All the World’s a Stage

The rise of transnational celebrity advocacy for human rights

Authored by: Trevor Thrall , Dominik Stecula

The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights

Print publication date:  June  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138665545
eBook ISBN: 9781315619835
Adobe ISBN:


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The role of celebrities in promoting human rights causes has grown steadily over the past 30 years. Thanks to the rise of entertainment news, the fragmentation of the mass audience and the increasing diffusion of digital communications, celebrities have become important new gatekeepers of a transformed global public sphere. Their dominant position on social media platforms and the Web, in particular, gives celebrities greater potential for generating exposure for political issues than ever before. At the same time, globalization and the redistribution of power since the end of the Cold War have disrupted traditional diplomatic strategies and invigorated efforts by individuals, groups and movements to play critical roles in transnational agenda setting and persuasion. The literature on celebrity humanitarianism is relatively young but diverse and expanding rapidly ( Jon 2014). Important contributions have been made from scholars working in history, critical studies, anthropology, geography, as well as political science. As with any new field of inquiry, especially an interdisciplinary one, the literature on humanitarian celebrity advocacy is somewhat disjointed and lacks systematic empirical grounding, especially when it comes to quantitative studies. Nonetheless, we can readily identify four important areas of focus in the existing literature and our essay is organized accordingly. The following section describes the emergence and evolution of humanitarian celebrity advocacy as well as its institutionalization among NGOs. We then examine how NGOs help celebrities transform into credible humanitarian advocates and harness their ‘star power’. The third section reviews research on the impact of celebrity advocacy. We conclude with an assessment of the vigorous debate over the consequences of celebrity advocacy for democratic politics.

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