Daniela Lenčéš Chalániová: Seeing is Believing? Images of Refugees in the Czech Media Discourse and Risk-related Societal Transformation

9. 3. 2017
v 16:00 hodin zasedací místnost 207, Jilská 1, Praha 1

Sociologický ústav AV ČR, v.v.i., a katedra sociologie Institutu sociologických studií FSV UK si Vás dovolují pozvat na jarní cyklu Čtvrtečních sociologických seminářů.

In the late 1980s, Ulrich Beck theorized a shift within modernity – from late industrial modernity into a reflexive one – as a result of our technological progress which becomes a source of uncertainties and risks whose nature challenges the existing social structures, and over time leads to societal transformation. Beck theorized, that we are living in a so-called risk society – a society befallen by failing traditional institutions (in both meanings of the word), globalized risks, individualized collectivities detached from the social order and sub-political actors who reflexively challenge the legitimacy and authority of the elite eventually changing the socio-political order (Beck 1992, see also Beck 1999). Thirty years later (the original German edition was published in 1986) this shift seems to be taking place.

First, due to technological progress, the existing economic and socio-political order around us seems to be under strain as institutions (such as governments, media, political parties) are losing the ability to grapple with complex problems that transcend national borders, ranging from economic crises that spill over from country to country, threats to security ranging from proliferation of non-state actors and terrorism, through environmental degradation and climate change, to mass migration, all magnified by the forces of globalization. Second, living in an age of information with a TV, computer and a smartphone in virtually every Western household, we become spectators to and, to some extent, even participants in events we would otherwise never have witnessed, and of course we become opinionated. In an era of information overload: while the quantity of information we are exposed to every day has risen dramatically, quality of that information is decreasing as more and more actors create and share their own contents. With all this superfluous information competing for our attention across multiple platforms – television, internet, newspapers, social networks – danger lies precisely in giving up and giving in, leaving reflection behind as one can “prove anything on the internet”, and give in to emotion.

Thus, within the theoretical framework of risk society, the aim of this paper is to explore the “mechanics” of migration related “risk knowledge” production in the new media – internet and social networks. The case to be examined is the Czech Republic – a country which is neither a target nor a transition country for refugees migrating across Europe, yet in the summer of 2015, fear of migrants took the better of Czech society accompanied by a surge in anti-systemic movements, populist rhetoric and tanking trust in institutions such as the government and the European Union. In particular, I’m interested in the visual media – specifically photography as it represents both truth and opinion/emotion – and the interaction, if any, between mainstream traditional society and anti-systemic knowledge production.

What kinds of knowledge on migrants/refugees are produced in the mainstream online media and across social network groups? How are the refugees/migrants visually represented? What kinds of facts, meanings and emotions are associated with the communicated photographs? What kinds of images of refugees/migrants dominate? Does the knowledge produced indicate migration as a risk? Can we observe contestation in knowledge production between traditional and anti-systemic visual discourses that would indicate individualization and/or fragmentation of the current social order? Do social media allow for such individualization?

Daniela Lenčéš Chalániová, Ph.D. currently works as the Dean of and a Lecturer at the School of International Relations & Diplomacy, Anglo-American University. Her interests encompass European integration, identity and democratic legitimacy, visual communication, visual discourse of photography and political cartoons. 

Pořádá Sociologický ústav AV ČR, v.v.i., a katedra sociologie Institutu sociologických studií FSV UK.