The IVSA (International Visual Sociology Association) held its annual conference at Goldsmiths College, London, UK in July 2013.
The event was inspired by Michael Burawoy’s concept of “public sociology,” whereby the focus of the IVSA conference entered this notion around the concept of the “public image”, and the ways that visual sociology can meet Burawoy’s challenge to bring a sociological understanding of social life to a vibrant, active and diverse public.
Public sociology endeavours to bring sociology into dialogue with audiences beyond the academy, an open dialogue in which both sides deepen their understanding of public issues.
The themes covered aspects of: activism and engagement * walking and seeing the city * surveillance * public and private images * resilience and urban change * social networks and virtual image worlds * new visual methodologies * rethinking visual theory * urban visibilities and invisibilities * visual ethics * visual sociological publics.
I was fortunate enough to present a paper on the very engaging and innovative panel ‘The Aesthetics of Activism: Strategies of Visibility – Panel 31.1′. The panel sought to develop upon the notion of ‘public sociology’ by engaging in a conversation as a way to think through the role of visual production in processes of information and counter-information, the making, taking, and recuperating of spaces, public demonstrations and collective insurgencies.
The panel ran all day (the only one to do so – though I may be wrong) and also hosted the only ‘performance lecture’ by the Ministry of Untold Stories.
My paper focused on the role of the photo-essay as a means of visual activism, examining the practice of photovoice and workshops to enable a visibility that a) otherwise would not be made possible and b) functions with duality, as a mode of address and a means of producing political visibility as well as engaging with marginal groups.
My abstract is as follows:
Visual activism and the Photo-essay in the Occupied territories
Written in relation to After the Last Sky, WJT Mitchell (1995) notes how ‘extraordinarily limited’ the image of the Palestinian is. Obscured from the dominant field of vision, Mitchell suggests that ‘visual facts’ which everyone knows in theory, but is rarely seen in practice – the Palestinian woman, the domestic space and children are subsequently constituted as ‘icons’ of an unseen reality that underpin Edward Said and Jean Mohr’s project. As a photo-essay, After the Last Sky has been referred to as a ‘nation-making’ text that sought to produce a new type of visibility concerning the Palestinian. With this in mind, my paper will focus on an online photo-essay facilitated by the Israeli activist photography collective, Activestills in 2012. Based in the Bedouin village of Susiya, located in the Southern Hebron Hills of the Occupied Territories, the photography collective worked in collaboration with the female villagers to produce a series of images based on their own lives. Thus, firstly, I will explore how the photo-essay challenges the universal legibility of an individual photo, interrupting the visual order by which the Palestinian is most commonly framed. Secondly, by focusing specifically on the collaboration between Israeli citizen and unrecognized Palestinian, I will identify how visual activism promotes a widening of the space in which politics can be conceived and performed. By creating new visibilities, in a political process that Jacques Rancière defines as a ‘sense-making practice’ (2006), visual activism tackles the issues of democracy creatively, not as a goal but as a practice that is democratic in its very development.
The paper was well received and resulted in great intrigue re my PhD thesis. The paper was specifically written with the conference call in mind, but has now become a chapter in my PhD thesis. The conference also afforded me the opportunity to meet up with some old colleagues from the ISA in Buenos Aries, specifically those who make up the ‘Visual Sociology Working Group‘. Since we last meet the group has been upgraded from a thematic group to ‘working group status’- a marker of the good work being done in and around the group and a validation by the ISA that this specific area of research is gaining ground.
Lastly, it should be noted that London was blessed with sunshine for those 3 day, as the view from the opposing terrace after the inaugural wine reception can confirm.
I look forward to next years call!