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UAL Research Online

The Burden of Witnessing: Media and Mobilization in the Age of Genocide

Torchin, Leshu (2007) The Burden of Witnessing: Media and Mobilization in the Age of Genocide. PhD thesis, University of the Arts London.

Type of Research: Thesis
Creators: Torchin, Leshu

The 1948 UN Convention on Genocide signalled an international commitment to the protection of imperilled communities. However, the lack of operative treaty bodies assigned to monitor global compliance has undermined the effectiveness of this law rendering it little but an abstract promise, as evidenced by such cases as Bosnia, Rwanda, and the crisis in Sudan. In the place of effective international law, monitoring and response duties have fallen to media actors including journalists and human rights organizations from international NGOs to local grassroots social movements, who use cameras to document abuses and appeal to action. Embedded in these uses is the Enlightenment conviction that exposure, the making public of these situations, will engender the logical response of action. However, global inaction in response to the crises of the 1990s generated multiple interrogations into the presumed failure of visual media. Blame has been placed on the media saturation that contributes to “compassion fatigue,” and desensitization; or, conversely, to the commercial and entertainment aspects that transform distant suffering into pornography of pain, and thereby generate “inappropriate” affect.

This dissertation examines these questions by conducting a media history from select cases through the 20m century and into the 21st where media actors have sought to fill a political vacuum by visualizing distant crimes and producing ethical and political claims in order to mobilize global publics. In doing so, I clarify how technological innovation, strategic use of formal elements, and material practices play key roles in the formation of transnational ethical communities and the channeling of sentiment into action. In the process, the study calls attention to the significant role of media and media actors in political and legal processes, and elucidates the ways in which these media formations have never been explicitly political or legal, but from their inception intertwined in the entertainment media practices that generate so much suspicion in popular and scholarly discourses.

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Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Date: 2007
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2023 11:14
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2023 14:01
Item ID: 19707
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/19707

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