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Protest Movements and Spectacles of Death: From Urban Places to Video Spaces

Advances in the Visual Analysis of Social Movements

ISBN: 978-1-78190-635-4, eISBN: 978-1-78190-636-1

Publication date: 1 March 2013


Much scholarship has looked at how radical politics and its symbolism are framed and distorted by the mass media, while less attention has been devoted to how the symbolic imagery of violence and death is used in activists’ self-representations. This chapter provides one such alternative angle by probing how “visual protest materials” are creatively used in activists’ own videos to pass on stories of communion and contestation.It interrogates how activist video practices mirror the continuum between physical places and mediated spaces in political activism by analyzing a thread of videos circulating on YouTube that commemorate people who have died in connection with three protest events across Europe, putting on display the “spectacles of death” punctuating each of these events. The analysis draws on social semiotics, in particular the work of Barthes (1981) and Zelizer (2010), to examine how death is used as a visual trope to signify the ultimate prize of taking to the streets. This chapter suggests how agency and meaning travel back and forth between offline and online spaces of activism. Engaging with some implications of this interplay, the chapter argues that, in the quest to document truth and induce realism and immediacy, tensions between fact and fiction emerge in the creative appropriation and remixing of images. Finally, it demonstrates how the cityscape is recruited to document and dramatize the spectacle of death as part of a larger struggle for semiotic resources within the protest space and over media representations of social movements more generally.



Askanius, T. (2013), "Protest Movements and Spectacles of Death: From Urban Places to Video Spaces", Doerr, N., Mattoni, A. and Teune, S. (Ed.) Advances in the Visual Analysis of Social Movements (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 35), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 105-133.



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