Giving it away : rhetoric and reflexivity in international aid




Hanchey, Jenna Nicole

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In this dissertation, I explore the ways global power relations interact with aid work on the ground, in order to better understand the ethics and politics of engaging in international aid work and the implications for rhetorical study as well as aid practice. Through rhetorical fieldwork at a community-based—yet internationally funded and run—nongovernmental aid organization in rural Tanzania, I answer the following research questions: (1) How are nongovernmental aid relationships between Westerners and Tanzanians rhetorically constituted in situ? What are the rhetorical effects of these local dynamics? How do they support, augment, or challenge current global understandings of (neo)colonialism, sexism, racism, and aid itself? In other words, what is the relationship between local aid relationships and global power flows? (2) What are the particular benefits and limitations of using rhetorical field methods to explore international aid and its power relationships? This dissertation poses two main arguments in answer to my research questions: first, that the NGO provides a space where seemingly static and global power relations are recontextualized such that new opportunities are opened for their destabilization; and second, that rhetorical field methods allow for a broader understanding of participation than other qualitative approaches, leading to an increased importance of theorizing and enacting reflexivity in relation to neocolonial dynamics—both in aid and research practice. I demonstrate these arguments through analysis chapters focused on: the (neo)colonial contexts formed and challenged through relations with land; masculine performances in medical student volunteer relationships with Tanzanian translators; the role of white savior fantasies in U.S. volunteer subject construction; rethinking reflexivity through poststructural theory as a trauma connected to resonances of colonialism; and questioning the limits of participation in rhetorical fieldwork. In conclusion, I move toward grounding both rhetorical research and aid practice in haunting. I argue that it is only by immersing ourselves in failures to witness (to) injustice that both critical rhetoric and aid practice can begin to live up to their social change goals


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