Humanitarian Dispossession: Celebrity Activism and the Fragment-Nation of the Sudan
Abstract

This paper examines U.S. actor George Clooney’s activism on the Sudan to show how the intersection of human rights and humanitarian politics constructs a grand narrative of rescue and salvation that is both potentially positive and problematic. In the case of Africa in general, and the Sudan in particular, celebrity activism produces subaltern actors whose voices are submerged in the fragmented stories of suffering and salvation presented by humanitarian outsiders. I show how this master narrative overshadows the post-Cold War politics and confrontation among different national and transnational actors. To highlight this point, I demonstrate how Clooney’s activism counters the rescue vision of the Sudanese Islamist regime, with both narratives celebrating transnationality on different moral grounds. While Clooney’s activism employs a salvation narrative rooted in human rights and humanitarian practices, the Islamist state’s narrative envisions regional alliances based on pan-Islamism. The two narratives however work through the assimilation and/or exclusion of other political visions and strategies of struggle. I take Clooney’s celebrity activism as an entry point to examine these complex dynamics: to explore the historical and neoliberal contexts that produce the clashing narratives of Islamism and humanitarianism, the limited effects of humanitarian visibilities, and the counter-narratives of Sudanese activists.


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