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Visual Methods and International Security Studies – E-International Relations

Alongside poststructuralist approaches, important safety research has been on the forefront of partaking the visible in Worldwide Relations (IR). Rune Andersen and Juha Vuori’s (2018) edited quantity on visible safety research (VSS) is testomony to this and brings numerous disciplines collectively to give attention to (in)safety and warfare. Acknowledging that we stay within the ‘age of the picture’ (Williams, 2018), IR students are turning to the visible in numerous, modern methods. Andersen and Vuori (2018) level out 3 ways the visible comes into worldwide safety: visuality as modality, the place photographs signify and sign safety; as apply, the place photographs assemble (in)safety; and, as technique, the place photographs are a analysis software used to make safety seen. The primary two are the most typical means of partaking photographs in IR: treating photographs as artefacts by way of which we come to know, make sense of, and act on the earth; by way of which we ‘see’ and ‘do’ worldwide politics.

These works emerge from the pictorial and aesthetic turns. Examples of one of these work embody: Lene Hansen’s work on the Muhammad cartoon disaster (2011) and comedian books partaking the Bosnian Struggle (2017); Axel Heck and Gabi Schlag’s research of a TIME journal cowl and the Afghanistan warfare (2013); Roland Bleiker’s work on representations of HIV/AIDS (Bleiker and Kay, 2007)and the dehumanisation of refugees (Bleiker et al., 2013); Vuori, Andersen, and Guillaume’s (2015; 2016) semiotic, chromatological strategy, which argues that color enacts and makes safety intelligible; Simone Molin Friis’ (2018) mixture of digital ethnography and visible approaches to review militant imagery; Helen Berents’ (2019) work on photographs of useless kids and the ‘telegenic useless’; Constance Duncombe’s (2019, 2020) work on photographs, emotion, and social media; my work on using posters (2019) and comedian books (2020) to represent and/or contest gendered-sexualised-racialised (in)safety; and Megan MacKenzie’s research of soldier-generated illicit photographs, which reveals how they’re “central to, and reinforce points of, navy band of brother tradition” (2020).

Within the much less widespread however rising strand, visuality as technique, Sophie Harman’s (2019) pathbreaking work, which I reviewed for E-IR and Dysfunction of Issues, makes use of narrative function movie as a “technique of seeing those that are invisible from politics, coverage, and world well being analysis”, difficult how we ‘see’ worldwide politics and world energy constructions; Sara Särma (2018) makes use of collage to rethink the spatiality of worldwide politics; Debbie Lisle and Heather Johnson (2019), and Roland Bleiker (2019) use their very own images to sight, bother, and rethink (in)safety; Cynthia Weber (2011) and William Callahan (2015) use movie as analysis output; and Benjamin Dix, partaking with points like battle, migration, and asylum, works with marginalised people to provide comics (positivenegatives.org).Works from all three (not at all times separable) ‘strands’ of visible politics, in addition to the plethora of others not talked about, type a part of ongoing and productive discussions about how we strategy the visible ontologically and methodologically. In different phrases, what photographs ‘do’ and the way we use/research them.

There isn’t any finish to the ways in which the visible could be introduced into the research of (worldwide) politics. The research I’ve talked about above are principally qualitative. That’s not to say a quantitative strategy can’t be used: there are deserves to quantitative and combined methodologies that enable students to ask various kinds of questions. A quantitative strategy could, for instance, be higher suited to figuring out completely different patterns in massive knowledge units of photographs. Bleiker et al. (2013) use content material evaluation to analyse newspaper protection of asylum seekers, which opens area for various, extra nuanced, qualitative research of these photographs. This piece, due to this fact, ought to function one in every of many (many!) ports of departure that visible venturers can go away from. Higher but, it is going to take the thriller out of doing visible scholarship and encourage methodological play in a sturdy means that avoids simply ‘including photographs in as a result of it’s fashionable now’.

By the empirical case of the pink triangle and US AIDS activism, I’ll current some instruments for these seeking to interact with visuals of their work. What follows stems primarily from my very own work on the visible. It ought to not be learn as a blueprint, definitive ‘’ information, or a manifesto outlining what visible politics must be. It’s unproductive to police the boundaries of VSS and visible methodologies: a pluralist strategy is essential to understanding the complexity of the visible (Bleiker, 2015) and utilizing visuals as scholarly output can assist de-centre the epistemological precedence given to texts in academia (e.g., essays, articles). Visible students agree that the visible is irreducible to and can’t adequately be captured by way of written/spoken phrases. Nonetheless, we decide to making an attempt to seize their politics within the phrases we write; inevitably, we’ll at all times fail. This can be a exhausting rigidity to barter. Probably the most thrilling a part of VSS is that it’s a transferring goal: new and modern methods of utilizing the visible as technique and/or empirics are at all times rising.

Theorising the visible: A tripartite strategy

Drawing on poststructuralism, I’ve engaged with the visible as a part of discourse and, thus, as a web site by way of which to see (in)safety (Cooper-Cunningham, 2019, 2020). I’ve engaged photographs as each representing and setting up (in)safety; as modality and apply. Utilizing a poststructuralist-inspired strategy has implications for a way one theorises and engages the visible. How photographs ‘converse’, what they ‘do’, and their ontological standing is an ongoing debate in visible politics. Like many visible students, I draw on Roland Barthes (1977) who argues that the which means of a picture can’t be pinned down definitively, that photographs would not have a single universally obtained message, and that photographs can’t be understood as telling a narrative in and of themselves. The way you and I interpret a picture just isn’t essentially the identical as a result of we draw on completely different private experiences and data to learn it.

We, due to this fact, want to incorporate different texts and pictures in our evaluation as a result of these assist to attribute which means to the picture(s) below research; these are the ‘inventory’ that we draw on to interpret photographs(Hansen, 2011). Not solely are different texts and pictures essential, we should additionally think about how a picture is circulated, how it’s used, and the way it’s spoken about: does it cross borders, get utilized in protests, or seize widespread consideration for example? These all have an effect on the arguments we are able to make of a picture, how they is perhaps learn, and what political standing they’re attributed: when a selected visible motif is utilized in protest marches, for instance, it acquires a unique standing than if it weren’t. Just lately, important students have moved to have interaction with the aural, the sounds that accompany (transferring) photographs, and the way this imbues them with which means (Baker, 2020; Malmvig, 2020). A easy means of experiencing the highly effective visual-aural, visual-textual interplay, the impact of 1 on the opposite, is to show off the sound/visible in your favorite movie scene and to recall whenever you’ve encountered art work in a gallery and interpreted it very in a different way from the explanatory caption.

My theorisation of and relationship with the visible emerged from a theoretical-empirical drawback. Theoretically, how feminist students take into consideration silence. Empirically, how British suffragettes resisted the oppressive silencing practices of a authorities searching for to make sure ladies’s exclusion from public political fora. Working by way of the case of British suffragettes’ acts of resistance in opposition to the patriarchal system, I seen that they used a mix of phrases (written and spoken), photographs (posters/postcards), and embodied motion (hunger-striking) to contest and undermine the dominant narrative that ladies had been apolitical, incapable of politics, and that their participation in British politics by way of the vote would undermine (gendered) order and convey about chaos.

To grasp what was happening on this case, I introduced collectively Lene Hansen’s (2000: 300) argument that we should always convey within the visible and the bodily as further epistemological websites the place (in)safety could be introduced with Karin Fierke’s (2013) work on ‘acts of speech’, communication with out phrases. From there I developed what I name a ‘tripartite mannequin’ to review (world) politics—notably safety—the place one brings in phrases, photographs, and our bodies into their evaluation concurrently. Put merely, because of this we shouldn’t simply take a look at the written/spoken phrases (e.g., authorities paperwork, press, activist statements) round political points (e.g., state homophobia, wartime rape) as a result of typically there aren’t any or they don’t seem to be the first means of asserting (in)safety. As a substitute, for an entire host of causes, there is perhaps (imposed or chosen) silence, or insecurity is introduced in one other means. For instance, by way of starvation placing, silent protest, making and circulating on-line memes, taking a harmful 100mile boat experience, self-immolating. Silence doesn’t imply absence, that nothing is happening[1].

Insecurity is perhaps articulated in different methods: by way of the visible, for instance. On this sense, I theorise communication as one thing extra expansive and sophisticated, enacted by way of and exceeding phrases: phrases, photographs, our bodies ‘converse’ collectively. That additionally means silence isn’t essentially simply vocal/textual: it encompasses the visible, too. Simply because there aren’t any phrases articulating (in)safety doesn’t imply there aren’t photographs doing the work. Neither the visible nor phrases have primacy: they should have equal analytic footing. Students should take into consideration different epistemological websites by way of which we are able to perceive and discover (worldwide) political phenomena. Once we are talking of points with such excessive stakes as safety, which may usually be (constituted as) existential for some people and collectives, you will need to take a look at a broad vary of supplies.

Pink Triangles

To floor this dialogue and put some empirical flesh on the theoretical bones above, I flip to the pink triangle, which was marked on (suspected) male gay our bodies throughout World Struggle II by the Nazis, and the ‘Silence = Loss of life’ pink triangle used throughout AIDS activism from the mid-1980s. Each hook up with (in)safety, notably how sure collectives/people are constituted as threatening, and the way photographs and symbols are used to signify, to name consideration to, insecurity.

The story of the pink triangle is definitely a story of two triangles: one triangle pointing up, the opposite down. This is a vital distinction that marks two considerably completely different, even when overlapping, political makes use of. The downwards pointing triangle, was utilized in Nazi Germany to mark (suspected) non-heterosexual our bodies in focus camps. Within the 1970s, this triangle was appropriated by homosexual activists and have become a logo of the homosexual liberation motion within the USA. You may as well discover pink triangles all over the world memorializing each the punishment and killing of homosexuals throughout WWII, and the AIDS disaster. The Silence = Loss of life (upwards pointing) triangle emerged within the mid-1980s. It’s a repurposed model utilized by the artivist collective Silence = Loss of life—related to AIDS Coalition To Unleash Energy (ACT UP)—to name consideration to AIDS-related points.

Underneath Hitler many hundreds of males had been convicted of homosexuality. These convicted had been pressured to put on pink triangles figuring out their conviction for homosexuality, which was deemed unnatural and unlawful on the time. The pink triangle functioned in the identical means because the better-known yellow Star of David marking Jewish our bodies. 1 / 4 century after the top of WWII, in 1970s New York, this triangle began to be reclaimed and shortly turned a logo of homosexual satisfaction and was used to attract consideration to the oppression of non-heterosexual people, how they had been rendered insecure by way of excessive political and society-wide discourses setting up them as ‘irregular’ and threatening.

An instance of this discourse of queer risk and its penalties is the USA’s queer panic throughout the 1950s ‘Lavender Scare’ when homosexual males and lesbians had been faraway from state employment, deemed nationwide safety threats and doable communist sympathisers.

Refashioning the Nazi pink triangle, it was utilized in a celebratory trend, a logo for satisfaction, solidarity and group, and the combat in opposition to homophobia. What makes this image so essential is its origins. The political energy of this image lies within the incapacity to extricate it from its historical past: with out this politically charged historical past, the Pink Triangle could be nothing greater than a randomly chosen emblem for the homosexual motion. Its visible hyperlink to the Nazi model is essential to its political impact and energy in reframing the safety discourse.

The optimism and hope of homosexual liberation in 1970s USA had been accompanied by elevated presence of this triangle. It was used equally to how the rainbow flag is at modern Satisfaction occasions: as a celebration at marches and as a means of constructing queer area. Then, within the 1980s, because the AIDS disaster gripped the USA, the upwards-pointing ‘Silence = Loss of life’ triangle emerged. Whereas the distinction in level route seems small, there’s a completely different politics connected to every triangle: satisfaction and celebration (determine 1) versus loss of life and resistance (determine 2).

Determine 1 (L). CSLDC ‘Stonewall 10’ Sticker. Determine 2 (R). ACT UP ‘Don’t Be Silent’.

From the mid-1980s, there’s not often an event, a protest or march, when the ‘Silence = Loss of life’ triangle visible is absent. It functioned as a name to mobilisation, successfully saying: if you happen to don’t come out, if you happen to don’t combat, if you happen to keep silent, we’ll die they usually (the federal government) will allow us to; silence is killing us. By way of ‘into the streets’ demonstrations and materials produced to withstand gay demonisation and AIDS ignorance, the ‘Silence = Loss of life’ triangle was visually hegemonic.

In contrast to the reclaimed Nazi pink triangle, the ‘Silence = Loss of life’ model was not an completely queer image and it invoked a politics of concern and anger reasonably than hope. ACT UP sought to sort out AIDS-related points and stigmatisation. And whereas AIDS overwhelmingly affected the queer group—notably males who had intercourse with males—ACT UP was not an LGBT organisation. It held intersectional values, which could be seen within the translation of its key messages into Spanish and the group’s give attention to beforehand uncared for teams akin to ladies with AIDS.

ACT UP, just like the British Suffragettes I’ve written about, paired theatricality and into-the-streets actions with coordinated visuals (the ‘Silence = Loss of life’ triangle being most well-known). Combining a unified visible aesthetic and direct motion, ACT UP drew consideration to oppressed folks’s insecurities and reframed the controversy on not simply HIV/AIDS however gender and sexuality. They made these left to die by a intentionally inactive US authorities the referent objects of safety. Each pink triangles are painful reminders that exact our bodies, human lives, had been focused and left to die due to their (suspected) sexual practices and assumed monstrosity and hazard to society.


It’s truthful to say that visible scholarship has made a veritable affect on IR. There’s, nevertheless, nonetheless a lot to be achieved. So, I’ll hold my concluding remarks intentionally brief as a result of this piece ought to hopefully function a provocateur and empirical-theoretical inspiration. WJT Mitchell famously wrote that “all media are combined media” (2005: 260). Supporting the visible strategy, I’ve outlined above, Mitchell continued that: “the very notion of a medium and of mediation already entails some combination of sensory, perceptual and semiotic components”. On this sense, I wish to make one essential level that visible students may interact with transferring ahead: if texts anchor and provides visuals which means, then visuals will also be mentioned to anchor and supply which means to textual content. Seeing, combatting, and learning (in)safety requires greater than phrases.

[1] Swati Parashar and Jane Parpart (2018) just lately printed an essential edited quantity on ‘silence’, which is essential in deepening our understandings of the best way silence features politically.


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Andersen RS, Vuori JA and Guillaume X. (2015) Chromatology of safety: Introducing colors to visible safety research. Safety Dialogue 46:1-18.

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