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Accepted Paper:

Love of humanity as need for critique  
Ben Eyre (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

Based on long-term fieldwork focussed on Gates-funded dairy development in Tanzania, I argue for ‘taking seriously’ the perspectives of different actors connected by philanthropy as a meaningful critique. Rather than ‘loving’ philanthropy per se, I propose an anthropology for the love of humanity.

Paper long abstract:

Philanthropy connotes ‘love of humanity,’ etymologically at least. In common with other social scientists (McGoey and Thiel 2018), anthropologists working on contemporary philanthropy have largely deconstructed such notions, and claims by exponents such as Bill Gates to update them (Benthall 2017), or ignored them in favour of a focus on philanthropy as an exercise of power (Erikson 2016). This paper does not propose ‘loving’ philanthropy per se, but rejects anthropological contempt for philanthropists. Instead, I explore an anthropology for the love of humanity.

This requires greater attention to two aspects of philanthropy:

1) Technical: shows the variety of philanthropic practice through detailed engagement with mundane operations. To take an obvious example, engaging with differences between Bill Gates and Donald Trump.

2) Moral: engages with the moral reasoning of philanthropists and their pursuit of freedom through philanthropy (Laidlaw 2002; Bornstein 2009).

Gilbert and Sklair (2018) recently identified a tension between ethnographic and critical approaches to elite practices, including philanthropy. I do ‘treat seriously’ the perspectives of philanthropic actors. But retain critical capacity by following a ‘vertical slice’ (Nader 1980). My long-term fieldwork focussed on investment in the dairy value-chain in Tanzania incorporated the Gates Foundation, Heifer International, and smallholder farmers as interlocutors. An original critique emerges by treating each of them (and their conjuncture) seriously: a neglected problem of philanthropy is an absence of power not its surfeit. This is a more meaningful critique for my interlocutors than showing how philanthropy 'renders technical': anthropological theory for the love of humanity.

Panel Evid01b
Critiquing what we like II
  Session 1 Friday 2 April, 2021, -