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  • Global Humanitarianism: NGOs and the Crafting of Community
  • Chris Minnix
Global Humanitarianism: NGOs and the Crafting of Community. By D. Robert Dechaine . Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005; pp v + 185. $65.00 cloth; $22.95 paper.

Since the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have played a significant role in shaping the policies, agendas, and discourses of the contemporary humanitarian movement. The expanding influence of NGOs in international institutions has radically altered previous conceptions of state sovereignty and has brought discussions of cosmopolitan politics and global civil society to the forefront of international relations. In the past two decades, NGOs have utilized advances in communicative technologies and increasing access to international institutions to create dynamic, interactive spaces for international solidarity and activism. The increased visibility and influence of NGOs has inspired a large body of interdisciplinary work that has regarded them as harbingers of a growing global civil society or international community. These advancements, however, have occurred during a period where the economic and cultural forces of globalization have created significant challenges for international solidarity. In many studies of globalization, claims for the emergence of a global civil society are critiqued for ignoring the political fragmentation, economic colonization, and cultural homogenization that has accompanied this new sense of global connectedness. In Global Humanitarianism, D. Robert Dechaine presents a compelling and thorough analysis of the role of NGOs in symbolically framing and materially coordinating an international community capable of responding to the fragmentary forces of globalization through the shared discourse of universal human rights.

Dechaine, a rhetorical scholar and professor of cultural studies, demonstrates the need to ground interdisciplinary discussions of international community and global civil society in the communicative practices of NGOs. In place of these terms, Dechaine suggests that "global rhetorical culture" more [End Page 157] fully captures the dynamic, discursive struggle of NGOs to symbolically frame an international community based on the public deliberation of universal humanitarian principles (18). As agents within this rhetorical culture, NGOs utilize their "symbolic resources" to "'conjure' a global humanitarian community into existence as a collective or 'people' united in the furthering of humanitarian goals" (20). NGOs frame this community in a contentious discursive context, in which their rhetoric of community is often placed in opposition to the fragmentary discourses of state sovereignty, economic globalization, and political nationalism. Human rights NGOs, as less powerful actors in international politics, utilize their rhetoric to reframe the dominant cultural and ideological terms that structure public awareness, and understanding of international politics and international community. Developing a methodology for the ideographic analysis of NGO discourse based in the work of Michael Calvin McGee, and Celeste Condit, and John Lucaites, Dechaine argues that NGOs are involved in a hegemonic, discursive struggle to construct the social reality and "public morality" of global civil society (22–3). Through his analysis of these ideographs, he traces the dynamic, contentious relationship of NGO discourse to the alternative articulations of community constructed in the discourses of states, international institutions, and other transnational actors.

Humanitarian NGOs draw from a rich ideographic context that reflects the historical development of human rights norms. In his second chapter, Dechaine traces the historical genealogy of human rights and humanitarian NGOs, arguing that changing geopolitical conditions have shaped the emergence of international humanitarian NGOs and have fostered the development of global civil society. He argues that a new, universal "ethos" of international community has emerged from the human rights movement and is embodied in the ideographs of "<human dignity>, <universality>, <brotherhood>, <duty>, and <democracy>" that are constructed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (49). NGOs actively and dynamically frame and invoke international solidarity and community through their articulation of these ideographic terms in their campaigns and public rhetoric. The ideographs of universal human rights empower humanitarian NGOs with a universal rhetoric that can be read against discourses of political and national interest. As NGOs work to galvanize political will on the issues they address, they utilize this rhetoric to link actors across national, political, and ideological borders, symbolically framing and materially linking the actors of their rhetorical cultures.

In chapters 3 and 4, Dechaine applies his ideographic analysis...


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