Visual research of migrations and other border experiences. What about politics and aesthetics?

Convenors: Annalisa Frisina (University of Padova), Valentina Anzoise (University of Ca’ Foscari, Venezia) and Camilla Hawthorne (University of California, Berkeley)

In the past decades one of the most widespread advancements across the social sciences has been the growth of visual research. Qualitative researchers have become more interested in understanding how visual materials shape social life and have learned to dialogue with visual studies, i.e. studying visual culture as an ongoing contestation between visuality and counter-visuality (Mirzoeff 2011). Moreover, ethnographic research has often included a variety of visual methods (Frisina 2016; Pauwels 2015), especially collaborative or participatory, working with visual materials produced by the participants, by the researchers, sometimes in cooperation with professional photographers, film-makers and visual artists.

This panel aims to bring together the two sides of visual research (the study of visual culture and the uses of visual methods in ethnography) in order to explore migration and other border experiences by reflecting on the role played by visual representations in reproducing patterns of differential inclusion, in challenging exclusion and in negotiating ways of belonging in material and symbolic borderlands, peripheries and margins around the world. Building on the work of Mezzadra and Neilson (2014) on the proliferations of borders in contemporary global society, the panel seeks to reflect on how visual research can contribute to the study of the production of new classed, racialized/ethnicized, and gendered configurations of insider/outsider to the nation-states and deserving/underserving of socio-political forms of solidarity. Understanding borderscapes as areas “shaped and reshaped by transnational flows, that [go] beyond the modernist idea of clear-cut national territories” (Dell’Agnese and Amilhat Szary 2015, 80), the panel explore visual borderscapes as “signifying systems”, with specific histories and ways of seeing that are constantly reinterpreted in different ways by diverse social actors. Furthermore, the panel aims to open a dialogue on the ways of connecting border experiences with border representations, by rethinking the relationships between politics and aesthetics (Brambilla 2015).

In order to hold this conversation, the panel welcomes empirically-grounded papers that study borderscaping (also) as visual practices through which the imagined border is established and experienced as real. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: the performative nature of borders and ways through which visual objects – but also music and arts – (un)make the border; visual research of de- and re-bordering processes; ways of doing visual activism to challenge dominant representations and hegemonic discourses; visual borderscapes as sites of resistance and struggle.

We especially welcome works where the positionality of the visual researcher is questioned and which make explicit the role played by the visuals in the research process and in the research presentation.

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