Unsettling good intentions: the dismantling of benevolence as discursive practice within global citizenship education

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University of New Brunswick


This research unpacks the relations of power found within common discursive practices of global citizenship education (GCE). Using critical discourse analysis and document analysis, I make visible the tensions, complexities, and colonial power structures inherent in the discursive constructions used by Canadian-based charity, WE Charity (formally known as Free the Children) – with a specific focus on identifying and problematizing their emphasis on (1) the global citizen, (2) the Southern Other, and (3) their use of benevolence. Using postcolonial theory, my research will explore how these three thematic areas have implications for how WE Charity’s youth come to understand the means through which substantive social change can be realized. Despite their “hand up, not a hand out” approach to development, I argue that colonial power structures continue to operate discretely within WE Charity’s discursive constructions, releasing global citizens from their complicity in maintaining unequal power relations between the Global North and the Global South. Additionally, narratives of Othering persist within WE Charity discourses – despite evolved sloganeering – stripping away agency and further marginalizing the Global South. Furthermore, WE Charity’s emphasis on benevolence within their programming does little to foster critical awareness amongst its youth. Overall, this thesis argues that WE Charity does not provide the appropriate opportunities to help their participants critically engage with the structural problems related to social injustices in the Global South, and continues to recreate postcolonial norms within their programming. Although my research is grounded specifically within WE Charity’s programming, I am primarily concerned about what this organization exemplifies in the context of global citizenship education as a larger movement.