Representations of Africa in the construction of Britishness

This book considers the ways that representations of Africa have contributed to the changing nature of British national identity. It does so by developing the concept of the African presence: the ways that references to Africa have become part of discussions within British political culture about the place of Britain in the world. Using interviews, photo archives, media coverage, advertisements, and web material, the book focuses on major Africa campaigns: the abolition of slavery, anti-apartheid, drop the debt, and Make Poverty History. Using a hybrid theoretical framework based mainly around framing, the book argues that the representation of Africa has been mainly about imagining virtuous Britishness rather than generating detailed understandings of Africa. The book develops this argument through a historical review of 200 years of Africa campaigning. It also looks more closely at recent and contemporary campaigning, opening up new issues and possibilities for campaigning: the increasing use of consumer identities, electronic media, and aspects of globalization. This book will be of interest to anyone interested in postcolonial politics, relations between Britain and Africa, and development studies.

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This chapter looks specifically at 2005, dubbed the ‘Year of Africa’. This year saw an unprecedented presence of Africa in public spaces, mainly through the Make Poverty History campaign, which is detailed in this chapter. The chapter details how the Make Poverty History campaign expanded by connecting with other powerful public communicators: New Labour, the media, and celebrities. The chapter argues that a campaign about poverty became ‘Africanised’ through reference to familiar associations of Africa with poverty. In the process of this connection, a strong discourse of national self-esteem was also created. The chapter finishes by comparing Make Poverty History with the emergence of a global social justice movement.

in The African presence
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This chapter situates the Africa campaign tradition within broader media representations of Africa. The chapter argues that a key distinction between Africa campaigning and media reportage is the way each form of representation frames African state sovereignty: notably that sovereignty is not a strong concern in campaigning. The chapter finishes with a reflection on campaign prospects. The argument here is that campaigns need more than ever to reconcile themselves to communicating with a British public that is highly differentiated and also exposed to varied imagery of Africa. Basing itself on a key campaign report, Finding Frames, the chapter argues that appeals to a mass public will always been extremely limited in their ambition, and therefore campaigning should be based on more ‘niche’ and pluralised constituencies.

in The African presence
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This chapter discusses the book’s definitions and scope. It defines campaign organisations, prevailing interactions between Africa and Britain, and the African presence in Britain. It goes on to argue that framing theory can help understand the ways campaign organisations have represented Africa. It finishes by suggesting that there is a campaign tradition in Britain based in the representation of Africa.

in The African presence
Representing Africa through suffering

This chapter argues that imagery is initially experienced emotionally. It establishes that images of Africa are centrally images of suffering and that this generates emotional responses of compassion and guilt. This connection is most strongly exemplified in images of famine. The chapter also emphasises the subjectivity of the spectator. It goes on to highlight how emotional responses to images are influenced by racial identities and attitudes towards childhood. It ends by suggesting that the emotional responses to images of suffering make perceptions unstable and painful.

in The African presence
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A short history

This chapter provides an overview of the history of British-African interaction. It begins with pre-modern interactions which were very sparse. It goes on to focus on slavery as a major starting point in British-African relations. It then proceeds to review abolitionist politics, missionary travels, colonialism, decolonisation, and post-colonialoism. It highlights the centrality of Christianity and liberalism in the ways that the British thought about Africa.

in The African presence
From abolition to Make Poverty History

This chapter reviews the major Africa campaigns in Britain: the campaign to abolish slavery, It analyses each campaign as part of a campaign tradition. It does this by connecting the campaign’s efforts to represent Africa through frame analysis. More specifically, the chapter focuses on three forms of framing: diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational framing. The chapter highlights certain core practices of representation: the boycott, petitions, and the use of propaganda.

in The African presence

This chapter argues that Africa campaigning has played a key role in the construction of British national identity. This is evident in the self-conscious way that individual African campaigns tend to refer back to other campaigns in order to claim to be part of a national tradition. The chapter goes on to discern the ways in which Christian and liberal moralities have been both at the heart of Britishness and also common within representations of Africa. The chapter details how these connections are established through the representation of Africa as in need of salvation. Additionally, the chapter notes that representations of Africa and Africans are generally extremely simplistic and oriented around the theme of poverty. As such, the representation of Africa is substantially ‘introverted’, that is, focussed on British peoples perceptions of their own nationality.

in The African presence

This chapter looks closely at the ways that Africa has been represented through campaigns. It begins by arguing that a perfect and real representation of Africa is an impossibility and that what matters for the argument is the ways that Africa is mediated through campaign organisations. The chapter analyses the British Biafra campaign and Band Aid to highlight the centrality of disaster as a point-of-reference in Africa campaigns. The chapter then goes on to look at developmental images of Africa, focussing on the ways that Oxfam’s Annual reports have changed over time.

in The African presence

This chapter focuses on the role of consumption in Africa campaigning. The premise of the chapter is that British nationalism has always been constructed through norms of consumption: what to eat, what to buy, and what makes a ‘healthy’ nation. One can see this mostr prominently in the connections between consumption and imperial grandeur – encapsulated in the term ‘commodity racism’. Consumer politics has also been reflected in campaign politics. The chapter explores the politics of sugar boycotts as a key example of campaign action and an appeal to British consumer preferences, encapsulated in the imagery of ‘blood sugar’. The chapter finishes with an analysis of the ways in which contemporary Africa campaigning has increasingly relied on the techniques of marketing and branding to ‘sell’ a campaign. This has profound effects on the way Africa is represented which the chapter details by reviewing the websites and advertising of major campaign organisations.

in The African presence