Guantanamo Bay and Discourse Analysis

The Duck of Minerva writes on experiences at the recent ISA conference, highlighting exceptional multimodal discourse analyses of the images of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The Duck ponders what I agree is now a pressing question: given current technologies, should academia not find a way of recognizing non-print research output (e.g., documentary films, online visual work)?

I attended several panels on discourse analysis. One panel focused on the study of images as discourse and featured two innovative graduate student papers investigating the discourse of photographs of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The two papers revealed just how powerful these images have been world-wide, impacting the understanding of the US occupation of Iraq and War on Terrorism. Gitmo, in part, has become such a powerful international symbol because of the images the world has seen of prisoners there. As a field, we have historically focused on discourse as text, privileging the primary discourses of speeches and archival records. As a discipline, we ask researchers to publish papers and present without access to LCD displays. The presenter of the Gitmo paper managed to put up some color overheads, which made her presentation significantly more effective. And my question to them was–why are you writing a paper about pictures?

It would seem to me that there is room in the field for us to innovate beyond the 10,000 word journal article and engage the Web and digital media. James DerDerian, who was discussant on one of these panels, is doing some remarkable work with documentary film. The two papers on images would be so much more powerful as multi-media enterprises but the field has no way to recognize that. And, ISA has no way to present that to a panel.

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