Theorizing Visibility: Witnessing, Showing, and Granting Regard in the Visual Media

Term: Fall 2008

Subject Code: GSOC

Course Number: 6381

The seminar is organized around four themes: First, we consider Hannah Arendts� version of the public sphere and Roger Silverstone�s notion of a �Mediapolis.� What is today�s visual public sphere? What does �appearing in public� mean in this new context? How is this appearing relayed by the media? How do we conceptualize morality in the mediapolis ? The second part of the seminar addresses my own work on the pragmatics of showing--�Monstration.� Is there a way to reformulate the deontology of journalism (a) in reference to the specifics of visual journalism? (b) in the language of performatives. If one recognizes that visibility involves a combination of performances, is there any place left for the �objectivity� construct? Should we forget the normative ambition inherent in that construct? Should we, on the contrary, invent a new normative approach based on other concepts such as �truthfulness� or�loyalty� in terms of speech act theory? The third part of the seminar proposes an exploration of this issue through a notion that brings together questions of ethics (deontology) and the problematics of performance. This notion is that of journalists as witnesses. An examination of the wide range of historically established witnessing practices (from that of �eye-witness�, to that of �martyr�) will allow discussion of the various dimensions involved in the witnessing-role of journalists. Finally the issue of �social visibility� will be discussed in relation to the work of Axel Honneth, and that of his disciple Olivier Voirol. What is the connection between �social visibility� and the issue of recognition? Is social invisibility the equivalent of social death? What is the connection between the French meaning of �regard� (to watch) and the English meaning of the same word (to respect, to esteem)? Can one suggest that news, more than a simple practice of watching, is always connected to a problematics of regard in the English sense?

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