Visual Methods & Politics

‘Doing Visual IR’: Methods, Power and Politics

Role: Co-convener

In collaboration with Jonathan Luke Austin (The Violence Prevention Initiative, Geneva. & The Graduate Institute, Geneva) and Rune Saugmann Andersen (University of Tempere).

How do we see the world and its politics? How do we make sense of international events? What do television screens, computer monitors, advertising billboards, and other everyday images do to our sensual appreciation for the global political order? And how might we study all of this? How can the discipline of IR come to terms with the explosion in visual imagery of wars, protests, rallies, street fights, and beyond? This workshop asks questions like these. It is concerned with the still quite nascent shift within IR away from the textual as the principal object of its study and primary mode of its own articulation. However, its main focus will be quite specifically on the methods and methodologies of doing visual IR and the questions of power and politics these methods implicate.

The intellectual backdrop for the workshop rests on the reflexive, ethnographic, narrative, and aesthetic turns within IR. Each of these approaches has contributed to bringing forward a critical, inter-disciplinary, and – most importantly – an increasingly diverse set of outlooks into IR. This includes reassessing and dissecting the intricate relations between differently positioned societies in the global system, the ‘decolonizing’ of research, the linkages between the micro and macro levels of politics and its analysis, and the role of researchers and expert accounts in controlling narratives, reproducing exploitative power relations and shaping collectively shared ‘images’ of international relations and its conflicts. Specifically vis-à-vis questions of the visual and visibility, the introduction of the ‘image’ into IR that has occurred across these fields has worked to foreground the everyday lifeworlds of individual human beings, the materiality of those worlds, the questions of perspective in seeing Self and Other, and the ways in which powerful actors utilize visibility as a tool of domination, political manipulation, and beyond. With this backdrop in mind, the workshop focuses on how methods of doing visual IR can ‘complicate’ the discipline’s intellectual construction of world orders in ways that give voice to other perspectives and expose emerging forms of socio-political domination.

We sought contributions that focus on the diverse methods and methodologies that can be employed to ‘do’ visual IR and which explore the power, politics, and potentially positive-political consequences of these methods. This included perspectives from within specific theoretical traditions (practice theory, feminist theory, post-colonial theory, etc.) or reflections on quite specific methods of doing visual analysis in IR (the use of photography, the use of videography, the use of secondary visual data, the analysis of comics, art works, and beyond, etc.). We envisage publishing our discussions in both an edited volume and a special issue and are making plans to this effect in advance of the workshop. The edited volume is planned as a handbook for students of working within IR wishing to employ visual approaches within their work, while the special issue will focus more on the broader conceptual, theoretical, and methodological issues that emerge from our discussions at the workshop.

The project was initially put together at EWIS 2018 in Groningen, and was presented again at EISA PEC 2018 in Prague.

The team is now working towards the drafting of a special issue proposal on the challenges of using visual material as methods. More soon!

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