Visualizing Human Rights: Narrative and Rhetoric of the Humanitarian Image

full name / name of organization: 
Georgiana Banita, United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney, Australia; Christoph Ribbat, University of Paderborn, Germany

While the study of human rights has gained momentum over the past decade across a variety of disciplines, much remains to be gleaned from an interdisciplinary focus on human rights discourse and advocacy in their visual contexts. This volume revolves around the conceptual frameworks of human rights and visual culture, exploring the ways in which international human rights discourse inflects and is inflected by visual media, understood to represent both ultramodern and more traditional vehicles. Specifically, the book aims not only to provide a critical forum for scholars interested in the media dissemination of human rights narratives, but also to point out the cross-fertilization at work among several visual avenues of propagating human rights ideas, such as photography, film, video, and performance art, next to hybrid formats such as photojournalism, news media, internet platforms and blogs. These media forms can serve as tools of human rights investigation and exposure, provoke dialogue, and provide insight that is immediate and highly affecting. But how exactly do we begin to theorize the face of human rights? In examining visual media both synchronically and diachronically, we propose the following questions:

  • What is the role of visual culture in human rights discourse and promotion? How does visual mediation reshape the nexus of human rights, international law, and cultural practice?
  • Has the expansion and democratization of visual communication energized the concomitant rise of rights discourse as a major concern of global policy?
  • How are the dynamics of agency and witnessing transferred into the world of web 2.0 media, where human rights advocacy becomes increasingly decentralized, personal, and post-national?

We seek essays that delve more deeply into the rhetoricity of the human rights image than has been done so far, and welcome work that regards visuality and/or intermediality not only as possible approaches to human rights discourse but as essential to its structure and effect.

Individual topics include, but are not limited to:

  • visual ethics and the human rights image
  • humanitarian themes in film, photography, and visual art
  • the humanitarian ethics of war photography, 1850s to the present
  • netizenship, spectatorship, intervention
  • human rights policy and surveillance
  • human rights and celebrity culture
  • case studies of the human rights/visual media interface: Vietnam, Tiananmen, Bosnia, Iraq wars, Iran (2009), etc.
  • racial profiling in the war on terror
  • human rights narrative across media: comparative perspectives

Send 1-page proposals for essays to both editors at and by November 1, 2010. Notification of acceptance will be sent by November 15, 2010. Final essays (8,000 to 10,000 words in length) are due by September 1, 2011.