Challenging the Visual: Distrust, Emergency, Uncertainty

deadline for submissions: 
January 12, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Pompeu Fabra University

CFP opened until fev 12th.

Dates of the Conference: 13th, 14th, 15th March

Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona.


The II International Conference on Visual Motifs in the Public Sphere, Challenging the Visual: Distrust, Emergency, Uncertainty, will be held on March 13th, 14th and 15th, 2024, at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Scholars and practitioners in media studies, film, and visual arts, as well as researchers in social and political communication, are cordially invited to participate. The conference aims to establish foundational principles regarding the self-production of images of power within the contemporary public sphere. This conference is organized by the research project MUTACIONES DE LOS MOTIVOS VISUALES EN LA ESFERA PÚBLICA. REPRESENTACIONES DEL PODER EN ESPAÑA 2017-2021: PANDEMIA, CAMBIO CLIMÁTICO, IDENTIDADES DE GÉNERO Y CONFLICTOS RACIALES (REF: PID2021-126930OB-I00).

The aim of the conference is to bring together empirical research and grounded theoretical approaches to contribute to the development of an understanding of how power and public space are staged. We seek to explore how citizens (re)interpret the images of power and public space, and elucidate the mechanisms of appropriation and reinvention of iconographic sources.
In recent years, the visual construction of the public sphere has undergone a profound transformation propelled by four crucial factors catalyzed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: heightened awareness of climate change, the rearticulation of gender identities, racial, migratory, and geopolitical conflicts—manifested in phenomena such as the TikTok wars or the hyper-representation of terrorism—and the influence of technology itself, notably with the emergence of generative AI.

In this context, the notion of distrust has become inherently intertwined with images, coinciding with a period characterized by uncertainty and an acute sense of emergency. As noted by filmmaker and theorist Harun Farocki in Desconfiar de las imágenes (2013), the manipulative potential of visual texts demands a meticulous scrutiny and decoding of images to restore the pact with a trustworthy visual narrator, thereby facilitating the reactivation of the contractual relationship between author and spectator.

Thus, the analysis of images within the public sphere should be based on an exploration of the principle of self-representation, self-staging, and the verification of an image that is seemingly hypermediated within an increasingly complex system. Confronting the incessant flow of images demands maintaining a critical distance and elucidating the mechanisms that enable alternatives through media literacy through the study of visual motifs.

The concept of visual motif refers to an iconographic pattern of cultural representation transmitted and reinterpreted throughout the history of images, fostering narrative and emotional recognition (Balló, Bergala, 2016). Images embodying power and various facets of public life are articulated through visual motifs derived from cinema, painting, literature, and even oral heritage (Communication & Society, 34 (2), 2021; Salvadó, Balló, 2023). Therefore, the capacity of these motifs to convey emotional content through their dynamic persistence establishes them as fundamental nodes for the circulation of information and its critique.

From an iconographic perspective, it may seem that social networks have merely accelerated and multiplied the wave of the fundamental law: 'History is written by the Victors.' The attention economy that underpins the consumption and production of images on digital media constitutes both a struggle for the appropriation of discourses and a mere complaint. 

There is a substantial tradition of political iconography rooted in the foundational work of Aby Warburg, further developed by scholars such as Erwin Panofsky, Horst Bredekamp, George Didi-Huberman, Monica Centanni, Patrick Boucheron, and Carlo Ginzburg. Their attention to the pivotal role of visual motifs in shaping public space intersects with inquiries from diverse fields, including art theory and criticism (Boris Groys, Hito Steyerl, Harun Farocki), political philosophy (Giorgio Agamben), film studies (Nicole Brenez, Alain Bergala, Emmanuelle André), the theory of photography (Ariella Azoulay), forensic analysis of critical political and historical situations (Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture), social semiotics (Theo Van Leewen), cognitive iconology (Ian Verstegen), and Production Studies (Banks, Caldwell, Du Guy, Thompson, and Burns). Beyond the transmission of visual motifs, our interest extends to contemporary reinventions facilitated by prosumers in social networks


Researchers are invited to submit communication proposals that address one of the following thematic lines:

●    Visual motifs in the representation of various spheres of power in the public domain: political, economic, judiciary, military, police, civil, and forms of citizen participation.
●    Visual motifs in the rearticulation of gender identities.
●    Visual motifs depicting racial conflicts, migration, and borders.
●    Visual motifs addressing climate emergency and ecological crises.
●    Visual motifs portraying technology and Generative Artificial Intelligence.
●    Visual motifs and narratives in political campaigns, exploring reinventions of previous iconographic sources.
●    Examination of the representation of power and the public sphere in cinema.
●    Iconographic evocation in photojournalism practices, exploring the civil contract of photography.
●    Analysis of GIFs, memes, and mashups in political processes, the public sphere, and the aforementioned thematic areas.
●    Deepfake technology and visual fake news.
●    Case studies and production analyses in photojournalism, television, online press, and social networks concerning images of power.
●    Theoretical studies on the continuity and transformations of political iconography.


Rules for sending proposals

  • Submissions should be made through the Eventum platform. They will include:

○    Title of the paper
○    Name(s) and surname(s) of the participant(s)
○    E-mail address
○    Mailing address
○    Abstract (300 to 500 words)
○    Keywords (up to 5)
○    Short biography (up to 150 words

  • In-person presentations during the congress should not exceed 15 minutes and can be delivered in Spanish, Catalan, or English.

Key dates

  • Proposal submission deadline: February 2nd, 2024.
  • Notification of proposal acceptance: February 12th, 2024.
  • Papers must be original and unpublished at the congress time.
  • Approved papers may be published as proceedings with ISBN registration. Submission deadline for publication: April 15th. Texts should adhere to APA style guidelines (sixth edition), with a length of 3,000 to 4,000 words.
  • Registration will be open from February 12 to February 29, 2024.