‘Writing’ oneself into tragedy: visual user practices and spectatorship of the Alan Kurdi images on Instagram

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Abstract

Studies into affective publics often involve textual communication. However,
emotive communication is increasingly visual. This study zooms in on the
representation of the suffering other in seven re-workings of the Alan Kurdi
photographs that resonated significantly on Instagram. Chouliaraki’s concept
of post-humanitarian solidarity in The Ironic Spectator (2013) is used as a
theoretical framework to analyse the content of re-worked images and their
post captions. Her concept outlines how distant sufferers tend to be rendered
invisible due to the self-reflexive nature of contemporary solidarity. This self-
reflexivity gets in the way of solidarity for others unlike us. The study found
that, although the sufferer is visually present in almost all re-worked images,
the suffering is ‘replaced’ by emotions or political views of the creators. Both
Chouliaraki’s ‘distant other’ as well as Markham’s similar other are ways to
visually (re)construct the tragedy of Alan Kurdi and the refugee crisis in gen-
eral. This study adds to this an understanding of how Instagram users, while
visually constructing a similar or distant other, also write themselves – often
their personal feelings – into such images. Their public, other Instagram users,
engages in self-reflexivity by liking such re-workings, aligning with the com-
municated emotions or political views conveyed. In this way, the platform ‘like
feature’ intensifies the self-reflexive nature of contemporary solidarity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalVisual Communication
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jun 2019

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