Manufacturing Humanitarian Imagery: Explaining Norwegian Refugee Council’s Public Communication Strategies Toward the Syrian and Central African Crises

David Ongenaert, Stijn Joye, Øyvind Ihlen


As refugee organizations’ communication can influence public perceptions, this study analyzes the underlying motivations and practices. To explain Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) public communication strategies toward the recent Syrian and Central African crises, we conducted a 3-week office ethnography at its main communication department, interviewed 10 communication officers, and analyzed key communication policy documents. First, NRC’s discursive strategies are molded by medium-based and/or context-sensitive routines, organizational goals and trends, and challenging institutional and societal contexts. Second, NRC’s crisis foci are institutionally shaped through the “Vicious Neglected Crisis Circle effect,” which is reinforced and/or limited by organizational and individual (counter) incentives, sensitive contexts, and context-sensitive routines. Third, NRC’s choice of represented forcibly displaced people is influenced by various selection criteria and sociodemographic-specific reasons. Thus, complex organizational, institutional, and societal contexts largely shape public communication strategies, suggesting that reflexivity and structural institutional changes are essential to achieve more balanced, representative humanitarian imageries.


expert interviews, forcibly displaced people, hierarchy of influences model, humanitarian communication, neoinstitutionalism, office ethnography, public communication, refugee organizations

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