Media, Performance and Visibility: Witnessing, Monstration, Reaction

Term: Fall 2009

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 5065

Television is sometimes discussed as an instrument of surveillance. This seminar addresses instead the practices of showing, and sharing, the activities through which television calls for, organizes, and manages collective attention. Of course other instances of public display can be found in an infinity of present and historical contexts (from the rituals of the church to Foucault's ritualized punishments) but rarely have displays of the same situations simultaneously involved so many conflicting versions and so many competing media. The activity of displaying has become a globally sensitive battlefield. What is at stake today is the authority invested in the act of showing, in what is called here monstration.

The first part of this seminar discusses Hannah Arendt's version of the public sphere and Roger Silverstone's notion of a "Mediapolis." What does "appearing in public" mean in the context of today's visual media? What happens when public response itself is turned into a mediated performance? The second part of the seminar discusses the "pragmatics of showing" and suggests ways in which Austin's speech act theory might allow revisiting classical debates on "objectivity" in the news by discussing the performances involved in journalism. The third part of the seminar addresses questions of media ethics by focusing on the role of journalists as witnesses. Visual journalism is discussed in the light of historically established witnessing practices, from that of eye-witness to that of martyr.

Finally the issue of social visibility is discussed in relation to the work of Axel Honneth, and Olivier Voirol. What is the connection between social visibility and the issue of recognition? Is invisibility the equivalent of "social death?" Can one suggest that news, rather than a simple practice of watching, always involve a dimension of regard or disregard? The exploration of these four themes serves to analyze not only the visibility conferred to expressive events such as ceremonies, controversies, and terrorist attacks, but also that which characterizes distant suffering and the monstration of death.


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