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Can a celebrity be a “disrupter,” promoting strategic partnerships to bring new ideas and funding to revitalize the development field—or are celebrities just charismatic ambassadors for big business? Examining the role of the rich and famous in development and humanitarianism, Batman Saves the Congo argues that celebrities do both, and that understanding why and how yields insight into the realities of neoliberal development.

In 2010, entertainer Ben Affleck, known for his superhero performance as Batman, launched the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring a new approach to the region’s development. This case study is at the center of Batman Saves the Congo. Affleck’s organization operates with special access, diversified funding, and significant support of elites within political, philanthropy, development, and humanitarianism circuits. This sets it apart from other development organizations. With his convening power, Affleck has built partnerships with those inside and outside development, staking bipartisan political ground that is neither charity nor aid, but “good business.” Such visible and recognizable celebrity humanitarians are occupying the public domain yet not engaging meaningfully with any public, argues Batman Saves the Congo. They are an unruly bunch of new players in development that amplify business solutions.

© 2021 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

Photo source Eastern Congo Initiative on Flickr


Photo source AP, from Humanitarian News Research Network


How Celebrities Disrupt the Politics of Development

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"This is an exciting, original, and fascinating book. It’s important not just for what it reveals—the Janus-faced, contradiction-laden nature of celebrity development politics—but for how this work was done. Batman Saves the Congo sets the standard for following high-profile development interventions from the privileged boardrooms where they are conceived to the coffee fields they seek to support. It’s a triumph."

Dan Brockington, author of Celebrity Advocacy and International Development

"This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution to current debates on celebrity activism in the humanitarian sector. Using Ben Affleck’s intervention in the Congo, the book offers a razor-sharp analysis of the inner workings of celebrity strategic partnerships as a new entrepreneurial model of aid. More than this, it develops an important criticism of humanitarianism and its entanglement with corporate and entertainment logics that, despite good intentions, work to hide colonial legacies behind the glamour of celebrity stardom."


Lilie Chouliaraki, author of The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism

Figure I.1 Ben Affleck and Bill Gates Te

Photo source AP.

Photo source AP. 

Photo by Ralph Alswang

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