Soundtracks of Poverty and Development: Music, Emotions and Representations of the Global South

Abstract

Despite the strategic use of music and sound in the marketing of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), analysis of representations of global poverty and development has focussed almost exclusively on images, video and text. Drawing on research in the fields of psychology, marketing and music theory, this article argues that analysis of representations of global poverty and development must include rigorous analysis of music and sound. The article examines the soundtracks of fundraising videos produced by NGOs based in the UK, the USA and Canada to address questions about the ways that music structure and sound create emotional narratives about poverty and development. Analysis reveals how music is used to shape emotional responses to NGO appeals and reinforces persistent stereotypes about the global South as sad and frightening and the global North as the source of agency to solve problems of global poverty.

Résumé

L’analyse des représentations de la pauvreté mondiale et du développement se concentre presque entièrement sur les images, les vidéos, et les textes, en dépit du fait que le marketing des ONG utilise stratégiquement aussi la musique et les sons. S’appuyant sur des études dans les domaines de la psychologie, du marketing, et de la musique, cet article soutient que l’analyse des représentations de la pauvreté mondiale et du développement doivent ainsi inclure une analyse rigoureuse de la musique et du son. Cet étude examine les bandes sonores des vidéos de collecte de fonds, produits par des ONGs au Royaume Uni, au Canada et aux Etats-Unis, pour adresser les questions sur comment la structure musicale et sonore peut créer des narratives émotionnelles à propos de la pauvreté et du développement. L’analyse révèle comment la musique est utilisée pour façonner des réponses émotionnelles aux appels des ONGs ; elle révèle aussi que la musique renforce des stéréotypes persévérants sur les pays du Sud, présentés comme tristes et effrayants, ainsi que sur les pays du Nord, perçus tels qu’agents capables de résoudre les problèmes de pauvreté globale.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of 30 videos, 11 used the peripheral route (predominantly emotional messaging with little or no factual information) and 19 used a combination of the central and peripheral routes (emotional engagement mixed with some facts and rational argument). See full list of vidoes with URLs and analysis on the project webpage: https://johndcameron.com.

  2. 2.

    For each NGO, we followed the same steps to identify the most popular videos on Youtube: (1) Search for NGO Youtube channel; (2) From the organization’s Youtube channel, select ‘Videos’ and (3) Sort videos by ‘most popular.’ We identified and ranked the NGO videos by number of views on May 15, 2020.

  3. 3.

    See: https://www.6seconds.org/2017/04/27/plutchiks-model-of-emotions/.

  4. 4.

    Our full analysis of the 30 videos, including all coding, is available on the project web page: https://johndcameron.com.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Lisa Ann Richey, David Black and David Lewis for feedback on a previous version of this article. As always, we are responsible for any omissions and errors.

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Cameron, J.D., Solomon, E. & Clarke, W. Soundtracks of Poverty and Development: Music, Emotions and Representations of the Global South. Eur J Dev Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41287-021-00385-1

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Keywords

  • Music
  • Emotions
  • NGOs
  • Representations of development