Madonna’s Malawi: celebritization and the NGO economy

Postdoc. project funded by the Danish Research Council for the Social Sciences

Louise Mubanda Rasmussen, ph.d. Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University.


This project investigates the local experience of celebritized development, through an ethnographic case study of Madonna’s Raising Malawi foundation.

The local aspect of celebritization merits critical investigation since the communication practices that characterize celebritized development inevitably affects the way that development projects can be envisioned and are practised on the ground.

Raising Malawi works directly with local community-based partners to help AIDS orphans. Thus like many other development initiatives in recent years, Raising Malawi circumvents the state in an attempt to redress previous failures of development, while at the same time providing easily marketable ‘impact’. Increases in AIDS-related donor funding in Malawi has resulted in a substantial growth of NGOs , yet this seems to offer little in terms of rural livelihood improvement. The question is therefore whether Raising Malawi is likely to exacerbate widespread frustration and cynicism concerning the lack of effectiveness and legitimacy of development projects, particularly in the NGO-modality.

Through ethnographic research in Malawi, this project investigates how the connection to a controversial celebrity like Madonna shapes local perceptions of and interactions with Raising Malawi, in order to discuss how celebritization influences the legitimacy crisis of development aid in Africa.


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