The Beneficiary

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: December 2017

Author: Bruce Robbins

Law > Human Rights, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Sociology > Social Theory

From iPhones and clothing to jewelry and food, the products those of us in the developed world consume and enjoy exist only through the labor and suffering of countless others. In his new book Bruce Robbins examines the implications of this dynamic for humanitarianism and social justice. He locates the figure of the "beneficiary" in the history of humanitarian thought, which asks the prosperous to help the poor without requiring them to recognize their causal role in the creation of the abhorrent conditions they seek to remedy. Tracing how the beneficiary has manifested itself in the work of George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Jamaica Kincaid, Naomi Klein, and others, Robbins uncovers a hidden tradition of economic cosmopolitanism. There are no easy answers to the question of how to confront systematic inequality on a global scale. But the first step, Robbins suggests, is to acknowledge that we are, in fact, beneficiaries.


"In The Beneficiary, Bruce Robbins wants to make room for the note of guilt in our songs of gratitude. Who is a beneficiary? Robbins’s answer is that it is probably you. . . . Perhaps in the future tallying up the planetary cost of national happiness will become so painful we’ll give up that thought experiment altogether. But if Robbins has his way, we’ll not only still be thinking globally — we’ll live in a world that makes doing so tolerable." — Christina Lupton, Los Angeles Review of Books

"The Beneficiary succeeds brilliantly in focusing its readers on the urgencies of our time." — Michael Rothberg, Contemporary Literature

"With The Beneficiary, Bruce Robbins has done it again. Those who already follow his work in English, political theory, and cosmopolitanism will be eager readers, but so too will be anyone interested in environmentalism and global justice. This brave book is a timely and outstanding piece of scholarship." — Bonnie Honig, author of Public Things

"A bracing revisionist account of western humanitarianism, one that blasts open the causal connections between distant suffering and cosmopolitan acknowledgement of that suffering through the complicit, anguished figure of the beneficiary." — Siddhartha Deb, author of The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University and the author and editor of several books, including Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence, also published by Duke University Press, and Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State. Robbins has written for The Nation, n+1, and other publications.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. The Starving Child  15
2. You Acquiesce In It: George Orwell on the System  33
3. A Short History of Commodity Recognition  51
4. The Nation-State as Agent of Cosmopolitanism  75
5. Naomi Klein's Love Story  93
6. Life Will Win  117
Conclusion: You Can't Handle the Truth  139
Notes  155
Bibliography  169
Index  177
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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