do the right thing whilst maintaining a desirable image to the western audiences and governments which they are ultimately accountable to.
    Ethnography has no such issue, and can provide a method for these organisations to ditch their political and social anchors and report a more true image of what is taking place in situations like migration. This would help Journalists and NGO’s move beyond the sensationalist ideas that they are driven to produce by the anchors I have previously mentioned.
    Whilst it is clearly difficult to have an apolitical press and NGO’s must have support for their work by the public in order to gain funding, a shift to a more ethnographic approach would vastly improve the accuracy of the portrayal of the migrant situation, and perhaps help the media shake off the credibility issues they now face

  19. Olivia Bruce-Jones

    In mainstream media sensationalised and intentionally misinformed content is an occurrence all too familiar. Not only do we see representations of child labourers presented as victims of poverty but also child soldiers to which journalists accompany ‘distressing’ images of gun laden children with narratives concerning children as victims of conflict. Shockingly, the deliberate dismissal of wider socioeconomic and political context creates “sexy” headlines that are consequently lapped up with sympathetic gusto by misinformed readers. This does not only cause problems for individuals receiving the information produced by Western organisation well-endowed with “meaning making power” but more crucially the ‘victims’ themselves. As well as deliberate misrepresentation, Western ideologies sees international organisations and Western public knowledge view countries such as West Africa as victims and undeveloped countries that need to be rescued. Howard critiques organisations who make snap judgements made through the difference between their society and the ones that “need helping”. This is exemplified through the case of the US senate and the Bangladeshi factory workers. Through his Western gaze the young Bangladeshi factory workers are not living ‘proper’ childhood so he intervenes. Yet his intervention created hugely negative effects pushing these children to far worse conditions. It’s from his place of difference like so many other organisations that creates victims that don’t always need saving. However, this is often not the case and Howard solves this issue that he terms a ‘pornographic gaze’ stressing the importance of time spent on site and the thorough analysis of social, economic and political context.

  20. Maia Tunley

    Howards article raises critical issues around the disparity between academics and local perspectives and those projected by Western development workers and journalists. His article criticises the liminality of encounters between journalists and development workers with the children they’re ‘helping’ as they never have enough time to really understand the full situation.
    His work is important in raising issues of power and conveying the need for a culturally relative approach when looking at another situation or group of people. He also discusses how you can never take Western discourses of ‘saving’ and development uncritically due to the problematic consequences, for example Harkins work on Bangladeshi sweat shops. Finally then, his work is crucial in conveying the benefits of anthropologists, organisations of government, NGO’s and charities working together to communicate with local people to understand and therefore respect what would be beneficial on the ground,if in fact any intervention is needed at all.

  21. Kizzie Wilson

    In his article, ‘When NGOs save children who don’t want to be saved’, Howard discusses a Guardian article surrounding child trafficking within Togo. He argues that this article has been misinformed by both the journalist and the NGOs informing them. Howard interviewed some of the children who were painted as victims within this article who contradicted the story. They explained that they had paid a smuggler to transport them so that they could find employment to earn money. They were not victims of exploitation. Howard states that one of the major issues leading to this miscommunication is that not enough time is spent on the ground by the journalists and development workers for them to truly grasp what is actually happening.

    I find this extremely interesting as I believe it shows a gap that could be filled by ethnographic work. If the development agencies made use of ethnographic work surrounding this issue they may have discovered that it was not a child trafficking. By doing so they would get a better understanding and may be able to help in a more effective and suitable way.

  22. Madeleine Trentesaux

    One issue raised by this article is ethnocentrism. It shows how we can be ethnocentric and how this way of thinking keeps us from acting correctly. Neil Howard here explains that NGOs, aid workers and journalists take what they know for granted and universal -valid in all societies. For instance in this article Tom Harkin thinks that children should not work. Indeed in our societies, this is not what we expect from children. He then ask US textile industries to stop importing from Bangladesh. The consequences of his act-that is good from his point of view- were awful for working children in Bangladesh. Because he only thought through his way of seeing the world he did not take into account what children in Bangladesh wanted.
    Anthropology, by trying to understand how societies work and what people want and need, can be of a great help to avoid those kind of errors.

  23. Amelia kaye

    Howard highlights the problems with mass media when depicting events of crisis and poverty. The sensationalised discourse on the people they depict has the effect of disempowering and depoliticising those in impoverish situations. The lack of ethnographic understanding of the complex socio-economic relations that interact to create these impoverish environments fails to address the demanding and real issues plagueing these nations. The focus of reports is instead reduced to the crisis at hand, looking at the immediate problem and what treatment to provide rather than looking at the causation and root of the problem.

    It just so happens, that the focus on effects rather than causations removes from the public eye the real institutions of blame and disregard that operates at the higher political and NGO’s level.
    The severance of Neo-liberal capitalism from the crisis’ that indirectly emerge from its operations is no surprise when consider western mass-media are the beneficiaries of such an endeavour.

    That said, the attention and funding gathered from such discourse and reporting on sensationalised crisis cannot be ignored, which even in it’s current state is far better than going unreported. The issue is that political and structural changes take time and money with no immediate profit rather than the economic enforcements and immediate trade that fruit a whole industry of crisis. The opportunities that arise for political and economic interference stem directly from the weakness and uncertainty of struggling peoples and economy’s, their desperation makes them vulnerable and the help they receive only serves to keep them disempowered in the long run.

    The example of the conditions placed on trade by the US on Bangladesh shows a disregard to the current and corrupt social structure. The displacement of blame onto the factories in an attempt to force them to take responsibility for their workers had adverse affects as the relation between political and humanitarianism attempted an all be it fuetiel attempt to reduce child labour. The trend of generalisation within humanitarian projects and intervention is one to be viewed cautiously as the Bangladesh child labour exemplifies, specialisation and realativity are what is needed in these projects and policies.

  24. Orla Burden

    The significant issue highlighted by Howard in this article is one revolving around the misinterpretation of a humanitarian situation, and its consequences.
    Howard suggest that those with the power to circulate foreign news, specifically NGO’s and journalists, have not necessarily done so in an entirely appropriate manner. As a result of a lack of time spent with the people they report on, much of what they consequently report back with is misinformed and full of assumptions that might not be an accurate reflection of any given situation. Furthermore, Howard argues that such skewed understandings come about as a result of the arguably distorted priorities of journalists, and the media in general, to report in such a way that grabs the attention of the consumer and therefore sells more.

    Howard suggests that this type of uninformed reporting dodges the responsibility that these institutions should be taking. Instead of taking time to truly understand the situations that these young people have found themselves in, the misguided pictures they paint may even make things worse for the very people they are trying to ‘help’.

    This is where ethnographic studies may be of great use. Rather than briefly introducing themselves to the situation, maybe journalists and NGO representatives should take more time to observe and get to know their subjects so that they can convey a more accurate portrayal of events to the world, and therefor be able to assist in a more appropriate manner.

  25. Merrill Hopper

    I find this article very thought-provoking. I believe it highlights a significant issue in development; the imbalances of power and knowledge. When a development actor holds the power to make change but not the knowledge of the lives that they are trying to change, it raises the question as to whether attempts could ever be successful. If our imagined geographies are different to what is actually contained in the space then it is easy for such imbalances to occur. This issue just reinforces the importance of anthropology interest in the field of develop, to facilitate the exploration of this place in order to best assist them in the game of development.

  26. Joseph Llewellin

    Howard’s article stands in deliberate contrast to the usual pieces of writing published around such matters. His shocking use of the word “sexy” and the “pornographic gaze” highlight the sensationalist attitude that, he sees, the Western press are taking. Suffering is perceived to be something that “sells” and allows Western society to congratulate itself on working to overcome this.

    For Howard, this is the essential issue with cases of people being “rescued” from “slave ships”. As he points out, many of the people are trying to seek better prospects abroad and have not been sold into work. The rescue efforts merely send them back to the homes they are trying to leave or the family they are trying to help.

    This form of humanitarianism ignores the root cause of the problem and creates an image of suffering that Howard claims is not accurate. By doing this, NGOs are saving people who do not want to be saved and are instead worsening the problem.

    Yet this article ignores the fact that slavery does still exist in today’s world and trafficking is a real and present danger for some people. The main problem here would be attempting to tell whether people are voluntarily moving or being forced. This creates an ethical minefield about when, where and how to act. Whilst I agree with Howard’s point, it is far easier to critique than to offer solutions, and whilst the idea of suffering may be subjective, there is no denying that it does exist.

  27. Poppy Luck

    This article is one that is extremely interesting, but also of great importance, as it brings to light issues that are not often thought about in depth. Howard highlights how journalists and NGO’s are misrepresenting to the public about the trafficking of children, in which they are giving big headlines that the public in a way want to hear – in which he calls the ‘pornographic gaze’. Howard gives evidence for this in which he explains that children are migrating to find economic opportunities as this is simply the best option for them to make a fair income. This is in opposition to what is actually being represented by the media – children being ‘trafficked’ with “ruthless employers exploiting the innocent”. I found this point interesting, in which I related it back to when I was studying Human Geography at A-Level. The case studies were about NGO’s again ‘saving the day’ in which they stop children working at these factories in Bangladesh, when in fact as Howard highlights, this intervention is actually a disaster for these children in which they can end up in much worse situations. It is these secondary effects that you don’t often hear about in the media. Howard highlights that the main issue is that journalists and NGO’s are not spending enough time with these people in order to gain a thorough understanding, some only spending a few days. From this we can see the different between ethnography and journalism – perhaps more participant observation is needed in order to resolve this issue.

  28. Henrietta Cloake

    It is a thought-provoking piece of writing, and whilst Howard makes valid points I dislike his style and the tone of slight arrogance in his position.
    First, I agree with his overall argument and statement that children are often used as bait for sympathy, and by consequence funding, and public support for policy changes. Using the term pornographic evokes the idea of the enjoyment we get from seeing suffering and feeling that we can do something about it. The Guardian article is not the most extreme version of this type of journalism or media but it certainly creates images of poverty and scarcity, and young innocent children who are at the mercy of adults. In particular, the Guardian article is a photography essay with only a few captions which can be incredibly misleading because it often leads for less critical evaluation by the readers – we have been trained to see images as fact. This article gives no voice to those they are discussing. They are voiceless victims, who become subjects of our gaze.
    Second, the article raises interesting questions about how we think about the definition of a child, and the ethics of labour. Howard encourages critical thinking on how we should not assume that the definitions of labour, slavery, and migration are the same cross-culturally. Howard proposes that we understand these phenomena within their cultural context, which links back to truly understanding the perspectives of those who experience them. Moreover, he encourages us to consider the wider political structures which influence these experiences.
    However, I take issue with this piece because it is an opinion article criticising the work of journalists for not being in-depth with their reporting and having a sensationalist agenda. Howard is equally sensationalist and sweeping in his criticisms, and presenting his ideas for his own agenda. His argument, whether intentional or not, denies the fact that forced labour or child exploitation exists. It seems to imply that because the children have expressed their desire to him to be smuggled in the search of wage that this negates the moral issues or their susceptibility to exploitation.
    Lastly, my issue is that he seems to overlook the complicated relationship between aid work and the role of the anthropologist, and the convergences between journalists and anthropologists. There is as much a saviour complex history in the anthropologist from an euro-american background as there is in the aid worker or the journalist.

  29. Inès Decoster

    Howard’s article raises important and challenging issues around Western media’s representation of human emergencies and international NGOs’ attempts to do good. Drawing on 10 years of research in West African countries, Howard argues that it is misleading to understand the involvement of minors in migration exclusively as human trafficking. This child trafficking discourse falsely homogenises the wide diversity of young people’s reasons to migrate and can lead to interventions that negatively impact the lives of children who wish to migrate. The resulting humanitarian interventions have proven to increase the risks of danger in child migration, rather than improving their life conditions. In other words, the humanitarian project to rescue, repatriate and reintegrate these children is problematic and fails to adapt to the realities of childhood in West Africa.
    Howard highlights that the ‘victim perspective’ produced by dominant human trafficking discourses prevents the study of young people as active agents in their own migrations. They remain the voiceless other, awaiting for intervention. In the pursuit of readers, donors and revenue, the media and aid agencies use their moral and expert authority to commodify human suffering and reproduce portrayals of helpless victims confronted by localized problems to which only the aid organization can respond. While the reliance on these narratives facilitates humanitarian responses and raises consciousness, it can also detach the ‘victim’ from its humanity in terms of autonomy, abilities, dignity and context. Ultimately, while these narratives do not always benefit the intended recipient, they usually manage to make the donor or humanitarian actor feel better.
    Howard’s aim is not to propose a solution to the issue of child migration; but to change the way we look at and talk about it. Howard urges humanitarian actors and journalists to engage with young people who explain and justify their choices, instead of caricaturing them as victims to be pitied and saved. One way to challenge the hegemonic discourse starts with adopting a ‘migration’ rather than ‘slavery’ lens in order to gain a more grounded and nuanced perspective of the phenomenon.

  30. Sophia Rawlinson

    Howard’s article draws attention to the issue of journalistic representations of people in crisis situations and he calls for a reassessment of the ‘victim’ image as he argues it is unhelpful and even damaging to the people it depicts. He explains that oversimplifying and sensationalising the actions of young people leaving Togo leaves no room for a more accurate understanding of them as migrants with layers of contextual motivations. Which in turn limits the effectiveness of aid and socio-political support that is being offered to them.
    I find particularly interesting Howard’s suggestion that this sensationalising of suffering is used by both the media and NGOs as a sort of shock tactic, to gain financial support. It calls to question the morality of motivations of such agencies. Howard argues that more accurate and useful portrayals would emerge if the people themselves could tell their own stories. I agree with him on many of his points over the exaggerated and simplified presentations being unhelpful, however I feel that simply writing a critical article over this problem does little to actually combat the issue or offer a better alternatives.

  31. Zoe Black

    This article brings into the forefront the problem with the media & the white-washing, generalising techniques which are used repetitively in mass broadcasting and printing companies. Howard identifies the commodification of suffering in countries which are far less developed than our own, and the almost pornographic way struggle is depicted. It is obviously far easier for us, as westernised individuals, to look at the ways that other people act (such as factory owners in Bangladesh) and criticise them for acting inappropriately, as opposed to putting legislation in place in order for our own behaviour to be modified in response. This stems inherently from a colonial attitude, that the Western way is the best way, totally under-representing the self-sacrifice of people from these poorer countries and de-valuing decisions made based on specific cultural values. I agree with Howard on his point made about the need for integration into these cultural communities before any action is taken, as just because we wouldn’t necessarily send a 14 year old to work, it doesn’t mean it is the wrong thing.

    However, to say that we shouldn’t have any input at all before someone can be embedded into a community is wrong in my opinion. I agree that perhaps a softer approach should be taken, but using these ‘slaves’ on a boat from Benin to Gabon as an example, imagine if they HAD of been child slaves, and we did nothing? Surely that is worse than making the mistake of mis-understanding them initially? I find it hard to believe that this would be a worse situation. I think fundamentally anthropology should be used to prevent these kind of situations in the first place, by sending anthropologists to these areas in order for us to understand these people on a deeper level.

  32. Diana Potacka

    Howard’s article draws attention to a very important topic in developmental and humanitarian aid today which is the media coverage of crisis situations. With an increased media coverage it is now, more important than ever to address issues of sensationalisation.
    Howard draws on his own research into the lives of children who were ‘rescued’ from ‘slavery’ or ‘trafficking’ so his findings are not based just on assumptions which the UNICEF has been guilty of in the case of Benin in 2001.

    The author mentions the importance of contextualising the reasons why children have migrated from one place to the other without their parents and in search of work. This draws attention to the ways in which developmental and humanitarian aid agencies’ as well as journalists’ own world views and assumptions about what a child is or is supposed to be, influences the sensationalisation of their situation. As a result this has the unintended consequences for the children that they think need saving. Howard cleverly positions this problem on the global political and economic arena. He argues that a lot of children who migrate and who are working are the result of the capitalist system in which their parents, to be able to support the family and themselves, had to send their offspring away for additional income. So, it is the precarious political and economic injustice that they are subject to in their country that requires the parents/children to make this decision. However, as the UN senior employee has mentioned in the article stories about children migrating because of the poor political-economic situation don’t sell, what does sell is suffering. This is similar to the story on Biafra in Nigeria during the civil war, where hunger and poverty has become their propaganda which media have picked up on very quickly. In the same vein in 1984 Band Aid has reduced a complex political situation in Ethiopia to ideas about famine. However, in that case the people in the country weren’t dying from famine but from forced resettlements (Trouble with Aid, 2012).

    Howard is right to point out the problem that plagues the media and a lot of developmental and humanitarian agencies in the way they refuse to contextualise the situation of people they think of as victims. What is need now is the two way conversation between those that try to help and those that, perhaps as Howard suggests in the title, don’t need this help. A bottom up approach of deeper understanding of the problems the people face in everyday life and they way it influences their decisions might be a good way to start. The most difficult thing might be the changing of the way in which corporate media relay such information. Or perhaps, the question is whether the media would still relay such information if it won’t sell because it’s not ‘sensational’ enough?

  33. Tertia Rollason

    Howard argues that journalists are falsely portraying West-African children as victims of trafficking. He opposes these representations by contending that journalists do not spend adequate time within the field and as a result, assume false beliefs about their lives, solely on the basis that the children live in impoverished areas.

    After ten years of research, Howard claims that the children are migrants rather than subjects of slavery. I find this aspect of Howard’s article eminently thought provoking. Not only does it leave me questioning journalist representations, it also displays a lack of neo-liberal achievement. Howard suggests that the ‘pornographic gaze’ created by such articles, has stimulated reactions from higher, global authorities which ultimately worsens the situation.

    I agree with Howard’s argument that by spending more time in the field provokes a more comprehensible and relatable understanding of these children’s lives. However, the idea that the journalists aim to paint ‘sexy’ images of suffering rather than portraying the reality of the situation is somewhat disturbing. It is unlikely that journalists who are writing to provoke, instead of writing to aid are going to commit to spending more time in the field. Therefore, I do not think Howard has considered such an issue, nor has he suggested any realistic solutions or alternatives. I think the article would be even more provocative if Howard had provided more refelctions on his own research.

  34. Emma King

    In this article, Howard criticises the discrepancy in the way in which child migrants define themselves versus how they are depicted by development workers and journalists. He argues that there is a lack of understanding by the latter as to the nature of child migration, which is partly due to an insufficient amount of time being spent on site or with migrants themselves. As a result, children are often represented as vulnerable victims of trafficking, which is often not the case; in fact, Howard remarks that of a number of child migrants he spoke to, many of them did not regard themselves as victims in need of rescuing, but simply as young people migrating for better work opportunities. Something I found particularly interesting was his comparison between journalistic depictions of child migrants to pornography, in the sense that they silence the voices of the children, disempowering them and ignoring the political-economic reality of their situation

    Essentially, the article illustrates how such inaccurate, sensationalist representations of child migrants so often found in the media are a product of a discourse of power, reproduced by ethnocentric Western authorities, which in turn can exacerbate the lives of many children by legitimising aid and policies designed to ‘help’ them, but which often do not. By focusing on the ‘suffering’ of the children as individuals, rather than recognising their situation as a result of complex global structures, the political-economic issues at the heart of the problem remain unaddressed, hindering any long-term effective change.

  35. Jasmine Forbes-Lumby

    What struck me foremost from this reading was the author’s exploration of the romantic nature of media reports, something that would seldom be considered when considering a critical analysis of crisis reports. It becomes especially harrowing when children and a ‘pornographic gaze’ are presented in the same article, but it is this shock-factor which underlies the basis of Howard’s critique. He argues that this gaze is a divisive tool which distracts from real cultural issues and plays into the unrealistic notions of starved, dying and ‘backward’ lesser economically developed countries.

    A further point of interest in the construction of LEDC’s as ‘backward’ was Howard’s acknowledgement that capitalism was a driving force in worldwide economic disparity, something that is ironically an intrinsic part of systems of aid. I felt that this quote particularly outlined the ulterior motive behind seemingly altruistic acts: ‘It’s about is an entire political system designed to eschew the political economy of lack and instead reproduce comforting stories about African cultural backwardness’. Here, Howard is calling for a reality-check on the prevalence of evolutionary thinking, something which may be naively assumed as a thing of the past, yet underlies a lot of sensationalist media, pretending to champion the rights of the ‘other’. The need to ‘modernize’ LEDC’s because they can’t ‘keep up with’ western constructions of what it is to be ‘developed’.

    Interesting also is his creation of an ally between journalists and aid workers versus that of academics and young migrants, a statement which could be argued to universalize the opinions of every displaced person and broadly group academics from every field under one umbrella notion. I do, however, feel that his critique of journalistic accounts of ‘suffering’ is just, he calls for longitudinal ethnographic case study in order to adequately grasp the localised socio-economic/cultural landscape in which these situations arise, as it is only with a rich understanding of the culture in which you are operating, that intervention can be as culturally sensitive as possible. This is termed ‘meaning-making power’ and stands as a counter-culture critique of western sensationalist media and the capitalist system from which it is born.

    I picked up on the explorations of eurocentric assumptions about the inherent vulnerability of children, feeling that this was down to western values which stress the vitality of the ‘nuclear family’, and the family in general, as a vital inter-personal and cultural institution.
    In outlining his contempt at the distasteful articles in which authors aim to present themselves as a hero to a lesser ‘other’, Howard engages in a fundamental discourse surrounding the politics of morality and moves toward the destabilization of altruism as a concept.

  36. Zoe LeMaistre

    Howard’s article demonstrates how those that view a situation such as ‘trafficing’ from a distance, without getting to know those in that situation or their true circumstances in any detail, can easily misinterpret what is really happening. Those that are trying to help can therefore result only in harming those that they have deemed to be ‘victims’ that they are trying to help. This demonstrates one of the key issues in aid, whether on an international or more local area; people assume what others need and how others are living without thoroughly discovering what they want. Anthropology becomes useful here in how it closely observes and questions communities and could be used to help NGOs and other organisations in avoiding these assumptions.
    I found Howard’s discussion around de-politicising and removing people from global structures that create the suffering and exploitation they are living in to be particularly interesting. It may be easier for organisations to highlight ‘sexy’ issues such as trafficing and slavery but he suggests that this removes them from the real issues that they live within, such as political-economic injustice. Advertising for aid organisations often focuses on individuals and removes them from the greater political context that caused this issue – perhaps the focus of these organisations, and for journalists, as Howard suggests at the end of his article, should be different.

  37. Isobel Robins

    This article explores the relationship between exploitation and the Western press. In the press’ efforts to create higher levels of readership through reporting news from developing countries, such as teenage children from West Africa looking for work in foreign countries, as child exploitation stories. Howard argues that this is a misinformed interpretation of what is actually happening – economic migration. The intervention by the ‘West’ as a result of this sensationalising can actually be more detrimental for the children, for they are then pushed back into situations where they are forced to turn to informal means of generating money, like sex work.

    For me, this generates questions around the social construction of childhood – if the migrants were over eighteen they would simply be considered workers and this would not be newsworthy. What gives the ‘West’ the right to determine who is considered a child and who is considered an adult? Can the Western construction of a childhood really be applied to young people who have grown up in completely different circumstances?

  38. Cordelia Sears

    This article helps to demonstrate that ethnographic research is vital in order to really understand a “crisis”, and not to simply assume the situation based on a Western perception. Howard, through the material gathered from his interviews with children labelled as being on ‘slave ships’, shows that the majority of the time the so-called crisis’ are misrepresented based on distant perceptions, and that fieldwork is the most accurate method to the truth. Added to this is the problem of selling what is ‘sexy.’ As he proposes, the majority of journalists do not have intentions of worsening the situation but sadly, due to a common sensationalist discourse that surrounds the way the media portrays situations, people are ‘rescued’ without wanting to be. This, Howard then illustrates, leads to a failure of neoliberalism with foreign powers attempting to ‘solve’ the situation by cutting off whole work places altogether and ultimately forcing children to the streets from lack of work.

    Although I think that Howard makes a valid point that sensationalism in the media is detrimental to those in question in some cases, he is in danger of taking away the severity of some crisis.’ We have to remember that child trafficking is still present today and if it is “being sexy to raise money” that works, then we cannot disregard this method completely. However, this cannot be said for all and immediate intervention needs to be avoided unless proven to be beneficial to those in question. In view of this Howard successfully highlights that in order to understand a situation in depth and to avoid any sensationalist misrepresentations, an anthropological approach of ethnographic research is the most effective method of analysis.

  39. Cecilia Andersson

    In the article, Howard comments on a piece published in The Guardian about children being rescued from trafficking in West Africa. Howard problematizes the picture painted in the original article, as well as the general image that is constantly being created in the media – the image of poor children in need of saving. The argument put forward by Howard states that these articles do not only portray a simplified and often false image of reality, but also that they actually make things worse. It is suggested that trafficking is being romanticised as modern slave trade of children, whereas children involved in these cases actually see themselves as migrants. Moreover, Howard argues that journalists and NGO workers have meaning-making power, and that this power is being misused to reproduce sensationalist received ideas by disempowering and de-politicising the issues at hand. Instead, he suggests that we should contextualise these cases, and address the political and global problems that are attached to them.

    I agree with Howard in that we need to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of cases concerning trafficking. Bringing issues of power and politics into the discussion would be the most effective step in my opinion, as child migrants are highly involved in a globalised world. Furthermore, I think that bringing their thoughts and opinions into the discussion is absolutely necessary, and it is also necessary to include the ethnographic method into journalism overall. However, I disagree with some of Howards statements. He suggests that child migrants are simply looking for work outside of their home, and that they are portrayed as being in danger because they are away from home. I do not think that he deliberately makes a case arguing for child labour, but he fails to problematize the situation of the children. Howard does argue that we should acknowledge the neoliberal capitalist system which ultimately leads to cases of child labour, but he seems very passive in simply accepting this as a fact. I think that we should contextualise children’s way of living, but we should also acknowledge that they are children and should be protected to a certain extent. Yes, there is a problem with a ‘pornographic gaze’ in journalism, but there is also a problem in anthropology with ignoring concrete problems in the world and relying too heavily on cultural relativism.

  40. Julie Olsen

    In the article, Howard makes an interesting point about one important differentiation between ethnographic work and journalistic research, when arguing that researchers need to dedicate more time than just a few days with the subject(s) they intend to portray. He encourages researchers to spend time with them in their environment, listening to them and letting them tell their own story. Highlighting the issues around what a fair and truthful portrayal is, and how it may be achieved. Whenever researchers sit down to write about subjects extending outside of their personal experiences, there is always the problem of representation, asking the question of how a justified one may be achieved. Howard points out that the problem with representation within the field of development and humanitarianism is how it more often than not falls victim to what mainstream media refers to as ‘poverty porn’. The making of assumptions and jumping to conclusions combined with a lack of proper conversation results in a biased portrayal of the subject(s) in question. In this case, the result is more often than not a portrait of helplessness and suffering. Because, as Howard points out, prosperity and self-sufficiency do not sell. This becomes especially dangerous when the press reproduces such portrayals without question, contributing to the situation (potentially) worsening.

    As Howard points out himself, there is little question about whether journalists and other workers who have fallen victim to the trap of poverty porn or other unjust portrayals are good people. However, this does not take away from the fact that they are doing more harm than good with this kind of work. Howard suggests an ethnographic approach to research as a potential solution, circling back to his point of in-depth research over a longer period of time, letting the subject(s) speak for themselves. By demanding more thorough research and knowledge from journalists and aid workers, we open the path to a more transparent picture of these situations. A way of pressuring for such a transparency may be by making inaccurate portrayals public knowledge, thus helping discredit such tendencies and promoting change.

  41. Matilda Wilde

    ‘Migrants, not victims’ -This quote sums up many of the key themes of the article for me. Howard discusses how increasing sensationalist reports of situations like this one, can be misleading and potentially make worsen the situation for the ‘victims’ involved. In one interview with a senior member of the UN, she states that migration driven by economic and political incentives doesn’t sell in Western Media; what does however, is a continuation of the notion that Africa is still a backwards country in need of our aid. This notion of the western saviour coming to save the innocent may be entirely unfounded but for the sake of argument, could it be countered that without the continuation of these particular narratives, NGO’s would have notably less funding, meaning even smaller numbers of people benefited from their aid? Despite that aid not always improving the situation, for many it can be, so would changing the narrative cause more harm than good?

  42. Amie Jackson

    Neil Howard is here highlighting many of the key criticisms levelled at the humanitarianism and development sectors – the disempowering effect of the imperialist ‘gaze’, the gulf between local and global concerns, practical limitations of aid workers on the ground, sensationalist marketing and journalism, and the depoliticisation of poverty and suffering.

    In this last issue Howard’s fieldwork in West Africa corresponds to James Ferguson’s research in Lesotho, detailed in ‘The Anti-Politics Machine’. The shared argument is that the humanitarian and development apparatus is not only failing to eliminate poverty, it is actually ‘incidentally involved with the state bureaucracy’ from which it claims separation and thus autonomy. Development is in fact part of a ‘machine for reinforcing and expanding the exercise of bureaucratic state power.’ Whilst Howard acknowledges the hard work and good intentions of aid workers, he recognises many of Ferguson’s ‘instrument effects’ in the development projects in regions such as Togo and Benin – ‘ by individualising suffering and exploitation, it detracts from the global structures that make these things possible.’

    Howard is simply outlining key ideas in this short article, and I hope his longer book provides further insight on how he believes development and humanitarian agencies can operate more effectively. The Guardian photo-essay that sparked this comment piece, for example, features individual stories of human-trafficking, slavery and abuse. Howard’s response is that this ‘paints a picture’ which does not match his own interviews with many children who consider themselves ‘migrants, not victims’. But what of these individual stories of suffering in this particular article? Should aid workers and journalists, and ourselves as readers, dismiss them as simply not typical of the wider picture in these areas?

    It may also be useful to acknowledge the work that has already been untaken by the development sector in tackling these issues. Howard’s first suggestion in this brief article is for ‘journalists to spend longer with the people on whom they report, to let them tell their own stories’, which is the primary aim of Communication For Development (C4D) training – which is currently funding by UNICEF and many major development organisations. It would be perhaps be useful for such critiques to include suggestions on how researchers and ethnographers can assist such training projects, and work more closely with journalists and aid workers to share their extensive local knowledge.

    His second suggestion (discussed in more detail by Ferguson) is therefore the more pertinent point – that journalists should ‘use the privilege of access to the global press to contextualise their stories in global structures of power and exclusion of the kind characterising life under neoliberal capitalism’. It is only through the depoliticisation of development that the ‘pornographic gaze’ be can be transformed and journalists, aid workers and the Global North in general into real empowerment for the ‘victims’.

  43. India Huggett

    Howard’s article is an interesting perspective on the ways in which migrant children and young adults are perceived in the media and in the wider world. There are many points that he makes that I agree with. The main point he highlights is that NGO’s and other government agencies are being painted by western media outlets as swooping in and saving the day, allowing children to be reunited with family as well as taking them out of hazardous working conditions, however as Howard points out in some cases these organisations do not have the full picture of the situation. Often children are working and migrating to other countries in order to seek out a better life, it is not always against their will. It is almost ethnocentric to assume that the way children help out their family and our treated in all countries is the same as the way that children in western countries are treated. Children and young adults having jobs is universal in at least one sense or the other, whether its working in your local supermarket or in a factory, in some cases this is simply so they do not have to rely economically on their family.

    Similarly as with many ‘sensationalised’ news stories what the public usually want is someone to blame and a hero who has the solution, and in this case the blame falls on the government in the countries where these children are migrating from or the ‘slave’ drivers who ‘took’ them in the first place and it is the NGO’s and the western government who are supposedly bringing the solution. I thought the example of the US senator was interesting, the idea that money solves all problems is evident here, and the attitude that if you just throw money at something it will disappear, although it is evident that he wanted to help the tendency is for individuals and organisations not to follow through and investigate how their policies and aid actually affect the recipients. This article definitely makes you think twice before simply absorbing everything that journalists and media outlets say at face value.

  44. Isabel Aditi Muttreja

    This article puts across an important point about misunderstanding, something found commonly in the media today. The mismatch between children’s views and outsiders understandings is clear in this situation and highlights the issue of those who drop into a situation quickly and without enough consideration. I feel that this highlights two important points: firstly, that children’s voices need more attention paid to them. It is a tendency of most people, maybe most Westerner’s to assume that children lack responsibility and understanding. However this article, like the anthropological endeavor in general, shows that one should question their own thoughts on a matter. In different places around the world children develop faster and are forced to take on more typically adult roles, and we as anthropologists, journalists or development workers must take this seriously.
    The second point this article highlights for me is the need for a more anthropological or ethnographic approach in development work. Fieldwork is something many aid workers do but clearly not enough. Maybe the recent trend of voluntary tourism is creating a different view, forcing an image of those in immediate need which can be provided quickly and without full understanding. Anthropologists must fight to force development worker’s to take a closer and longer look at those they aim to help. Hopefully the result would be better allocation of funds and better knowledge of the issues that face children like the ones in this article, with journalists following suit.

  45. Lise Albertsen

    There are several things that strike me as I am reading the article.
    The first of them is in regards to organizations or people with what the author calls ‘”meaning-making power”, meaning, people or organizations with authority that has a voice in the global community. The first problem in relation to this is when the author explains how UNICEF, a highly respected organization, called it a slave-ship without much investigation of what really was the case. Much of the same problem is shown when it is told that NGO’s rarely live in the communities they are supposed to make policies for and the fact that most journalists do not spend a lot of time in a community before making a story about them. All of this creates an unclear and often inaccurate picture of what is actually happening in a society. Because NGO’s, organizations such as UNICEF, and journalists have a voice that people listen to and what they say is automatically viewed as true, they should take greater responsibility of making sure what they are saying and working towards are as accurate as possible. If they cannot spend too much time in the field, it would be to a great advantage for the people they are trying to ‘help’ if they cooperated with other disciplines that spend more time in the communities and know more about the actual reality because they’ve lived there, such as for example ethnographers.
    The second thing that I noticed was how the continent of Africa is viewed as homogenous where the only part that apparently matters is that they are ‘all’ starving. When UNICEF labelled the car of youth slaves, when they were in reality migrants who just needed money because they live in a capitalist world there were two things that happened. They first automatically inserted their own Eurocentric view of how children are supposed to be vulnerable beings that needs to be protected and should not have what we label adult responsibilities, and this is problematic because it is like a statement that only the western version of a childhood is correct. Maybe that by ignoring that the children live in a capitalist society, maybe the ‘west’ can continue believing in themselves as saviours that helps the ‘poor third world’? The second is that when Africa is only viewed as in a constant case of hunger (by the west), when this is not the case as stated in the article, then this removes their identity in a way. When the west gets so immersed in the popular imagery of the idea that in Africa there are only starving people, you remove everything else about them that makes them unique or similar to other societies. The continental, national, regional and differences between different towns or individuals are ignored. By ignoring all of these differences, you are missing out on how they experience life and how they live it.
    A third thing is the effectiveness of aid. If NGO’s or other organizations do not listen to the people who they are trying to ‘help’ and give billions of money to the wrong area to help, such as with the money that was supposed to help against child trafficking, instead of helping they are in reality just wasting money. And there are many places that would benefit from different forms of changed policies and help, so if they worked from the bottom up in regards to information, this would make it more interesting. As mentioned before, in such instances it could be useful to use ethnographic knowledge as it is more in-depth.
    This article was interesting because it highlights so many issues in regards to temporality (not enough time in the ‘field’) and the way different organizations or journalists highlights sensationalist views of how people are living, which spreads through media and therefore shapes people’s perception in the rest of the world about how a specific part of the world supposedly lives.

  46. Isobel Welton

    Howard’s article shows how simplified, sensationalist representations of ‘victims’ that are perpetuated by the Western media are ultimately damaging to the people focused on. Through the example of a Guardian article, Howard emphasises the dangers of misinformed journalism and argues that the sensationalist ‘pornographic gaze’ created by this lack of knowledge and understanding, disempowers people and depoliticises the situation, never mind how well meant the was article in the first place. The misinterpretation of facts and the individualising of issues such as child labour detracts from the global structures that have contributed to them and until the reproduction of these inaccuracies is questioned, not much ‘good’ will come from media focus.

    I agree with Howard that in order to make any sort of positive contribution journalists and aid workers need to not only thoroughly analyse the situation before commenting on it but also question the sensationalist received ideas that they could be perpetuating. As Howard suggests, ethnography has the opportunity to play a vital role in lessening the spread of misinformation; spending more time on the ground would allow researchers to further understand the contextual background of situations and enable people to tell the own stories.

  47. Madelyn Arlidge

    Howard’s article is an important challenge to the work of NGOs that signifies a need to rethink humanitarian aid work. I agree with his view that many projects are based on a simple sweeping judgment of a situation, in which the power Western organizations are used to create an equally simple solution, clearly highlighted in Howard’s example of the ‘slave ship’.

    The misjudgment apparent in this example had a clearly negative effect on the children involved, interrupting their plans to migrate and sending them home, the place where they had chosen to leave. This indicates the stark contrast in power in which the NGO leaves those involved voiceless, ‘saving’ them in a way that goes against their wishes. This power allows Western organizations to label powerless groups in whichever way they choose, and as Howard highlights, this is often distorted to the advantage of the media to create a ‘sexy’ image that draws members of the public in to ‘saving’ those who are ‘suffering.

    Despite the negative aspects of distortion of the suffering image for the purpose of the media, it could be argued that without this, in some cases, exaggerated representation, raising money for those in situations of ‘political-economic injustice’ would be near impossible which brings one to consider which is less harmful of the two.

    Howard does suggest a solution to the problem of the ‘pornographic gaze’ in which journalists and people in power must spend more time with subjects that they attempt to help, before making drastic actions which may disempower them further. I believe that people attempting to aid those who they perceive as ‘suffering’ are doing so from the good of their heart and it is only at the fault of their lack of knowledge of the real situation with which they face that they are causing more damage that they are fixing. Further media coverage such as Howard’s article would be an important step in communicating to journalists and aid workers the effects of unconsidered, sweeping actions, and therefore encourage them to spend extended periods of time with the people they wish to help beforehand.

  48. Mirjam Rennit

    Howard argues that the representation of young people as victims of trafficking is a distortion of real life situation with highly undesirable consequences for young people themselves. Whilst having good intentions and intervening in the name of rescuing them, various organisations and policy makers take away their livelihoods without recognising that it has been their free choice. Very often NGO workers and journalists who produce those accounts leading to misinformed intervention have not even talked to the people they represent meaning that they cannot possibly know what is actually happening. Furthermore, by individualising suffering and exploitation, these accounts depoliticise the conditions in which those people live. This means that global structures of inequality making poverty and child labour possible are not being considered. This relates to James Ferguson’s argument about the apolitical character of developmental projects and their failure to address issues of power and politics.

    As an anthropology student who recognises the necessity to avoid preconceived ideas and understand individuals and social phenomenon in context through studying them closely, I very much agree with Howard. I think that cases like these make it explicit how anthropology can contribute to improving developmental and humanitarian aid projects by advocating and employing ethnographic methods. Interacting and spending time with people enables to form a better understanding of them and as a result avoid interventions that are meant to improve the lives of people but due to lack of knowledge have the reverse effect on them. Therefore, whilst putting forward powerful critique of humanitarian representation and intervention, Howard is making a case for the usefulness of anthropology in the field of development and humanitarianism.

  49. Charlotte Burton

    In this article, Howard criticises the misrepresentation by journalists of the lives and struggles of children in developing countries. He suggests that NGOs fuel this misrepresentation by spending too little time with communities they are ‘helping’ so the problems that are faced by the people are not fully understood. The idea of sensationalising suffering is key, whereby it is suggested that ‘It’s suffering that sells in Africa’. Therefore, the true stories of children choosing to migrate for better work prospects in life due to a political-economic injustice is crudely overwritten as children being forced to flee from abuse, human trafficking and parents selling their children helplessly due to conditions of crushing poverty. In some ways this forms parallels with ideas of western imperialism through the media having the power to misrepresent communities all around the world, through the global structures of technology and inter-connectedness that are in place. Howard talks about a ‘pornographic gaze’ which is relevant in suggesting how ‘the west’ are only concerned about problems elsewhere if they are dramatised and the people presented as victimised and vulnerable, where ‘trafficking or slavery is sexy’. Therefore, he calls for journalists to rethink their stories as they report on people’s lives and exaggerate or misrepresent to attract a higher interest. I think that Howard makes a very interesting point in his article and I agree that journalistic news and the practices of NGO’s is sensationalised. However, Howard needs to acknowledge that although stories concerning trafficking and so on are misrepresented, they are still very real. NGO’s still do very valuable work in helping those that are suffering where they are not always caught up in a misrepresentation and misunderstanding. A louder but less exaggerated cry needs to be heard about less extreme stories of migration and political struggles, and represented in a truer form, so it is very important and well needed that Howard criticises journalistic practices of fake and sensationalised news.

  50. Ken-An Isaac

    I agree with what Howards is saying in his article. I think it is important to write about the misleading images that journalists give us. Not is it only unfair towards the children to paint them off as victims of trafficking, but also for the people giving money in order to “rescue” the kids. His article wakens people up to not just believe anything that NGOs tell us. It is also a good reason to let journalists or NGOs do to better research. Instead of creating sensationalist stories, they should get to know the people and really know what is going on. This could happen by using the same research methods that anthropologists do.

  51. Ailsa Mears

    The basic premise of the article appears to be a concept that I would agree with, that migrants’ circumstances are perhaps more nuanced than portrayed by the Western media. However, the sensationalised tone and language used for effect by Howard could, perhaps, have been displaced by an objectively more constructive, empathetic argument. If he had justified his point by not only communicating the scale of the issue but also using specific cases of migrant children and followed their individual journeys himself, it may allow readers to become engaged in their lives as people, rather than ‘victims’, and validate a prescribed solution for this issue in the same article. This then may appear less critical when presented to other journalists and aid workers

    I find the idea that migrants’ circumstances may necessarily be framed in a particular way to gain funding from donors/ agencies, almost as a ‘means-to-an-end’ approach interesting, and it addresses the related issue of why the ‘most read’ news articles objectively appear as those that are close to home. Why do global news stories have to be particularly horrific in order to make headlines? Perhaps this public disengagement isn’t a display of indifference but of ignorance, and is worth exploring.

  52. Rory Read

    Howards article accents how NGO’s can exacerbate the issues of impoverished communities, but also delves into the reasons why they can do so. The concept of the ‘pornographic gaze’ highlights that it is the attractiveness of a skewed reality that appeals to western contributors of NGO’s. By depicting the migrant children as ‘slaves’ and victims of their own culture, more attention of the onlooking western world is captured. However, as Howard describes, these children would not self-describe as ‘slaves’ and on the contrary are simply migrating due to economic reasons, ironically, likely due to Western superpowers and globalisation. The result of this is that the children are ‘saved’ when they are not in need of ‘saving’. Additionally, the concept of the way the term ‘saved’ is used works to reinforce and reproduce the false ideology of the ‘pornographic gaze’; that the NGOs are really doing great work.

    I agree with Howards final remarks that encourage the participation of those who would be ‘saved’ to promote their voice and conception of their situation. Anthropological methods such as participant observation would serve as a way of expressing the subjects voice as well as uncovering the real reasons for the situation the subject is in and their take on it. The benifits of this would be that NGOs would have accurate information to work towards what is really best for the subject and even if this means less funding due to less interest from donors, it would still, arguably, be a much better scenario for those classed as ‘victims’.

  53. Othmane Benharbit

    I think this article really reminds us of the importance of the ethnographer’s job. The main issue that Howard points out is one that is caused by a lack of clarity, a lack of understanding by the journalist when analyzing the situation of these kids. The journalists/development workers inability to grasp what is actually happening to the kids: migrating to find money, better life conditions and not being a slave or a victim is caused by the lack of time spent with them, the lack of interaction with them.

    Here is where the Ethnographer’s job is crucial since his role is to live with the people and try and see the world in their angle.

    I think talking about intentions here also is fundamental and crucial, since I believe that intention will highly influence and determine the outcome of one’s action. If a news reporter’s intention is indeed to get the headlines and the money that comes with it, the outcome will surely be negative as we have seen in this example. If the intention is to help people by understanding their situations and if need so report to raise awareness, the outcome of the reporting will very much more likely be a positive one.

    Also I would like to add on a side note that this being the case, trying to analyse, find out or detect someone else’s intentions is either extremely complex or impossible. Therefore I think this reasoning (bad intention = bad outcome ; good intention = good outcome) is more one we as a people can use when choosing or “making” our intentions with the goal to better our actions and their outcomes, and not to try and classify or judge someone else’s intentions (due to the complexity and in a sense the uselessness of it).