The Politics of Images: Understanding Change in Armed Conflict through Photography

Authors: Dr. Alexander L. Fattal, Dr. Annette Idler • Resource type: Working Papers


​This article demonstrates how integrating the disciplinary approach of International Relations with visual arts in the form of photojournalism and documentary photography enhances understanding of dynamic change in armed conflict. We argue that photo-essays are a powerful methodological and epistemological tool of knowledge production because of their potential to (i) allow us to understand dynamic change in armed conflict as a process, rather than a static phenomenon; (ii) contribute to an “productive ambiguity” (Eisner (1997), and therefore to represent the multiple meanings of dynamic change; and (iii) account for emotions, thus helping generate a deep understanding of armed conflict that gives room to the capacity of empathy for the lives of others. Based on a multi-method research design, we combine ethnographic fieldwork in changing conflict settings, in-depth interviews with photojournalists, and visual arts analysis to substantiate our argument by shedding empirical and theoretical light on two dynamically changing conflict settings: one across the Colombia-Venezuela border and one across the Syria/Iraq border. We use the insights from these cases to calls on the social sciences to incorporate ethically sourced, long-term photojournalism into its methodological repertoire and the analysis of political strife and social exclusion.

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