Capitalism with a "Human Face": Face-to-Face Fundraising and the Critique of Ideology

  • Jake Flavell

Student thesis: Phd


In this thesis I advance a critique of face-to-face charity fundraising (F2F), a very conspicuous and historically controversial mode of fundraising that was ‘re-invented’ in the late 1990s, mobilising paid fundraisers to actively solicit direct debit payments in public spaces. In doing so, this thesis seeks to further refine and demonstrate the value of a dialectical materialist critique of ideology informed by the ‘syntheses’ of Marx, Lacan and Hegel developed inter alia by Slavoj A½iA¾ek. While F2F has notably escaped the attention of critical literatures on development and globalisation, the increasingly significant ideological milieu I locate it in – the growing importance of NGOs to the architecture of the global political economy and the concomitant attempts at global capitalism’s ‘humanisation’ – has been subject to critique. Yet, such critique exhibits a set of distinct theoretical limitations which effect the explanatory and subversive power of their respective frameworks. Namely, they are bound by an unreflexive humanism and epistemological realism, an excessive functionalism/reproductionism, and an insufficient attention to capital, value and form. As such, this thesis stages a critical encounter with a set of phenomena which highlight the deficiencies of extant ‘ideology critique’ in critical studies on globalisation and development and develops an alternative framework for the ‘critique of ideology’ which can overcome such deficiencies. The central argument I advance concerns the validity of this approach on three levels; epistemology, explanation and politics, forming a sort of Borromean knot of theoretical engagement which implicate – but are nonetheless irreducible to – each other. Such an approach dialectically moves through three levels of ideological phenomena; ideology in-itself as its explicit symbolisation, ideology for-itself as its external materiality and ideology reflected-into-itself as the spontaneous fetishisation of its object. Operationalising this original approach – which reflects its dialectical and materialist commitments – and drawing on original fieldwork I argue that F2F, qua exemplary modality of capitalism’s ‘humanisation’, functions as more than an instance of mere false consciousness, rational process of co-option or de-politicisation of neoliberalism. What this approach reveals is that F2F is deeply contradictory phenomena which functions through simultaneously concealing and revealing a central contradiction, itself deeply tied to the commodity-form. While it appears to operate in line with the ‘humanitarian’ project of shared humanity against neoliberalism, it functions through exploiting the immanent breaks in humanity in the pursuit of fundraising (or accumulation) for the sake of fundraising all the while fetishising itself as totally other to capitalism, a fetish of altruistic ‘giving’, which is nonetheless generated by the commodity-form and ties it ever closer to it. In response, I suggest an ‘identification’ with the figure of the ‘chugger’ – F2F’s symptomatic point and receptacle of disavowed enjoyment – as a means to break with this formation, combining the Utopian impulse of charity as absolute love, and the ‘mugger’ as a violent figure of expropriation. In developing such an argument, I make both empirical and theoretical contributions. First, I contribute to critical literatures on ‘commodified consumption’ or ‘marketised charity/philanthropy’ by examining the novel empirical dynamic of F2F, integrating an almost absent discussion of the classic gift/commodity opposition. Second, I contribute to critical literatures on NGOs and their ideological role by theorising their ambivalence as such – as at once appearing to both challenge and support neoliberal development – through the representative case of F2F. Third, tying these together, I contribute to the critique of ‘humanising’ ideologies
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJapheth Wilson (Supervisor) & Carl Death (Supervisor)


  • NGOs
  • globalisation
  • Critique of Ideology
  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Development

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