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2.2.3: White Saviorism and Decolonization in International Cooperation
Tuesday, 01/June/2021:
12:30pm - 2:00pm

Technical chair: Gloria Novovic
Location: Room 3

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2.2.3: White Saviorism and Decolonization in International Cooperation

Chair(s): Maïka Sondarjee (Université d'Ottawa, Canada)

The White Savior Complex (WSC) is one of the perennial underbelly challenges of the global development aid industry. While researchers and practitioners alike are starting to notice the colonial structures underlying their practice, theoretical and empirical studies on the white savior complex in international solidarity are sparse. More research needs to be done and aspects of the WSC in the development industry need to be questioned, e.g. the white gaze and white privilege, dehumanization and victimization of aid-receiving populations; the practice of centering western donors and their self-actualization journey in development narratives; the simplification of complex or systemic problems; the priority of western aid workers over non-western workers; green colonialism or imperial wars (saving brown women from brown men); the neoliberalization of aid through individualized donations; etc. Case studies on the WSC need to be developed and stories of otherness need to be told by the ones who witness or experience the WSC firsthand. This panel will interrogate the question of white saviorism and decolonization of international development discourse and its impact development practice and power relations.


Presentations of the Symposium


The Development Moral Decadence Dilemma and White Savior Complex: Lessons from the Berry Glaser Case in Kalangala (Uganda)

Dickson Kanakulya
Makerere University

The field of development ethics has made considerable progress but has not examined the question of personal moral agency in development theory and practice. The movement to decolonize development has taken interest in the development aid industry. But there is need to centralize the moral questions implicit in any development aid agenda. The White Savior Complex (WSC) is one of the perennial underbelly challenges of the global development aid industry; but it has been not well researched especially in the African context. Using a discourse analysis approach this paper examines the implicit meanings from a case of Beery Glaser in Kalangala (Uganda) a self-made aid worker who was accused of involvement in alleged gross immoral and illegal acts with the children who were under his care. The Kalangala island communities, located in Lake Victoria in Uganda, are classified as hard-to-reach regions. This case provides illuminating insights into how moral decadence could derail the development industry. The paper will highlight the role of personal moral agency in determining the morality and ethics of development aid, as practice takes in place in Africa. The paper will use lessons gleaned from this case to suggest possible ways of preventing the decent into ‘Development Moral Decadence’ within the auspices of development aid industry.


Centering Western Experience and Agency in Global Solidarity Campaigns

Maïka Sondarjee
Université d'Ottawa

Development researchers and practitioners often acknowledge the existence of the White Savior Complex (WSC), but the field of development studies lacks systematic analysis of how it reveals itself in practice. The overall argument of this paper is that the white savior complex is visible through the practice of centering western donors, their agency and their self-actualization journey in solidarity and development campaigns. I develop the concept of ontological narrative to explore how this centrality of western actors and agency in the story we tell forge a reality through giving a certain interpretation of one’s place in the world. After all, we are first and foremost “self-interpreting animals” (Taylor 1985), and this self-interpretation informs the process of otherness. This paper is based on a postcolonial content and discourse analysis of the KONY2012 campaign by the organization Invisible Children, including its two documentaries, promotion articles, and outreach material.


Decolonizing Development as Northern fascination

Themrise Khan
Pakistan Aid Organizations

The term “decolonization”, is fast becoming a buzzword for those who are critically examining the practices and objectives of the international aid industry. Decolonization is seen as the way to “shift” power from the hands of powerful Northern aid agencies and INGOs, to those they claim to work for – lessor developed Southern countries. But the discussions on decolonization of aid practices are in reality, extremely one-sided and Western-centric. They do not actually include the voices of the South. In fact, they do not even ask the South whether decolonization is the answer to a more equitable aid industry. It is simply assumed that we will agree. But many in the South do not agree with this terminology. In fact, it is seen as a further imposition of the White Saviour Complex, with the powerful West once again deciding what is “good for us” and how this must be done. This paper will challenge the concept of decolonization from a Southern practitioner perspective, as being more a (temporary) Northern fascination than a Southern reality. It will, using examples from an aid recipient perspective including discussing the post-colonial origins of the term, illustrate how such terminology further derides the role of the South in development discourse, instead of emancipating it from the hold of white Northern saviours.

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