Toronto Metropolitan University
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Kapturing Kakuma : the commodification of refugees and participatory communication alternatives

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posted on 2021-05-22, 09:54 authored by Jacqueline Strecker
Over the past 50 years, the image of statelessness has shifted from heroic European refugees to depictions of nameless, impoverished refugees from the 'Third World'. Although this shift apparently stems from noble intentions, the image of the 'vulnerable refugee' has stripped refugees of agency and expressive rights. The photographs published by The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has employed this vulnerability frame in order to lobby for western aid by presenting an easily digestible discourse, congruent with Western ideology. The UNHCR has thus commodified refugees in order to ensure funding from western donors. This paper challenges this commodification by presenting a comparative analysis of the UNHCR's historical photographs, and images produced through a participatory photography project conducted in the Kenyan Kakuma Refugee Camp. This project shifts the conventional illustrative refugee discourse by identifying and rejecting the political and economic frameworks that have institutionalized the voiceless and commodified refugee.





  • Master of Arts


  • Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP