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Refugees Reloaded: Digital Images and Circuits of Resistance

Mon, May 29, 15:30 to 16:45, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 3, Aqua 309

Abstract

How have the representations of refugees changed in contemporary Europe with the advent of digital technology? To criticize the sudden panic about the recent migrant refugee crisis, social networks started to post an image of a boat overloaded with migrants climbing on its walls. The image seemed to allude to the recent overflow of Syrian refugees landing on the shores of Europe. The images of flows, waves and invasion are recurring metaphors and tropes, the sea often representing the barriers trespassed and the great risks undertaken. The massality of the images also underlies anonymity and lack individuality, versus the European spectator. The boat was apparently not of recent refugees but of Albanians in 1991 trying to reach the shore of Bari in southern Italy. Another migrant crisis, that of the Balkans, that reminds Europe of its porous boundaries.
The massality of these faceless groups is often countered by ‘iconic’ images that put images of refugee kids on the forefront such as the 3 year-old Aylan Kurdi washed on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, and the five-year old Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh rescued in Aleppo. These images continue to be cropped, reformatted, retweeted, and redistributed via digital media channels haunting the public imagination. How does the travelling of refugee images online contribute to processes of re-signification and empowerment in the public sphere? To what extent can digital tools enhance the possibility for appropriation of dominant representations and resistance from subaltern subjects through repetition, displacement and resignification of digital images that went viral? How is the politics of suffering and pity reconfigured across geographical divides? What kind of new connectivity is it implied through material distance being replaced by digital intimacy?

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