The neoliberal workings of The Family Meal campaign: Unfortunate others, European citizens, and the branding of the EU

W.A. Oomen, Emiel Martens, Anna Piccoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Due to increased privatization of development assistance, humanitarian communication is usually considered to be the domain of non-governmental organizations. However, (inter)governmental and (supra)national institutions still play an important role in development assistance. Notably, the European Union has become a leading development actor globally – and also actively brands itself as such. In this process of branding, the European Union not only celebrates its empathic recognition of vulnerable non-European Others, but also aims to promote a sense of European citizenship. In this article, we examine this process in the context of The Family Meal, a 2014 awareness campaign on food assistance led by the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department of the European Commission. We argue that the campaign reflects both the logic of neoliberal humanitarianism and the quest for European citizenship. To develop our argument, we will assess The Family Meal in three steps. First, we discuss how the campaign mimicked post-humanitarian tendencies in non-governmental campaigns aimed at raising funds. Second, we demonstrate how The Family Meal not only reported on (helping) non-European Others, but also, and importantly, promoted a sense of European belonging. Finally, we introduce the concept of successional campaigns – that is, campaigns that follow up on the action taken rather than preceding it – to show that The Family Meal largely appeared as the result of the neoliberal trend toward administering accountability and branding organizations. Altogether, we consider the campaign, with the neoliberal branding of the European Union and its citizens at its center, as emblematic for humanitarian communication within the rise of New Public Management in the 21st century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295–313
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • Citizenship
  • European Union
  • development and accountability
  • humanitarian communication
  • international development
  • neoliberal branding
  • new public management


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