Accepted Paper:

The Spark that Ignites: Catalytic Signifiers for a Transformative and Performative Planetary Humanism  
Raminder Kaur (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

What exactly is the spark that ignites protest when it comes to visual/audio-visual imagery? What makes for a viral (audio-)visual phenomenon when it comes to anti-racist/xenophobic movements? At what point can the specificities of racial identities dissolve while still mindful of racist injustices?

Paper long abstract:

The Vietnamese girl fleeing a Napalm attack; the videoed police beatings of Rodney King; the lifeless boy Alan Kurdi on a beach; the chokehold on George Floyd against his murmurs ‘I can’t breathe’ – these are just a few (audio—)visual signifiers that catalysed a swell of anti-racist and anti-xenophobic protest in modern times. While imagery might not on its own trigger a movement, it can certainly amplify the moment into a movement. In this paper, I consider what are the features of viral imagery in a world that is super-saturated with imagery? How can and do visual and audio-visual signifiers catalyse emotional and physical reactions that can escalate? At what point can the specificity of racial identities dissolve while still retaining race—bound or racist injustices in sight?

Umberto Eco talks about the photograph’s potential for ‘argumentative capacity’ such that ambiguity is reduced and imagery is made to speak; and in the case of audio-visual footage, the spoken is amplified to speak for all. But we need exercise caution when the phenomena unleash liberal humanism – ‘race does not matter’ and essentially ‘we are all the same’. In this paper, therefore, I revisit Paul Gilroy’s ‘planetary humanism’ that works against political and intellectual divisions based on race for they continuing Eurocentric discourse or ‘codes’. Calling it a transformative and performative planetary humanism, I propose that while going beyond race becomes critical to socio-political change, organising and raising awareness around race remains essential to challenge the morphing of hierarchical and racialised regimes.

Panel P16a
Global Black Lives Matter: representations of resistance, memory and politics
  Session 1