Visual Methods in Global Cooperation Research, International Workshop & Visuality and the Populist Appeal, 24th Käte Hamburger Dialogue

Event Reports

Visual Methods in Global Cooperation Research - International Workshop

Within the last decades, the dramatic increase of the use of visuals by political and social actors called for a visual turn in the social sciences and humanities. More than ever, visuals are consumed and distributed by many actors, particularly over the internet. Their use serves multiple purposes and can enhance or hinder global cooperation in various ways.

On the one hand, visuals help to convey feelings of kinship between large groups of individuals and allow actors to overcome the limitations of written sources, such as language. On the other hand, visuals may tap into racialized and gendered stereotypes, engage in practices of othering or manipulation, and contribute to disinformation.

In order to explore to the potentials of visual methods, the Centre for Global Cooperation Research (KHK/GCR21) hosted a workshop organized by Katja Freistein (Helmut Schmidt University), Frank Gadinger (KHK/GCR21), Christine Unrau (KHK/GCR21) and Nicole Doerr (KHK/GCR21 and CoMMonS Copenhagen) on May 5th, 2022.

This workshop brought together eleven scholars who introduced their current research on the use of visuals by political and social actors:

Nicole Doerr (KHK/GCR21 and CoMMonS) looked at how far right and extremist gendered identities are translated from the U.S. to Germany and how visuals, such as memes of Pepe the Frog are used to create a feeling of 'otherness' in specific dimensions such as gender. Populism was further discussed by Axel Heck (University of Kiel), who highlighted the role of media in covering populist protests, which should be understood as populist visualities. Katja Freistein, Frank Gadinger, and Christine Unrau contributed to the panel by discussing visuals from right-wing and populist groups and showed how women are objectified in visuals and thus used to project plans and strategies of populist right-wing parties.

The aspect of gender was also broached by Amya Agarwal (University of Freiburg) who presented her work on the interpretation of murals of grieving mothers and graffiti exchanges in the Kashmiri resistance, while Lisa Bogerts (IPB Berlin) discussed the multiple dimensions of political street art in Latin America.

Ofra Klein (European University Institute) showed how the Covid-19 pandemic was contested on social media platforms such as Instagram through visuals and the use of the latter by the youth, and how visuals reinforce dynamics of 'us versus other'. Visuals related to pandemics were also discussed by Katharina Krause (University of Tübingen) who introduced the use of actor-network theory in relation to visual methods and discussed the pandemic suit as an 'icon' of pandemics.

The use of visuals by officials was also discussed by Nina Schneider (KHK/GCR21) who introduced official short films from Brazil under military dictatorship as propaganda which resonated with the work of Gabi Schlag (University of Tübingen), who discussed visual discourse analysis and its various dimensions in relation to 'fake' images. Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt (KHK/GCR21) introduced his research on visual legitimation and 'going personal' in international organizations' social media communication by using visuals of famous figures within IOs to create a feeling of kinship. The Centre's Associate Fellow Bidisha Bishwas (Western Washington University) focused on the individual by tracking her father’s journey as a refugee to India from East Pakistan by the use of visuals, therefore reflecting on new visual methods.


Visuality and the Populist Appeal – 24th Käte Hamburger Dialogue

The 24th Käte Hamburger Dialogue aimed at shedding light on the use of visuality by populist groups and how visuals, whether posters, memes, or videos, are crucial in the strategy of the far-right to provide an identity to their supporters but also to convey political messages to a broader audience.

It focused on the role of visuality and narratives in practices of (de-)legitimation: What images are used by right-wing populists to tell their stories about the struggle of a pure people against a corrupt global elite? What (pop-)cultural repertoires do they tap into to create resonance with their target audience? Which narrative and visual strategies do right-wing populists use to make their own nationalist or imperial visions of world order appealing?  Reunited under the moderation of Nicole Doerr the four panellists shared their expertise on the role of visuality in populism.

Bernhard Forchtner (University of Leicester) discussed the aspect of visuality and climate change and the melodramatic note with which the story is conveyed. He also reflected on the gender dimension of certain visuals, and in the supposed lack of agency of far-right voters versus the frightening agency of some other actors such as climate change activists that are often the target of populist groups. The gender component in visuality and populism was also highlighted by Emilia Palonen (University of Helsinki), who presented her work on populism in Finland and Hungary, and discussed the billboards’ visuals used during the recent presidential campaign in which Viktor Orban was elected for the fourth consecutive time in April 2022. She showed how gender, such as in images picturing a mother and a child, or distrust feed the dynamics of populism in Hungary.

Paolo Gerbaudo, who is a Reader in Digital Politics and Director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King's College London, discussed the use of symbols in social movements and populism. By showing photographs of the Arab Spring or the Gilets Jaune, he showed how symbols such as the Egyptian flag or a simple yellow jacket provide a sense of unity and identity to a highly diverse group of people who engage in contestation. Finally, Melanie Schiller, University of Groningen, discussed visuality and populism in relation to music and more particularly Swedish right-wing bands. Through the use of visuals that can be characterised as 'cute' and 'fashionable' she pointed to the 'popification' of the radical-right with a change of aesthetics that intends to break with masculinity that was so far associated with such music.

All in all, the speakers of this Käte Hamburger Dialogue shared important insights from their research on the populist appeal with a wider audience. They also complemented various ongoing research projects on the role of (visual) narratives in right-wing populism at the Centre and beyond. The fruitful discussion among panellists, moderator, and participants will certainly be continued.


Victoria Derrien and Andrew Costigan