Does dumping ice-cold water on your head actually help?

The Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral on social media is an example of posthumanitarian communication, in which the helper takes centre stage. The topic will be discussed in Helsinki in late September.

Celebrities and ordinary people alike have taken part in a global challenge which involves dumping a bucket of cold water over your head and then publishing a video of it on social media.

Dubbed the Ice Bucket Challenge, the campaign aims to increase awareness of ALS, a fatal degenerative disease that affects the nerve cells. Some of the participants donate money to charity.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge exemplifies a new type of solidarity, which is based on irony and places the focus on the person offering help,” says Mervi Pantti, a university lecturer in Media and Communication Studies at the University of Helsinki.

Charity changes its nature

Organisations have long based their communications on feelings of pity, guilt and compassion. In the 1980s, starkly realistic imagery was accompanied by stories about achievements, such as pictures of well-fed African children. The digital era and social media have introduced yet another form of activity, in which help rests on one’s own happiness and wellbeing. It is often playful and amusing.

Solidarity founded on irony is typically sceptical about humanitarian organisations and their activities. The targets of support change quickly. Today it’s about pouring ice water on your head, tomorrow running a marathon for a good cause.

“This posthumanitarian communication can be criticised for eroding the moral foundation of humanitarian work, which means putting yourself in another person’s shoes and trying to understand structural flaws. The voices of the Third World are being drowned out, and these new activities are void of moral education, which could promote cosmopolitan solidarity,” Pantti explains.

Seminar in late September

On Friday, 26 September the University of Helsinki will host a seminar for the international Master’s Degree Programme in Media and Global Communication. The topic is posthumanitarian communication, as defined by Professor Lilie Chouliaraki. Based at the London School of Economics, Professor Chouliaraki will be one of the speakers.

Also among the guests is Jonathan Corpus Ong from the University of Leicester, who has carried out field work among typhoon victims in the Philippines.

The seminar will include a panel of Finnish civic organisations, which will discuss the new communication trend from a practical point of view.

Seminar on Post-humanitarian Communication 26.9.2014

Master’s Degree Programme in Media and Global Communication (MGC)

The University of Helsinki international Master’s Degree Programmes