Commodifying Compassion

Implications of turning people and humanitarian causes into marketable things


(2017-2020 funded by the danish council for independent research)

My new research project running for 4 years with 4 researchers, links Ethical Consumption and Everyday Humanitarianism.



We hypothesize that brand aid campaigns commodify humanitarian causes in ways that impact the overall humanitarian narrative and thereby the financial and symbolic relationships between

(1) humanitarian organizations and their funders

(2) humanitarian organizations and their beneficiaries, and indirectly

(3) consumers as ‘helpers’ and their beneficiaries.

To be studied through the use of vertically integrated, systematic ethnographies-of NGOs and corporations, and recipients to explore dynamics in three different contexts where humanitarianism has been a realm traditionally dominated by the church (Italy) the state (Denmark), and the market (United States). It will also include fieldwork with recipient populations to understand how people whose lives are commodified for the promotion of humanitarian causes respond to the forms and outcomes of this commodification.


The overall objective of Commodifying Compassion is to understand how ‘helping’ has become a marketable commodity and how this impacts humanitarianism symbolically and materially.

lisa ann richey
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