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Title: The Politics of Empathy
Authors: Schrimpf, Anna
Advisors: Keohane, Robert O
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: advocacy
international activism
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
social proximity
Subjects: Political science
International relations
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Why do INGOs mobilize around some issues of normative concern, but disregard others? We have seen significant activism efforts around tuberculosis, but not pneumonia; the Gujarat earthquake of 2005, but not the Kashmiri one; the Darfur conflict, but not the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. To address these puzzling patterns, this dissertation develops a theory of INGO activism as a good produced in a stylized moral economy characterized by the preferences of INGOs’ donor constituencies and the technologies available to INGOs. I examine two accounts of donors’ activism preferences: the first, which I call the cosmopolitan concern position, predicts that the causes most likely to be championed by international activists are those implicating the bodily harm or legal equality of vulnerable or innocent populations. I argue that this view, although well established, generates a series of anomalies, and therefore propose a modified account of the demand pressures facing INGOs. Drawing on recent work by moral psychologists, I propose we should expect donors to be partial to the wellbeing of those similar or familiar to themselves, and as such argue for the social proximity view of demand for activism as an important influence on INGOs’ issue selections. In addition, I expect INGOs’ issue choices to be influenced by demand-driven compassion fatigue, leading INGOs to prioritize novel crises and concerns over long-term problems. I characterize the moral economy’s supply side in terms of the direct and indirect costs of activism, but argue that —because I expect INGO constituencies' demand for activism to be comparatively inelastic and accountability toward the final beneficiaries of INGOs' actions weak— equilibrium activism allocations are not likely to reflect a concern with such cost considerations. I test these arguments in three issue areas (global health, natural disasters, and armed conflicts) using a mixed-methods approach. My quantitative analyses rely on a new text corpus consisting of approximately 90,000 publications issued by 43 major INGOs, making possible, for the first time, the systematic tracing of INGOs’ issue prioritizations using quantitative text analyses tools. Using these methods, I find strong support for the social proximity view across all issue areas I investigate.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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