Blog Post

Dr. Lilie Chouliaraki - Face and the ethics of the refugee selfie (webinar recording)

By: Marco Campana
November 6, 2021

Professor Lilie Chouliaraki (London School of Economics and Political Science) delivered this keynote address on April 14, 2021 as part of the UBC Centre for Migration Studies' "New Media Aesthetics of Migration" Virtual Workshop. In this keynote, she proposes a new understanding of the refugee selfie as moral practice.


Extending our current approaches to the digital genre of the selfie as an aesthetic or techno-social practice, this new understanding stems from two places. First, it stems from the function of the selfie to confront us with the face of the other (as a locative ‘here I am’ and an existential ‘here I am’) and, in so doing, to make a demand for a moral response. Second, it stems from the capacity of the selfie to flow, both horizontally across social media (intermediation) and vertically onto mainstream news platforms (remediation). As both face and flow, the ethics of the selfie becomes particularly relevant in research questions around human mobility as well as other around excluded or marginalized groups that struggle for visibility in western media spaces.

Her starting point is the European refugee crisis and its extensive media coverage. She asks, What does it mean for refugee selfies to circulate on western news platforms? In which ways are they inserted in ‘our’ visual economies? How is their news value justified? And what role do these justifications play for western media not only as news platforms but also as moral and political spaces? By addressing these questions through the lens of the selfie as moral practice, she seeks to show how the face of refugees is systematically subjected to the institutional flows of western media that appropriate, marginalise or displace this face in our digital screens -- a practice that I call "symbolic bordering."

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