Representations of Children of War by Aida Izadpanah

This reading list concerns the representation of war-affected children. Here, the phrase war-affected refers to children who have been directly exposed to a war event or subjected to any of the long-term effects of war, such as “displacement, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, political instability, interrupted education, unhealthy living conditions, discrimination, and a lack of resources for ‘youthful pleasure’” (Daiute, 2010, p. xvi). Most perceptions and understanding of experiences of war-affected children come from sources such as news media, reports of humanitarian aid workers, and research into conflict areas. Across these contexts, images are very powerful sources of information that are prone to political and economic appropriation. Images in these contexts document the reality of modern war (such as the public killing of innocent civilians), but at the same time they also become a commodity, and are therefore prone to exploitation (Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996).

Being a spectator to distant suffering is a relatively modern experience, and our understanding of distant others’ experiences of war is largely the result of the impact of their imagistic representation (Campbell, 2003; Sontag, 2003). In Sontag’s words, a photograph acts as a contemplative site, in which the meanings of images result from complex processes of the “interplay of the photographic representation, its location, accompanying text, moment of reading, as well as the frames of reference brought to it by the reader/viewer” (Sontag, 2003, cited in Campbell, 2003, P.101). Scholars have shown the processes of producing imagery of human distress to be socially-constructed and therefore prone to various political and economic uses and abuses (Bleiker & Kay, 2007; Campbell, 2003; Hoijer, 2004; Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996; Konstantinidou, 2008; Messenger-Davis, 2004; Papademas, 2004; Sontag, 2003; Well, 2007). States and governments, according to their interests, have managed and manipulated news media coverage of war and people’s experiences in war contexts. The dominant victim-code maintained by the media tends to portray images of children, women, and the elderly as the “better” or even the “ideal,” victims (Hoijer, 2004).

The phrase rhetorical function of images means that the selection of images is directed to serve a specific purpose (Wells, 2007). Children, in particular, serve certain rhetorical functions in the coverage of war and disaster (Hoijer, 2004; Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996; Konstantinidou, 2008; Messenger-Davis, 2004; Papademas, 2004; Well, 2007). For example, Wells has stated: “In war reporting, images of children are critical sites on which narratives about the legitimacy, justification and outcomes of war are inscribed” (Wells, 2007, p. 55). Many images of children of war, however, do not inform viewers about the everyday experiences of children’s lives within war and post-war situations (Messenger-Davis, 2004). This amounts to a failure to recognize the essential role of context in life practices that is emphasized by significant theories of human development (Barker, 1968; Bronfenbrenner, 1978; Vygotsky, 1978).

Conscientious visual representation would enable viewers to understand the agency of the violence it depicts. Once the actual agency of violence is indicated, then viewers can begin to formulate informed responses (Andersen, 1989). A systematic analysis of the rhetorical function of representations war-affected children is required to understand how these representations are generated and what ends they actually serve. This reading list bases such analysis on criteria established by United Nations children’s rights documents (CRIN, 2009; Hart, 1992; 1999; Hodkigns &Newell, Unicef, 2007) and on strategies gathered from close reading of prior discourse analyses that consider both verbal and non-verbal symbol systems as communications (Daiute & Lightfoot, 2004; Daiute, 2010; Parker, 1999; Rose, 2007). The goal is to understand what visual representations imply about children’s voice. For this purpose, the reading list addresses the following matters: psychological research and practices on war-affected children, conceptual and methodological problems in the discourse of trauma, necessity of developmental and ecological approaches to research and practice on war-affected children, discourse of problematic imagery, multi-media representations of war-affected children used on websites of humanitarian organizations, importance of the concept of “cultural tool” in analysis of images and their corresponding textual material, significance of a children’s rights approach, and need for promoting self-representation of children through participatory photography as a valuable cultural tool.

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