Special Issue ‘Refugee Socialities and the Media’ Looks At Media Practices, Community and Representations of the European Refugee Crisis

A special issue of the The International Journal of Media and Culture titled Refugee Socialities and the Media’ looks at diverse media and communicative practices about the European refugee crisis –  and the relationships and communities they can create. We share the main issue’s main contributions and conclusions in this blog post.

Picture: @Miteneva via Unsplash

By Carolina Are

The Special Issue’s Aims

In the special issue’s introduction, Jonathan Corpus Ong and Maria Rovisco write that the media and artistic narratives can either help audiences form bonds of solidarities with refugees, or encourage them to view them as a dangerous ‘other’:

“At a time when the number of refugees worldwide has increased for six consecutive years—across all countries, one in every 110 persons is someone displaced—media and artistic narratives serve as ‘resources for judgment’, especially when we consider the failure of the international community to advance responses to the global refugee crisis more coherent and collaborative than piecemeal approaches.”

In this climate of what Amnesty International has called a “global solidarity crisis”, the special issue hopes to bring into focus “the everyday life dimension of the migrant experience”. In Ong and Rovisco’s words: “It is through socialities of hospitality, solidarity, or hostility and their frictions that we see most clearly the embodiment of the processes of inclusion and exclusion and, ultimately, the possibilities for belonging in contexts of displacement.”

20 months after the shocking image of Aylan Kurdi’s dead body was found in the Greek shores and in the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the authors in the collection reflected “on the challenges and opportunities posed by tragic images of refugees as ideal victims with other competing imaginaries of refugees as economic and cultural threats to the nation-state.” The issue is deeply connected with the rise of “mediatized global populisms” and, as written in the introduction, it shows how “popular media and artistic forms can enact diverse kinds of mediated socialities ranging from solidarity and hospitality to hostility.”

Studies Appearing In ‘Refugee Socialities and the Media’

Some of the studies appearing in the ‘Refugee Socialities and the Media’ special issue as shared in Ong and Rovisco’s introduction include:

  • Rafal Zaborowski and Myria Georgiou’s study, which finds that European audiences and refugees are positioned by mainstream news “in amoral positions of distant videogamer hero figures versus objectified masses of zombies in virtual social relations.” This conclusion is reached through visual analysis of media images in 11 countries, showing imagery “contributed to the reproduction of familiar narratives of fear and control”;
  • Jason Cabañes‘ research, exposing how settled migrants imagine the lives of refugees and in the process reflect on their own precarious position in post-Brexit UK society. Cabañes’ study uses audience reception analysis, discovering a “compromised solidarity”: Filipino migrant professionals showcase empathy towards recent migrants and refugees “while also asserting a privileged position of ‘superior belongingness’ to the United Kingdom.”
  • Karina Horsti’s article, which reflects on the social value and potential of artistic installations and documentary to promote solidarity with refugees. Through a close reading and comparison of artistic productions of Finnish artist Timo Wright and South African artist Candice Breitz, Horsti reflects on the productive tensions between the popular and the alternative in cultivating social solidarity.
  • Kaarina Nikunen’s article on selfie activism, which looks at how digital networked technologies are used in zones of safety to convey identification and solidarity with refugees;
  • Mirjam Twigt’s article on media in the everyday lives of Iraqis in Jordan, looking at how refugees themselves use digital networked technologies in zones of danger and displacement.

Issue Outcomes

Ong and Rovisco conclude that artistic spaces and online activism can create areas “where solidarity between refugees and citizens can emerge and where refugees can matter as subjects.” Yet, they recognise that technology has its limitations:

“[A]ll the contributions recognize that, in some way or another, mediated refugee socialities of solidarity, hospitality, and hostility are powerfully constrained by the intensification of citizenship as a technology of governance that ensures that certain categories of people remain disqualified and excluded from national citizenship. Thus, one must recognize that the phenomenon of digitally connected refugees does not necessarily empower refugees in absolute terms , and that traditional media institutions such as the printed press and television continue to hold immense power in the production and consumption of popular representations of refugees that foster hostility and fear of the ‘other.'”

Read the introduction to the issue here and find the complete Refugee Socialities and the Media’ here.