Conflict and Images in the Digital Age – University of Copenhagen

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26 January 2017

Conflict and Images in the Digital Age

Conflict and Images

Mette Mortensen, associate professor at Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication (MEF), has received a big grant from the VELUX Foundation to study how digital communication technologies fundamentally change the circulation of images from conflict areas.

The purpose of the project is to create new substantial knowledge on how digital images and connective media transform the way conflicts are represented and played out in a number of empirical contexts.

- For several years, I have been doing research on how digital media change the public's access to images from areas of conflict. Images from conflicts used to be controlled by state and military, but are now produced and distributed in abundance by citizens, activists, soldiers, insurgents, whistle-blowers etc. across media and borders. As a result, the news media no longer enjoy monopoly on conflict reporting and state/military are no longer able to censor the image flow, says Mette Mortensen and continues:

- In my past research, I observed the rapid changes to this field and, at the same time, also took note of how it remained relatively unstudied by researchers. I think this might have to do with how the relationship between images and conflicts fall in-between the two research areas communication and aesthetics, which we will attempt to bridge in this project. 

The battle in Aleppo - a recent example

During the battle in Aleppo in the fall and winter of 2016, testimonies produced and distributed by civilians trapped in the besieged city were circulated on social media and entered into the established news media:

- This is one of the recent examples of how the digital flow of images changes conflicts. According to some commentators, the images functioned as a wake-up call about the humanitarian catastrophe within Aleppo. Others maintained that this was “fake news” and “propaganda”. In any event, the videos and photographs taken by civilians were all over social media and news media, and this formed a stark contrast for example to the way conflicts were represented in the 1990s when a military perspective was prevalent, says Mette Mortensen.

An example is the 7 years old syrian girl Bana Alabed who got the attention of the news media when she on her Twitter account reported on Aleppo from the inside:

About the project

The project is called Images of Conflict, Conflicting Images and is funded by Velux Foundation with 5.609.578 kr. It will officially begin on 1 February 2017 and run for 4 years.

The core group consists of seven participants:

  • Associate professor Mette Mortensen, MEF (principal investigator)
  • PhD student Ally McCrow Young, MEF
  • Postdoc Jun Liu, MEF
  • An additional postdoc will be recruited
  • Associate Professor Bolette Blaaggard, Aalborg University, Copenhagen
  • Associate Professor Solveig Gade, Aarhus University
  • Associate professor Christina Neumayer, IT University of Copenhagen

The project will employ quantitative methods derived from communication studies, social sciences, and the emerging field of digital humanities such as social network analysis and quantitative content analysis to study distributive patterns. In addition, qualitative methods from the humanities such as discourse analysis, visual framing analysis, and semiotic analysis will be used to analyse the genres, aesthetics, meanings, and performativity of images.