Round Table: Batman Saves the Congo – How Celebrities Disrupt the Politics of Development

This roundtable discusses Alexandra Budabin and Lisa Richey’s book on the attention celebrities bring to humanitarianism and how this spotlights prevailing trends and debates in the field. Their book asks can celebrities be “disrupters,” promoting strategic partnerships to bring new ideas and funding to revitalize development? Or are celebrities just charismatic ambassadors for big business? Examining the role of the rich and famous in development and humanitarianism, Budabin and Richey argue that celebrities do both, and that understanding why and how yields insight into the realities of neoliberal development. The book provides a study of entertainer Ben Affleck, known for his superhero performance as Batman, who in 2010 launched the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring a new approach to the region’s development and security concerns. Our roundtable brings together scholars to discuss the implications of the continued entry of new actors and alliances for humanitarianism . The book reveals worrying trends around special access, diversified funding, and significant support of elites within political, philanthropic, development, and humanitarian circuits that will be of interest to practitioners and scholars.

Chair: Tanja Müller, University of Manchester, (in person)
Discussant: Lisa Ann Richey, CBS, (in person)
Discussant: Alexandra Budabin, Free University of Bolzano, (online)
Speaker: Miriam Bradley, IBEI (in person)
Speaker: Juliano Fiori, University of Manchester (online)
Speaker: Róisín Read, University of Manchester (in person)
Speaker: Samentha Goethals (in person)
Speaker: Polly Pallister-Wilkins, University of Amsterdam (in person)

Chair: Tanja R. Müller, University of Manchester

Tanja is Professor of Political Sociology, and a founding member and former director of research (2010-2014) of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. Tanja was also a founding member and convenor of the 2017 Manchester Migration Lab, and currently convenes the GDI Research Group on Migration, Refugees and Asylum.

Discussant: Lisa Ann Richey, Copenhagen Business School,

Lisa is the Professor of Globalization in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. Currently she leads the research projects Commodifying Compassion: Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things (2016-2022) and Everyday Humanitarianism in Tanzania (2019-2024).

Discussant: Alexandra Budabin, Free University of Bolzano/University of Dayton

Alexandra is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Platform Cultural Heritage Cultural Production at the Faculty of Design and Art of the Free University of Bolzano and a contract professor in the Programme in Media, Communication, and Culture. She is a Senior Researcher in the Human Rights Center of the University of Dayton.

Speaker: Miriam Bradley, IBEI, The Intersection of Celebrities and Political Humanitarianism

Miriam is an Associate Professor at IBEI. Prior to joining IBEI she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and teaching positions at University College London, the University of Oxford, and Oxford Brookes University. She also previously worked in the Humanitarian Research Group at INSEAD, and in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute. Miriam’s first book, Protecting Civilians in War, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016. She is currently finishing a second book, The Politics & Everyday Practice of International Humanitarianism, also for Oxford University Press.

Speaker: Juliano Fiori, University of Manchester, Disruption, Risk, and Celebrity in the Society of the Humanitarian Minimum

Juliano is Head of Studies (Humanitarian Affairs) at Save the Children and an editor of the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs. He is currently working on a PhD at the Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute, with a thesis entitled “The Humanitarian Imagination: L. T. Hobhouse and the Dialectic of Liberal Utopia”. He is one of the editors of Amidst the Debris: Humanitarianism and the End of Liberal Order, published on Hurst.

Speaker: Róisín Read, University of Manchester, Knowledge Production in Celebrity Interventions

Róisín is Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies and joined the Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute in 2014. Her research explores the politics of international interventions in conflict, with a focus on the dynamics of knowledge production and representation. Geographically, her research is centred on Sudan and South Sudan. She is also interested in the reform of the humanitarian system, including: the use of technology in humanitarianism; the role of visual representations in humanitarian identity formation; humanitarian security; and international humanitarian non-governmental organisations’ legitimacy.

Speaker: Samentha Goethals, SKEMA Business School, The ‘Positive’ Turn for CSR in Celebrity Strategic Partnerships?

Samentha is Assistant Professor in Human Rights and Business at SKEMA Business School. She holds a PhD in Politics from Oxford Brookes University. She has developed an interdisciplinary research profile combining perspectives from socio-legal, global governance and organization studies that reflect her experience in both policy and advocacy work and academic research in the field of Business and Human Rights. Her research focuses on the meaning and translation of human rights in business organizations, the responsibility of business in contexts of forced migration including regarding the protection and integration of refugees, and human rights education in business schools. She has worked with several British Non-Governmental Organizations in the field of Business and Human Rights and co-authored several policy reports based on fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey and Jordan. Her recent article ‘Migrant Workers’ ‘Rights-Talk’ in the British Hospitality Sector’ was awarded the 2019 Best Paper by the Business and Human Rights Journal.

Speaker: Polly Pallister-Wilkins, University of Amsterdam, Care and Control in Celebrity Humanitarianism

Polly is an associate professor in international relations and conflict resolution and governance, with a PhD from SOAS, University of London. She specialises in the intersection of humanitarian intervention and border control and is currently researching what she terms ‘humanitarian borderwork’ in Europe that builds on previous research into humanitarianism, border policing and the political sociologies of walls, fences and security barriers. Her work therefore broadly sits in the borderland between International Relations, Critical Security Studies and Political Geography with a regional expertise focused on the Mediterranean, specifically Greece, and the Middle East. She is the author of the forthcoming Humanitarian Borders: Unequal Mobility and Saving Lives (Verso).


Date and Time

5 November 2021
11.00 – 12.30 CET
Amphithéâtre Leroy-Beaulieu