World Bank Rhetoric: Consuming the Suffering of Others

Open Access
Newcomb, Matthew J
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 06, 2006
Committee Members:
  • John L Selzer, Committee Chair
  • Jeffrey Nealon, Committee Member
  • Rosa A Eberly, Committee Member
  • Stephen Howard Browne, Committee Member
  • composition
  • msf
  • oxfam
  • suffering
  • humanitarian aid
  • critical feeling
  • rhetoric
  • world bank
  • consumption
  • rwanda
  • korea
  • AIDS
  • affect
  • compassion
I examine the affective responses of contemporary students to rhetoric circulating around several geographically disparate humanitarian crises. I bring together the related strands of globalization/internationalization issues, economics and humanitarian concerns, and composition studies in my case for a World Bank Rhetoric. How do humanitarian aid organizations create positions for themselves and their audiences? How do students affectively respond to narratives of distant need and suffering? What impact on the affective shaping of student identities do these narratives have? And how can rhetoric and composition teachers better pedagogically address affect and rhetoric together? World Bank Rhetoric (WBR) is the broad answer I give for how to approach these questions. WBR brings together three terms that juxtapose issues of globalization, economics, language-use, and identity. I examined the Web sites and mailed requests of Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, Compassion International, DATA, and other organizations. My study suggests that for humanitarian aid rhetoric, instead of using compassion to increase how closely a person identifies with the suffering of others, alternate goals can create appropriate responses to suffering. Aid organizations create specific brand images and experiences for donors/customers. These brands can shape the relationships between donors and recipients. For my students, distant suffering is experienced as something to consume. The act of consumption shapes them, and the choice to read about suffering can feel like an ethical decision. The main object of consumption is not the suffering of others, but is a particular experience. The feelings, knowledge, and changes that go along with reading or hearing a narrative about a refugee crisis thousands of miles away are the things taken in. In this scenario, the form of consumption becomes vital. In addition, composition teachers should emphasize critical feeling rather than just critical thinking. Critical feeling provides a different starting point than critical thinking for studying various influences on student values. Critical feeling also emphasizes the overdetermined, highly contextual, and felt nature of argument.