The “White Savior Industrial Complex” – Lit Review – Part 1


The concept of “White Savior Industrial Complex” is not necessarily new, but the phrasing is attributable to the poet and author, Teju Cole, as recently as March 2012 (Cole, 2012). Cole composed a series of tweets, and later an opinion article, both posted on the Atlantic Monthly’s website, in response to the increasingly widespread use of social media to further Western nonprofit and social causes. He used the social media campaign, “KONY2012”, as an example of how white privilege, under the guise of “making a difference”, perpetuates postcolonial policies while validating the “master/native” binary framing in the developing world. Through his own use of social media, the author was able to further the discourse and revive discussions around white privilege in the West. Cole’s tweets, pulled from the Atlantic’s website, can be viewed on page 4 for reference throughout the paper. Through this lens, the paper will explore the literature around the concept of “white savior” in media and in critical discourse papers.

This literature review will attempt to understand why the “White Savior Complex” is not a widely recognized or confronted phenomenon by examining the following generative themes: postcolonial discourse in development; “master/native” binary framing; digital and invisible whiteness; orientalist global media campaigns; subverted agency, empowerment and pleasure principles; and new media propaganda.




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