We live in a visual age. Television, film, photographs, new media sources and artworks decisively influence how we perceive and deal with political phenomena as diverse as war, terrorism, refugees and financial crises. But we know surprisingly little about the exact nature and impact of this visual power. The purpose of this initiative is to address this gap. Building on existing strengths and resources, we forge new interdisciplinary and large-scale collaborations within HASS as  well as across UQ and internationally. Our goal is to establish UQ as a world-leading research hub for visual politics and make us competitive for major external funding sources.

Images increasingly mediate our engagement with the material, social and political  world. The UN Secretary General, for instance, regularly urges  photojournalists to produce more images of atrocities that seem to exist in silence and demand urgent action. New social media platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and photoblogs, play crucial roles across the political spectrum, from terrorist recruitment drives to social justice campaigns. High profile visual artists, such as China’s Ai Wei Wei, provide influential platforms for political dissent. Working with images and thinking about visual artefacts is essential to engage with political problems.  But existing studies have largely been discipline bound. While fields such as art history or media, communication and museum  studies  have  long  examined visual representations and artefacts, we know little about the implications of this visual world for public debates and policymaking. Addressing this gap is all the more pertinent since new technologies now allow for the speedy and easy distribution of still and moving images across national  boundaries, posing  fundamentally new political and ethical challenges. In short, we live in an era of radically new image consciousness and we are yet to understand how this influences political thought and action.

So how can we understand the increasingly important role that images and visual artefacts play in shaping political events and phenomena?

The main aim of this project is to address these challenges and to place UQ at the global forefront of one of the most cutting edge and important research domains: visual politics. Building on a well-­established and vibrant research cluster, the program will facilitate new interdisciplinary and large-­scale  collaborations  across  HASS  schools  and  archives  as  well  as  across  UQ and internationally. Our research program will be the first of its kind in Australia and one of very few world-­wide, significantly advancing UQ’s research capacities, international  recognition and engagement with the wider community. 

Our ultimate goal is to firmly establish UQ as a world-­leading transdisciplinary research hub for visual politics.

Our key interdisciplinary pilot projects:
  • How Images Shape Responses to Humanitarian Crises (Bleiker, with  Beeston, Caso, Duncombe, Campbell, Hornsey, Hutchison)

This project emerges out of a current ARC Discovery Grant that examines how images, and the emotions they engender, shape responses to humanitarian crises. Scholars largely recognize that images play a key role in communicating catastrophic events to distant audiences, but we still lack a precise understanding of various important issues involved, including why we respond differently to different humanitarian crises. By comparing media representations of a genocide, natural catastrophe, refugee crises  and  pandemic, we will offer scholarly and policy-­relevant insight into how exactly images procure a willingness to alleviate human suffering. We then establish collaborative links with Humanitarian Non-­Governmental Organizations to explore the effectiveness of images in raising awareness of humanitarian crises. Components include: Workshop that brings together scholars and policy makers (preliminary links to Oxfam, Safe the Children, Mercy Corps); Master class for ECRs with Prof David Campbell on the visual politics of distant suffering (with over 7000 Google Scholar citations Campbell is one of the leading scholars in visual politics).

  • Politics, Ethics and Aesthetics of the New Visuality (O’Regan with Dowden, Jacobs, Koh, La Caze, Logan, Nannicelli, Mukandi)

We will build on several ARC-funded activities (Jacobs on “The  Persistence  of  Television”; O’Regan  on “Media Transformations” and  Nannicelli  on “Television Aesthetics and Ethics”) to explore how contemporary changes in media production, reception and distribution create a new “politics of visuality.”  We now see a rapid fusion of traditional media and interpersonal communication. Viewers are no longer solely spectators and consumers, but have become active contributors to an increasingly interactive and global media-­landscape. The project examines the profound political, aesthetic and ethical consequences that emerge from these transformations. Components include: Three mini-­workshops that deal with “Criticism and Aesthetic engagement”, “Ethical Dimensions” and “New Imagined Communities”; An edited book collections and journal issue.

  • Media Lab: Covering Conflicts and Disasters (Weber, with Louw and Kaempf)

We will make use of a state of-the-art Media Lab, which monitors worldwide television coverage at several key channels simultaneously: making the media lab available to scholars across the faculty and to offer corresponding training sessions; establishing a team of interdisciplinary scholars who will analyse the collected data to examine how conflicts and disasters are visually depicted and what kind of political and ethical consequences follow.  Components include: Workshop to introduce the Media Lab and its use to researchers across HASS; Training manual resource for all users; Collaborative journal articles.

  • Living Archives (Whitlock, with Ahrens, Angus, Bleiker, Hebbani, Hutchison, Were)

This project builds on Whitlock’s ARC Professorial Fellowship that examined asylum seeker testimonies, aiming to integrate the archival collections in HASS – the Fryer Library, UQAM and the Anthropology Museum – into a research culture. HASS archives have unique resources for research on campaigns for social justice in the Asia Pacific region; on indigenous  peoples, asylum seekers, and genocide. The project focuses on links between visual and material culture, generates collaborative partnerships with these repositories, and develops new methodologies in scholarly communication and digitisation. Components include: Workshop on social justice through the integration of visual and verbal testimonies; Exhibition on Bringing the Archives to Life. In collaboration with National Museum of History on Hanoi; A recognition tool for semi-­automated conversion of handwritten letters into a digital text-­based format; Summer Scholar Program to provide students with opportunity to work on a handwriting recognition model.  

  • Australian Indigenous Art and Global Black Power (Butler, with Bell, Bleiker, Brigg, Cochrane, Douglas, Graham, Finn, Turnbull)

We will examine Australian Indigenous arts’ involvement in a global Black Power movement from the 1970s to the present, and how the visual arts can advance radical political thinking and action. The interdisciplinary industry-­engaged research team includes art historians, political  scientists, artist/activists, curators, and scholars in Indigenous and theatre studies. We examine the impact of this Black Power arts movement on the present through collaboration with two prominent artists who played key roles in the struggle for African-­American and Aboriginal rights respectively: USA’s Emory Douglas and Australia’s Richard Bell. Key components: Residency and keynote lecture by Douglas at UQ Art Museum; Workshops conducted by Bell and Douglas for UQ researchers; Collaborative publications.

  • New Methods for Visual Politics  (Angus with Byrne, Carah, Rybak, Wiles)

We aim to advance analysis of visual social media using advanced computational methods. Social media platforms are primarily visual, yet the development of analytic tools and research is overwhelmingly focused on textual content. The focus on the textual over the visual skews the development of insight and theory about the uses and applications of social media within public life. We will develop a methodology and software platform with significant applications for research on links between images and political phenomena. The project involves members from HASS as well as from the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, which has agreed to provide access to their Tesla K40 Supercomputer. Activities include: Develop a prototype image recognition utility for the semi-­automated classification of images from the Instagram social media platform; Workshop about existing digital methods for visual analysis; Joint-publications.


Roland Bleiker, the Program Leader, has played a leading role in introducing visual issues to the study of politics. He has authored more than 100 journal articles and  book  chapters, seven  co-­edited  and  three  single-­authored  books,  most  recently  Aesthetics  and  World  Politics.  His forthcoming volume on “Visual Global Politics” is the first comprehensive and cross-­disciplinary take on the topic. It features 50 chapters by leading scholars, including several program members and all our international collaborators.