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Identity and representation


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  • 1. WK23- IDENTITY AND REPRESENTATION Dr. Carolina Matos Government Department University of Essex
  • 2. Readings for week 23 Required texts: Carruthers, S. (2004) “Tribalism and tribulation. The media’s construction of ‘African savagery’ and ‘Western humanitarianism’ in the 1990s” in S. Allan and B. Zelizer, (Eds.), Reporting War: Journalism in Wartime. London: Routeledge, pp 155-173. • Chouliaraki, L. (2008) “The symbolic power of transnational media: Managing the visiblity of suffering” in Global Media and Communication, 4 (3), 329-251. • Cloud, D. L. (2004). “To veil the threat of terror”: Afghan women and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ in the imagery of the US war on terrorism” in Quarterly |Journal of Speech, 90 (3), 285-306 Additional: • Said, E.(1981). Covering Islam: How the Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Pantheon. •
  • 3. Core points • The power of images in war conflicts • Susan Sontag, Frantz Fanon and Edward Said • Managing the suffering of others • Neo-colonialism: racism and eurocentrism and its role in justifying or permitting conflicts and wars • Identity, representation and the image of the Afghan woman • The problem with the Western media’s reporting of the African continent • Conclusions • Seminar activities and questions • Readings for week 24 – guest lecturer (prof. Todd Landman)
  • 4. Images of war and suffering
  • 5. “Culture and Imperialism” (Said, 1993) • “Domination and inequities of power and wealth are perennial facts of human society. But in today’s global setting they are also interpretable as having something to do with imperialism, its history, its new forms. The nations of contemporary Asia, Latin America and Africa are politically independent but in many ways are as dominated and dependent as they were when ruled directly by European powers. …blaming the Europeans for the misfortunes of the present is not much of an alternative. What we need to do is to look at these matters as a network of interdependent histories… • …And so in the late 20th century the imperial cycle of the last century in some ways replicates itself….We live in one global environment with a huge number of ecological, economic, social and political pressures….Anyone with even a vague consciousness of this whole is alarmed at how such…selfish and narrow interests – patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious and racial hatreds – can in fact lead to mass destructiveness.”
  • 6. “Culture and Imperialism” (Said, 1993) • “One should not pretend that models for a harmonious world order are ready at hand, and it would be equally disingenuous to suppose that ideas of peace and community have much of a chance when power is moved to action by aggressive perceptions of ‘vital national interests’ or unlimited sovereignty. The United States’ clash with Iraq and Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait concerning oil are obvious examples. • The wonder of it is that the schooling for such relatively provincial thought and action is still prevalent, unchecked, uncritically accepted,…. replicated in the education of generation after generation. We are all taught to venerate our nations and admire our traditions: we are taught to pursue their interests with toughness and in disregard for other societies. A new and in my opinion appalling tribalism is fracturing societies, separating peoples, promoting greed, bloody conflict, and uninteresting assertions of minor ethnic or group particularities. Little time is spend not so much in ‘learning about other cultures’… we look back into the 19th century, we see that the drive toward empire in effect brought most of the earth under the domination of a handful of powers.”
  • 7. The power of the image in war conflicts • Photographs help people come to terms with what happened; this contributed to shape public response to the events of 9/11, building public support for military actions • “Governments the world over have recognised the power of the image in helping them reach strategic aims (Zelizer, 2002, 50) • What are the moral implications of looking at images of suffering? • Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others stresses the problems of looking at images of suffering, stating that perhaps the only people who can look are the ones who can alleviate it, or else they are merely voyeurs • Sontag thus emphasises the indecency of seeing others suffer, of being a co- spectator in someone else’ suffering. • “During the Vietnam era, war photography became a criticism of war….Since then, censorship……has found a large and influential number of apologists.” (2003, 58)
  • 8. “Regarding the pain of others” (Sontag, 2003) • “What the American military promoted during the Gulf War in 1991 were images of the techno-war: the sky above the dying, filled with light-traces of missiles and shells – images that illustrate America’s absolute military superiority over its enemy. American television viewers weren’t allowed to see footage acquired by NBC (which the network then declined to run) of what that superiority could wreak: the fate of thousands of Iraqi conscripts who, having fled Kuwait City at the end of the war….were carpet bombed with explosives…..and cluster bombs as they headed north, in convoys and on foot, on the road to Basra, Iraq – a slaughter described by one American officer as a ‘turkey shoot’.
  • 9. Racism and Eurocentrism and “TheWretched of the Earth” (Fanon, 1965, 2001) • Distinctions made between self (European, etc) and the “Other” (often the postcolonial Other) • Racism and Eurocentrism forms of thinking have been pointed out as underlining reasons for current conflicts throughout the world • As Shohat and Stam ( have argued, “racist Eurocentrism manifests itself in coded ways emphasising cultural differences rather than racial ones, thereby masking its racism.” (in Cloud, 2004). • In the context of the liberation movements in Algeria, Frantz Fanon (1965) in The Wretched of the Earth dissected the psychological degradation inflicted by imperialism • “The Western bourgeoisie, though fundamentally racist, most often manages to mask this racism by a multiplicity of nuances which allow it to preserve intact its proclamation of mankind’s outstanding dignity…Western bourgeois racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt: it is a racism which minimizes what it hates.”
  • 10. Rethinking “the Other” in post-colonialism studies (in Matos, 2012) • Many theorists working in the field of post-colonial studies (i.e. Hoogvelt, 1997; Gilroy, 2004)have discussed the West’s need to address issues of cultural diversity. • Hybridity is seen as a form of creating wider acceptance of diversity and difference by breaking the rigid and static nature of the binary oppositions between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, or the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races • “In his book Postcolonial Melancholia, Gilroy (2004: 5-16) argues that humanism has not been comfortable with addressing the ‘destructive impact…..of racial hierarchy upon their own ways of understanding history and society,’ and that a direct confrontation with issues of cultural diversity is more than necessary now.” • Iris Marion Young in Justice and Difference has argued for the need to “acknowledge our differences but also to highlight our similarities as human beings who behave justly to members of all races.” (in Matos, 2012, 147)
  • 11. “The symbolic power of transnational media – managing the visibility of suffering” (Chouliaraki, 2008) • The ways in which the media portray the suffering of far away others has been controversial, raising issues about the “power relations between the West and the ‘rest’, about stereotypes of the ‘poor South, and about compassion fatigue among Western audiences” (Moeller, 1999; tester, 2001). • Researcher studies examples of ordinary news bulletins and extraordinary satellite reporting in national and international contexts • Due to 24 hours news channels, the spectacle of world suffering has reached centre stage: • “…a consequence of the CNN effect, there is an increase in the broadcasting of distant disasters and in audience awareness about suffering others (Livingston and Bennett, 2003…); second, there is a heightened visibility of war atrocities and new rituals of death and torture, such as the Iraq war, internet beheadings and Abu Ghraib pictures, placing the spectacle of suffering at the centre of a contemporary media ethics agenda (Mirzoeff, 2006; Silverstone, 2006)…..”
  • 12. “The symbolic power of transnational media – managing the visibility of suffering” (Chouliaraki, 2008) • “…there is also an increase in citizen-generated footage, such as the demonstrations by Buddhist monks in Myanmar in 2007, which bypasses traditional gate-keeping mechanism and enables the world to watch spectacles of violence otherwise inaccessible to the media (Gillmor, 2004).” • With satellite networks, we are closer than before to suffering and cannot afford anymore to say we did not know what was going on. • The spectacle of suffering versus our moral agency towards others: • “…indignant denunciation against the injustice inflicted upon the sufferers by their persecutors, or tender-hearted empathy with the misfortune and pain of the sufferers” (Boltanski, 1999). • “Sceptical argument….insists that satellite broadcasting, far from facilitating the globalization of civic dispositions, clusters transnational populations around their already existing communities of belonging”. • Fragmentation and marketization perspectives
  • 13. “The symbolic power of transnational media – managing the visibility of suffering” (Chouliaraki, 2008) • The fragmentation perspective argues that satellite media may be global in technological scope but designed to be regional in cultural reach, serving the interests and desires of specific media publics… • News on suffering and violence sells and is subject to the demands of infotainment: • “There are three perspectives to the infotainment perspective…..sensationalism, whereby suffering is presented in terms of its dramatic details in order to grasp audiences’ attention (Seaton, 2005: 49-80): sanitization, where suffering is ‘cleansed’ of its graphic dimensions in order to protect the audiences’ emotions (i.e. Thussu, 2003) and, finally, de- contextualization, where suffering is rarely explained as a complex event so as not to appear demanding on the cognitive capacities of media audience” (Moisy, 1997). • “Satellite broadcasting….maximizes the presence of distant suffering on television screens, yet it does so in an ambivalent manner.”
  • 14. “The symbolic power of transnational media – managing the visibility of suffering” (Chouliaraki, 2008) • “…the discussion on the management of the visibility of suffering is also a discussion on the civic sensibilities the media invite us to develop” (Schudson, 2005: 104). • Which spectacle of suffering does satellite news invite us to contemplate? Do they connect us together in a global village or do they reproduce a Western community easily ‘fatigued’ by distant others? • Link between news stories and civic sensibilities: • “…news stories do not only represent the world, they constitute our dispositions to act in this world precisely at the moment that they claim to simply represent it” (Scannell, 1989: 135-66). • The management of visibility in ‘ordinary’satellite and ‘extraordinary’ news • Examines four case studies, focusing on the visual and verbal properties of the spectacle of suffering and on the moral agency of the news
  • 15. “The symbolic power of transnational media – managing the visibility of suffering” (Chouliaraki, 2008) • Boat accident in India and floods in Bangladesh, and how the media covered them: • “…these two examples of ‘ordinary’ news share three key features: the minimal narration of suffering, the refusal to humanize the sufferers and the interruption of emotion, denunciation or empathy vis-à-vis the events of suffering.” • Conclusion: “…emotion is a scarce resource and that part of the capacity of news to present the world is its capacity to reserve the potential for emotion for some sufferers; to locate others outside our own community of belonging and to place their suffering beyond the remit of action.” • Examines three distinct sequences from the September 11 footage shown on Danish television: • Researcher concludes that, as a consequence of the footage of intense proximity with the suffering of the American people, the media invited us to engage in real-time with their tragic fate….
  • 16. September 11 satellite footage versus bombardment of Baghdad (in Chouliaraki, 2008) • “….the September 11 satellite footage, characterized by a hectic alternation of aesthetic registers, complicates the moral agency of a specific national public, inviting the Danes to engage with this spectacle of suffering in multiple ways: to empathize, to denounce and to reflect on it as a human tragedy and as a political act. Importantly, the sufferers of September 11 are presented as thoroughly humanized and historical beings: as people who feel, reflect and act on their fate. They are…people like ‘us’ who happens to live far away. We are united with them in denouncing the evil-doers (recall Le Monde headline, ‘We are all Americans’, 12 September 2001) or in supporting them in alleviating their misfortune…..” • Very different from the type of emotions invited for the bombardment of Baghdad: • “The point of view is from afar and above…The visual effect is that of a digital game, endowing the spectacle of war with a fictional rather than a realist quality – a similar quality to the Gulf War visuals…..”
  • 17. “ToVeil the Threat of Terror:Afghan women and the Clash of Civilizations” (Cloud, 2004) • Examines the nature of the images of Afghan people in building support for the US war with Afghanistan, making reference to the discourse around the “clash of civilizations” between the West and the inferior “others” • “Through the construction of binary oppositions of self and Other, the evocation of a paternalistic stance toward the women of Afghanistan, and the figuration of modernity as liberation, these images participate in a set of justifications for war that contradicts the actual motives for war.” • The idea of the “white man’s burden” is an element in the belief in a clash between Western societies and the inferior Others, requiring policing and rescue • “The discourse….between ‘civilized’ people and ‘savages’ is not the only dimension of the rhetoric of civilization clash. Images of the oppressed in an ‘inferior’ civilization can prompt a paternalistic response alongside am aggressive one.” • Thus the images of Afghans constructed the viewer “as a paternalistic savior of women and posit images of modern civilization against depictions of Afghanistan as backward and pre-modern.”
  • 18. “ToVeil the Threat of Terror:Afghan women and the Clash of Civilizations (Cloud, 2004) • Role of the “clash of civilizations” in US political discourse is not new: • “At least since the US incursions into the Caribbean in the 1890s, the rhetoric of the ‘clash of civilizations’ has been a staple of the rhetoric of wars and empire. Because of its historical longevity and because it encapsulates a number of key social commitments (to democracy, to a vision of the geographical role of the United States, to racial and national hierarchy, and so on) the ‘clash of civilizations’ should be counted among the ideographs of US political life.” • Relationship between the “clash of civilizations” and the imagery of the Others: • “…In setting up visual binary oppositions between US citizens and enemy Others, it literally constitutes the clash between them. Photographs of self and Other enact the clash when they are set alongside one another.”
  • 19. Oppression ofAfghan women versus the oppression ofAmerican women (in Cloud, 2004) • “Women’s oppression is a marker of an inferior society”: • “Racialized images of the savage Other and gendered images of women as victims lurk in Western culture’s symbolic repertoire, taking shape as the clash of civilizations in perennial justifications of war. As several theorists have noted, gender, nation and race are closely intertwined in colonialist discourses historically. Among the features of a gendered nationalism is the idea of “saving the brown women from the brown men”. Although an enemy nation’s men often represent “the enemy”, the women (and children) of that same nation often are represented as victims needing rescue from the men in their society…..” • “The rhetoric disregards women’s oppression in the United States, which takes the form of ideological constructions of a domesticated womanhood and economic disparity between men and women. The condemnation on the part of the US leaders of women’s oppression only in those countries that are the targets of nation building is thus somewhat hypocritical.”
  • 20. “ToVeil the Threat of Terror:Afghan women and the Clash of Civilizations” (Cloud, 2004) • Examines images from the website • “In the naturalization of what are necessarily partial rhetorical fictions, an image of an Afghan man with weapons…reduces the man to the image of the terrorist when he, his life and his reasons for taking up arms are probably more complex than the snapshot.” • Binary oppositions: • “The overarching strategy of these images is to construct a binary opposition between an American self and enemy Others. Thus images do not state the ideograph ‘clash of civilizations’ as much as they become the clash in visual condensations of the meaning of “American” and “Other”. • Conclusion: • “Mass public support for the war in Afghanistan on the basis either of anger and fear at terrorists as savages or of concern for the innocents in Afghanistan is rooted in the common sense that is reproduced, in part, by photographs circulated in these mass media.”
  • 21. The clash of civilizations and the discourse of racism (Cloud, 2004) • Representations of Africa as the ‘dark continent’: • “Despite Huntington’s claims to a non-racial theory of civilization clash, these images of the ‘clash of civilizations’ are about race. The title of the photo essay is notable: In ‘Shadow To Light’, darkness signifies the chaos and violence of the ‘uncivilized’. The title echoes colonialist representations of Africa as “the dark continent”, and the United States, its heroes and leaders as the province of light. The metaphorical darkness is also literal and racial: Peoples needing rescue from themselves are almost invariably darker- skinned than their saviors”. • “The coding of racial difference as cultural difference participates in what Stuart Hall would call a discourse of inferential racism”. • Theorists like Balibar, Wallerstein, Hardt and Negri have noted that racism “often refers to moral, cultural and religious differences, omitting reference to bodies or biology.”
  • 22. “ToVeil the Threat of Terror:Afghan women and the Clash of Civilizations” (Cloud, 2004) • Argues that a “paternalistic rhetoric takes a position sympathetic to, but standing above, Others. To occupy this stance of benevolent but superior caretaker is to adopt the prerogative of telling others what they need and how they should obtain it. As Linda Alcoff explains in “The Problem of Speaking for Others”, there is a difference between an ethically legitimate standing in solidarity with the oppressed and the opportunistic use of someone else’s oppression as rationale for war.” • “Kabul Unveiled” is the most prominent of the photo essays demonstrating the paternalism of the clash of civilizations. For example, the viewer of Image C literally looks down on the woman in the ruins…” • “As the viewer moves through the photographs…., images of modern liberation are interspersed between the images of women as victims….Taken together, these images encourage viewers to lament the status of Afghan women and support US intervention.”
  • 23. “ToVeil the Threat of Terror:Afghan women and the Clash of Civilizations” (Cloud, 2004) • “Kabul Unveiled” • (,29307,1947784, ml)
  • 24. “Tribalism and tribulation – media constructions of ‘African savagery’” (Carruthers, 2004) • Rwanda and Somalia stand out as sites of intense media coverage in the 1990s in a continent that in overall has been overlooked, and where bureaus have been closed in many countries • Rwanda - an icon of indifference to human suffering on an epic scale • Article is worried about two broad camps: one focused on the conditions under which the West “intervenes”, the other on the inadequacies of what the media offers as knowledge about Africa. Author proposes an alternative to view media representations of Africa and their wider significance for identity politics and practical policy alike • Contrasts the discourses of “Western civilization” and “African barbarism” that are embedded in media representations of the continent and of local conflicts • “…various commentators have probed whether the emergence of 24 hour global news channels has effected a revolution in foreign policy- making….and of a cosmopolitan consciousness across state boundaries (i.e. Gowing 1994; Shaw, 1994…)
  • 25. “Tribalism and tribulation – media constructions of ‘African savagery’” (Carruthers, 2004) • Africa provides proponents with their paradigmatic case of the CNN effect: Somalia. • “Elucidators of the “effect” postulate that TV’s mobilization of emotions is short-lived and shallow…CNN may exert a near instantaneous ‘agenda setting effect’ but since its ability to do so rests on manipulation of public sentimentality, it fails to generate sustained support for prolonged and costly interventions of the kind its coverage seems designed to elicit.” • Gives the example of Somalia of corpses of US soldiers being dragged through the streets, and points out how one Congressmen during the Clinton administration admitted that “pictures of starving children, not policy objectives, got us into Somalia in 1992” and that “pictures of US casualties, not the completion of our objectives, led us to exit Somalia.” (i.e. Gowing 1994: 67) • Article also asks: why is media’s attention to distant distress so selective and short-lived?
  • 26. “Tribalism and tribulation – media constructions of ‘African savagery’” (Carruthers, 2004) • Why was the devastation famine in Sudan during the 1992 largely ignored? • What type of coverage can stimulate action? • “Robinson (2001: 943) proposes that “empathy framed coverage” which “tends to focus on the suffering of individuals, identifying them as victims in need of ‘outside’ help, may be more likely to generate (inter)governmental action than ‘distance framing’ that ‘tends to minimize pressure for intervention’ by ‘emphasising the roots of catastrophe in ‘ancient ethnic hatreds.’” • Author argues that many “Africanists take issue with the Western’s media understanding of conflicts in Somalia and genocide Rwanda in terms only of “tribalism”. • They argue that this is an Eurocentric view that disguises the West’s “own implications in the roots of African state failure, economic collapse and societal disintegration….”. This also has consequences for the types of action or inaction that become thinkable in response.
  • 27. “Tribalism and tribulation – media constructions of ‘African savagery’” (Carruthers, 2004) • “The genocide of 1994 was reduced to a simple tale of Hutu slaughtering their Tutsi neighbours….assigning clear-cut moral and ethnic identities to Tutsi victims and Hutu perpetrators….” • The coverage was thus represented in black and white terms: good Tutsis, evil Hutus. • Many Africanists have thus sought to dismantle the attribution of violence to “ethnic hatreds” – whether with reference to Rwanda’s genocide or Somalia. • Rwanda’s conflict was not considered tribal, but rather a modern tragedy, a degenerated class conflict • Why do Western journalists get the coverage of Africa wrong?: • Because more and more news stations rely on ‘parachute journalism’: star reporters are simply airlifted into and out of the location of humanitarian disaster. They are wholly ignorant of local conditions, and thus have a tendency to restore to worn out cliches and stereotypes, also being subject to manipulation by local elites who are aware of their ignorance….
  • 28. Towards new and more complex images of “the Other” • Persepolis • (
  • 29. Some conclusions • The “clash of civilizations” discourse is not knew to US political thinking • The representation of the suffering of “Others” on 24 hours news and satellite television reflects the inequalities between the West and the rest, with coverage inviting sympathy and identification with some sufferers (i.e. Americans), and distancing and indifference towards others (“the rest”) • The media’s coverage of the suffering of distant offers, due to the pressures of commercialization, is often presented as a spectacle, in a sensationalist way and embedded in the infotainment genre aesthetic • Articles argue (i.e. Carruthers, 2004) that the media’s coverage should attend more to the complexities of the conflicts and the people involved, avoiding succumbing to stereotyping and being manipulated by local elites due to ignorance of the situation in question • Towards the need of representation of more complex images of “Others” to create wider understanding and empathy and to reduce conflict between nations (i.e. “the clash of civilizations”)
  • 30. Seminar questions • 1. Examine Cloud’s argument concerning the impact of the ‘clash of civilizations’ discourse in the representation of images of Afghan women, and their use to justify war. Further examine the differences between the “oppression of Afghan women and the women in the US” that she alludes to, and think about some media examples here. • 2. Discuss the management of the visibility of suffering in ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ news and the four examples that Chouliaraki investigates in her text. Do you agree with her analysis? Think of some other examples that fit her argument. • 3. Carruther’s text is critical of the media’s coverage of the African continent and the tendency to reduce most conflicts to fights between different local tribes in the country in question. What are some of the issues that she raises? What are your own personal views of the media’s coverage of the major conflicts in the continent (i.e. Rwanda and Somalia)?
  • 31. Readings for week 24 Required texts: • Breuer, A. , Landman, T. and Farquher, Dorothea (2012) “Social media and protest mobilization: evidence from the Tunisian Revolution”, paper to be presented for the 4th European Communication Conference for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA(, Istanbul, 24-27 October 2012 • Crook, J. (2011) “The Growing Contribution of Technology to Democracy and Conflict Resolution”, briefing paper, Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (IDCR), University of Essex • Diamond, L. (2010) “Liberation Technology” in the Journal of Democracy, vol. 21, n. 3, 69-83 Additional: Bennett, L. (2003) “Communicating global activism” in Information, Communication, and Society, 6(2), pp 143-168.