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Communicating distant suffering and charitable actions: Framing consumer decisions as remedies for water insecurity

Xu, ElaineORCID: 0000-0002-1482-2836 (2021) Communicating distant suffering and charitable actions: Framing consumer decisions as remedies for water insecurity. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Charitable fundraising appeals have evolved over time, influenced by shifts in uptakes of responsibility for issues of global concern by the private and public sectors. This has led to the emergence of third-sector organizations such as civic and voluntary organizations. A key development that has altered charitable fundraising is the use of cause-related marketing (CRM) to generate donations for nonprofit and social causes through selling products and services. The United Nations’ push for corporate involvement with the Sustainable Development Goals has also resulted in a growing number of CRM partnerships to “solve” the lack of clean water.

This thesis examines how CRM visual campaigns portray water insecurity and articulate purchases as development interventions and charitable giving by using “charitable frames.” The study integrates theories of framing (Goffman, 1974) with uses and gratifications (Katz et al., 1973), and the frame-alignment perspective (Snow et al., 1986). Qualitative content analysis of the study’s sample (N=177) shows two issue-specific charitable frames relating to the necessity of instigating development interventions and the sufficiency of CRM purchases as development interventions. Applications of semantic network analysis and thematic analysis show three generic charitable frames premised on foregrounding the urgency and imperative of CRM purchases, and diffusing social responsibility for water (in)security.

The communication model conceptualized in this thesis reveals how representations of distant suffering and audience action (re)shape the gratifications and impetuses for CRM purchases, and vice versa. The study’s findings underline the communication effects of charitable fundraising appeals and the gratification effects of engaging in charity-supportive behaviors. Notably, the charitable frames reflect the active participation of companies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals in frame building. The frames highlight the pertinent influence of communicators and audiences in constructing and promoting realities aligned with their gratifications and impetuses to respond to distant human suffering and help distant beneficiaries.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): IT, Media and Communications
Supervisor(s): Lee, Terence and Spencer, Rochelle
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