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(Re)constructing social hierarchies: a critical discourse analysis of an international charity’s visual appeals

Gellen, Sandor and Lowe, Robert ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5699-4126 (2021) (Re)constructing social hierarchies: a critical discourse analysis of an international charity’s visual appeals. Critical Discourse Studies, 18 (2). pp. 280-300. ISSN 1740-5904

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A British coffee chain’s fundraising practices constitute a background for this study to examine ideological discourses behind British charitable giving. The charity executes projects in coffee growing communities by providing education for children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The study takes a critical stance from a discursive paradigmatic perspective to analyse visual contents used by the charity. The applied visual critical discourse analysis was inspired by Barthes’ semiotic theory. Findings suggest that the adverts’ interpretative repertoires can serve ideologies that sustain the donors’ social-cultural dominance over the recipients by justifying group-based social hierarchies. The chains of signifiers do not question the spectators’ moral position but rationalise status quo and maintain undisturbed consumption. Findings suggest the possibility that the discourses of prosocial behaviour incited under consuming conditions do not challenge but may even justify global inequality. This finding presents challenges facing charitable organisations balancing their work within wider commercial and cultural contexts.

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