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Accepted Paper:

Imaging the Other: how toxic images contribute to the creation of violent collective imaginaries  


Jeffrey Murer (University of St. Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines how "toxic" images shape the understanding of conflicts and create the images of enemy others. These images become their own reference points, understood to be "more true" than any other images that might contradict or conflict with the narratives these "toxic" images convey.

Paper long abstract:

In the 19th century photographs were initially viewed as distortions of reality. "The hearsay of the sun" was one claim made. Yet today we see the photograph as the central form of visual documentation. This tension was discussed by Roland Barthes, who suggested that images affect us in two ways: through the punctum, the immediate pathetic effect it generates, in distinction from the studium, or the information transmitted by the image or the meanings it receives through circulation. Barthes thought the punctum was far more powerful, for it is a "wound" left by an image that trumps its studium, the message or semiotic content it discloses." The most powerful images are those that leave a lasting impact on how we understand a set of circumstances and how we imagine the actors in those circumstances. This paper explores the ways in which images shape our understanding of conflict, often creating simulacra: copies without originals - images of terrorists who rarely look "like terrorists", depictions of border crossings that are intended to frighten, and visual narratives of conflicts that simplify, flatten, and distort. Through an exploration of images associated with three events - the shootings by Mohammed Merah in France; the "crisis" at the U.S. Southern Border; and the on-going conflict in Ukraine - the paper examines how these images continue to shape the imaginaries of how these events are understood, both by the participants and by those outside of the conflict that might encourage or discourage involvement by others.

Panel P106
Provoking Visuals: Creative Engagements with Borders, Wars, and Conflicts [PACSA Network]