‘Writing’ oneself into tragedy: 
Visual user practices and spectatorship of the Alan Kurdi images on Instagram.

Paper by Marloes Geboers


Studies into affective publics often involve textual communication. However, emotive communication is increasingly visual. This study zooms in on the representation of the suffering other in seven re-workings of the Alan Kurdi photographs that resonated significantly on Instagram. Chouliaraki’s concept of post-humanitarian solidarity in The Ironic Spectator (2013) is used as a theoretical framework to analyse the content of re-worked images and their post captions. Her concept outlines how distant sufferers tend to be rendered invisible due to the self-reflexive nature of contemporary solidarity. This self-reflexivity gets in the way of solidarity for others unlike us. The study found that, although the sufferer is visually present in almost all re-worked images, the suffering is ‘replaced’ by emotions or political views of the creators. Both Chouliaraki’s ‘distant other’ as well as Markham’s similar other are ways to visually (re)construct the tragedy of Alan Kurdi and the refugee crisis in gen- eral. This study adds to this an understanding of how Instagram users, while visually constructing a similar or distant other, also write themselves – often their personal feelings – into such images. Their public, other Instagram users, engages in self-reflexivity by liking such re-workings, aligning with the com- municated emotions or political views conveyed. In this way, the platform ‘like feature’ intensifies the self-reflexive nature of contemporary solidarity.

Geboers, M. (2019). ‘Writing’ oneself into tragedy: visual user practices and spectatorship of the Alan Kurdi images on Instagram. Visual Communication. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470357219857118