Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: How can images ‘do and undo’ politics? When do visual texts (media representations, graffiti, performance art, music videos, fashion, YouTube serials) respond to political events, conflicts, and crises and how do they shape them? What political power do images carry, and how do they produce, frame, and/or transgress normative gendered identities and sexualities within wider circuits of power? Taking the gendered politics of images as our subject matter, this panel explores the many ways meaning is mediated through images and uncovers how that meaning also mediates relationships. Visual cultures, our papers show, often act as a battleground where conflicting forces of resistance and domination struggle for recognition.
Our approach to the visual form is led by Stuart Hall’s (1994) work on cultural production. Hall made the infamous case that popular culture is a site in constant motion: at once a process that contains social disruption and shapes dominant interests, identities, and worldviews, and - conversely - a forum for up-ending such controls and substantiating new ones. Taking this debate to the context of the Middle East, we further draw on Marnia Lazreg’s (1988) decolonizing approach to knowledge production, and specifically her conceptualization of culture and cultural production as a site of contestation where conflicting agendas, but also epistemic and conceptual frames compete over representational authority. In this context of collision between different forces and framings, and focusing mainly on gender politics, our panel interrogates racialized, classed, ethnic, national, and settler-colonial operations of gendered power in and through visual culture.
Using different case studies (graffiti and street art, music videos, media representation, and YouTube serials) on diverse Middle East themes and locales (Palestinian youth culture, displaced persons in Europe, global north representations of Arab ‘first’ ladies, and the Baharna indigenous population in Bahrain), our papers analyse the ways in which different forms of visual cultural production open up and/or foreclose possibilities of interpretation, subversion, and/or disruption of power hierarchies. Overall, our panel calls for understanding cultural production beyond a one-dimensional understanding of power as all-out resistance, or total domination. By showing the complex, contradictory, and unstable gendered work that images can do, we offer an alternative vision of the visual form that frames it as an ambiguous site of both dissent and control.
Marnia Lazreg (1988) Feminism and Difference: The Perils of Writing as a Woman on Women in Algeria, Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 81-107
Stuart Hall (1994) “Notes on Deconstructing the Popular” in Storey, J. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, Hertfordshire: Harvester Whatsheaf, pp. 455-466.