New Frontiers of Philanthro-capitalism: Digital Technologies and Humanitarianism

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Digital technologies that allow large numbers of laypeople to contribute to humanitarian action facilitate the deepening adoption and adaptation of private-sector logics and rationalities in humanitarianism. This is increasingly taking place through philanthro-capitalism, a process in which philanthropy and humanitarianism are made central to business models. Key to this transformation is the way private businesses find supporting “digital humanitarian” organisations such as Standby Task Force to be amenable to their capital accumulation imperatives. Private-sector institutions channel feelings of closeness to aid recipients that digital humanitarian technologies enable, in order to legitimise their claims to “help” the recipients. This has ultimately led to humanitarian and state institutions re-articulating capitalist logics in ways that reflect the new digital humanitarian avenues of entry. In this article, I characterise this process by drawing out three capitalist logics that humanitarian and state institutions re-articulate in the context of digital humanitarianism, in an emergent form of philanthro-capitalism. Specifically, I argue that branding, efficiency, and bottom lines take altered forms in this context, in part being de-politicised as a necessary condition for their adoption. This de-politicisation involves normalising these logics by framing social and political problems as technical in nature and thus both beyond critique and amenable to digital humanitarian “solutions”. I take this line of argumentation to then re-politicise each of these logics and the capitalist relations that they entail.




Burns, R. (2019). New Frontiers of Philanthro-capitalism: Digital Technologies and Humanitarianism. Antipode, 51(4), 1101–1122.

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