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Visual Epistemologies and Human Rights

Fri, May 25, 17:00 to 18:15, Hilton Prague, Floor: L, Berlin

Session Submission Type: Panel


This session examines the interplay between visuals and human rights. It stems from the recognition that the visual turn has been having immense consequences in the many practices related to the definition, implementation and aspiration about human rights. Various practitioners and institutions have been adjusting their efforts to take into account the visual component in ways far exceeding its representational function in human rights practice. Images are no longer merely an illustration or a vehicle for advocacy; they have become a mode of information relay and evidence on their own terms across the institutional calculus that supports human rights in various ways. Through short presentations, screenings of video clips and discussion, this session questions how, if at all, understanding both the visual forms of knowledge production and the wide-ranging image-making practices of various actors can extend the epistemological horizon for contemporary human rights work. In doing so, the session augments an established scholarly tradition that examines the role of images in human rights and humanitarian communication, surveying how, when and why visual knowledge shapes human rights today.

Baroni discusses how image-making transforms people from objects of human rights discourses to human rights subjects, extending normative thinking about human rights. Sliwinski argues that photography can demand courageous looking and imagining to challenging fundamental forms of sovereign power. She calls for the use of images for their “potential to strain the faculty of imagination” because the ethical and political consequences may otherwise be too difficult to bear. Bock examines how video cameras, whether body cameras on police or cellphones of activists, change how actors perceive their own power; they alter, given the technological change, what agents may play which roles. Price charts how images of justice in courts provide insights into modes of organizing law in a society, as in the case of the Constitutional Court of South Africa that has sought to remember past human rights crimes as a way of marking a new era. Gabriela Martinez probes the mnemonic function of human rights images in the context of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, showing how the epistemological fluidity of visuals can extend and challenge the work of official institutions. Golcevski reflects on his experience as the Head of Communications at the ICTY. Showing clips from the documentaries this court has produced, he sheds light on the emerging legitimizing function of video in the law. In the closing of the session, Ristovska interrogates how, if at all, images foster an enlarged scope for human rights imaginaries.

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