Experiencing Contingency: Towards a Political Theory of Images

Jeandrée, Philipp. 2016. Experiencing Contingency: Towards a Political Theory of Images. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The aim of this thesis is to explore the relationship between modern political thinking and aesthetic image-making through the conceptual framework of contingency. The focus on contingency takes account of the ambiguity and indeterminacy of visual perception and offers a language to describe the political potency of visual images in various historical contexts. The political potency of images is understood in terms of their affective intensities and material presence rather than ideological suspicion or propagandist seduction. In so doing, a case is made for reconsidering the traditional image scepticism (or indifference) in political theory and for recognising visual aesthetic practices as distinct modes of political thinking. I interpret political images as gestures towards the complexity and vulnerability of our social arrangements, indicating that the way we see the world, and show it to each other, could always be otherwise. Drawing on rulers’ portraits, war photography and essay films, from the French Revolution to the present time, I show how visual aesthetic practices can reflect, complement and challenge the way we think about political concepts such as sovereignty, accountability or collective agency in different historical moments. Instead of following a modernist belief in the power of art to induce profound social change, this thesis describes the potency of the visual as micropolitical intensities that potentially modify habitual ways of thinking (and acting), provided that aesthetic experiences can connect to already existing moods or dispositions. This micropolitical potency of visual images does not necessarily constitute a particularly strong or reliable politics, but it is exactly its indeterminacy, as well as its constant risk of failure, that harbours the potential to generate new sensibilities towards the world. Taking visual images seriously, not only as worthwhile objects of political research but just as much as distinct modes of thinking, can therefore help us to stronger acknowledge the vital role affective, imaginative and speculative elements have always played for the understanding and justification of our social arrangements.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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contingency, visual politics, political theory, image studies, affect

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 October 2016

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Date Deposited:

08 Dec 2016 16:28

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 13:57



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