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Bielefeld Graduate School

in History and Sociology

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Sebastian Lemme

Postcolonial Imaginations, Whiteness and Visual Communication

German Self-Images and Contemporary Representations of Otherness in Media Coverage, 2006-2015

Visuality is ubiquitous and plays a crucial role in many areas of everyday life by affecting relationships between power, knowledge and subjectivities. Nevertheless, sociology neglected its importance for a long time and disregarded the nonverbal aspects of meaning compared to the logos of the spoken or written word. By contrast, recent interdisciplinary advancements highlighted that the visual is central to the representation of meaning and to the cultural construction of social life in contemporary societies. Referring to these theoretical and empirical developments, the dissertation project assumes that visual imagery is never innocent, but always constructed through various practices, technologies, knowledges, and embedded in cultural histories. The research project aims at filling a gap at the intersection of sociological, postcolonial, and media research and seeks to focus on images that refer to markers of belonging in the constitution of subjectivity.

Within this conceptual framework, the dissertation project analyzes dominant representations in visual discourses on migration, asylum and national belonging in German mass media. It takes as its starting point the observation that colonial/racist imagery, Western stereotyping and what Stuart Hall (1997) called "the Spectacle of the 'Other'" can be found in a wide range of visual communication in present media coverage. On the one hand, this raises the question of racialized otherness and (white) imageries of cultural difference, especially if considered from the perspective of postcolonial thought and visual culture studies. Thus, the analysis aims to identify visual stereotypes that are used to classify and exclude what is viewed as the 'Other' and examines how belonging and nationhood is imagined and re-imagined. On the other hand, the analysis asks for whiteness - or more precisely, the racial imagery of white people - and its representational power in contemporary photographs of visual media discourses.

A multi-level analysis of photographs calls attention to the intersection of race, religion, gender, nationality and other markers of belonging in German newspaper discourse on migration, asylum, integration, and national identity between 2006 and 2015. It draws on several sources, including a data collection of 1200 photographs from ten major newspapers (print and online media). The analytical framework is based on two different approaches: A content analysis that asks 'Who and what can be seen in the images?', and a social semiotic approach that analyses representational meanings in press photographs and the ways in which they powerfully interact with their audience. Using Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwe's (2006) systems for interactive meaning, the research project analyses visual material that constitute resources for representing and maintaining an interaction between the producer and the viewer of images: the distinction between making eye contact with the viewer or not, the (social) distance, and the point of view. By means of these methodological frames the dissertation project explores contemporary representations of otherness and asks how images of immigrants, muslims, refugees and asylum seekers influence discursive perceptions of race, religion, and national belonging. It shows that a continuous repetition of photographic stereotypes engenders modes of racialized/gendered boundaries and specific visual ways that perpetuate the opposing we/they-relation as well as German self-images.

Aktuelle Publikationen

  • Lemme, Sebastian (2016): Bilder postkolonial lesen? Forschungsperspektiven auf Selbst- und Fremdbilder in der visuellen Alltagskultur. In: Beck, Laura/ Osthues, Julian (Hrsg.): Postkolonialismus und (Inter-)Medialität. Perspektiven der Grenzüberschreitung im Spannungsfeld von Literatur, Musik, Fotografie, Theater und Film. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, S. 235-252.

  • Lemme, Sebastian (2015): Visuelles Othering und weiße Imaginationen des globalen Südens. Postkoloniale Analyseperspektiven auf Fair Trade-Bildwelten. In: Greve, Anna (Hrsg.): Weißsein und Kunst. Neue postkoloniale Analysen (Kunst und Politik, Bd. 17), Göttingen: V&R, S. 137-154.

  • Lemme, Sebastian (2014): 'Käuflich und konsumierbar' - Fair Trade Werbefotos. In: iz3w, Nr. 343 (Schwerpunktthema 'Fotografie'), S. 26-27.

  • Lemme, Sebastian (2014): Vom Umgang mit kolonialen Straßennamen und postkolonialer Erinnerungskultur. In: Brahm, F./ Brockmeyer, B. (Hrsg.): Koloniale Spurensuche in Bielefeld und Umgebung. Bielefeld: TPK-Verlag, S. 108-119.





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