Citizen camera-witnessing: Embodied political dissent in the age of ‘mediated mass self-communication’

Andén-Papadopoulos, K

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Andén-Papadopoulos, K. (2014). Citizen camera-witnessing: Embodied political dissent in the age of ‘mediated mass self-communication.’ New Media & Society, 16(5), 753–769.

Citizen Journalism , Crowd-sourced Video , Digital Activism , Media Witnessing , Neda Agha-Soltan , Social Media , The 2011 Arab Uprisings , Transnational Protests , User-generated Content , Visual Culture

This article interrogates the emerging modes of civic engagement connected to the mobile camera-phone, and the ways in which they require us to rethink what it is to bear witness to brutality in the age of fundamentally camera-mediated mass self-publication. I argue that the camera-phone permits entirely new performative rituals of bearing witness, such as dissenting bodies en masse recording their own repression and, via wireless global communication networks, effectively mobilizing this footage as graphic testimony in a bid to produce feelings of political solidarity. Critically, the performance of what I elect to call ‘citizen camera-witnessing’, as exemplified by contemporary street opposition movements including those in Burma, Iran, Egypt, Libya and Syria, derives its potency from the ways it reactivates the idea of martyrdom: that is, from its distinct claim to truth in the name of afflicted people who put their bodies on the line to record the injustice of oppression.

Main finding
The emergence of mobile phones with embedded cameras is associated with new possibilities for mass self-publication. In this study, which includes analysis of media associated with crowd-sourced handheld videos, the author proposes the term “citizen camera-witnessing” which is defined as "camera-wielding political activists and dissidents who put their lives at risk to produce incontrovertible public testimony to unjust and disastrous developments around the world, in a critical bid to mobilize global solidarity through the affective power of the visual" (p. 754). Citizen camera-witnessing emerges in the post-2001 “visual economy” where in imagery is the “mark of incontrovertible truth” (p. 754) and facilitates connection between viewers and distant suffering, allowing viewers to become “co-witnesses.” Increasingly, many resistance events are created with consideration for their visual impact, and the mere presence of handheld cameras may influence the course of events.

Description of method used in the article
Review of (a) theoretical work and (b) media associated with crowd-sourced handheld camera video and image recording in relation to resistance to repression. In particular, the author interprets the citizen video capture of the violent death of a young woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, in Tehran on June 20, 2009.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

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Archival / Historical
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Geographic locations