Activating Empathy: the social lives of rights images

Johnsone, Amy. 2014. Activating Empathy: the social lives of rights images. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This dissertation addresses the increasingly important role visual media plays in the construction of human rights discourse in an attempt to denaturalise the idea of human rights in its western democratic context. This is a shift from other anthropological approaches which have focused on rights in ‘other’ contexts at the expense of naturalising and disguising the constructed nature of human rights in western democratic contexts. To research this I have followed selected images from campaign work of a major human rights organisation through their production, distribution and reception. I base my research on interviews with informants and participant observation as a volunteer with Amnesty UK and as a member of three local Amnesty groups. In doing so I develop an account of images that focusses on their place in social relations, rather than a textual analysis of their representational qualities. An approach that is increasingly prevalent in anthropological accounts of images, but that I believe to be unique as an approach to rights images.I put forward the argument over ten chapters that pictures are used by activists to facilitate a process of imaginative identification with distant others that staff at AIUK call 'empathy'. I examine this process of imaginative relating from both the point of view of staff, and of those publics that encounter images to argue that images mediate imaginative relations in ways that suggest a rethink of both 'empathy' as a concept, and human rights as a practice. In doing this I hope to develop understandings of human rights and visual media, and also rethink anthropology’s role in studying transient phenomena.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Human Rights, Photography

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10 September 2014

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Date Deposited:

10 Sep 2014 10:05

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:04


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