Matthias Humer forsvarer sin ph.d.-afhandling ved Institut for Statskundskab



Visual Vulnerability and the Iraq War: The Family Home and the Army Base as Gendered Sites.


Afhandlingen kan lånes via Det Kongelige bibliotek.

Tid og sted

Tirsdag den 6. juni 2023 klokken 14:00-17:00 på Københavns Universitet, Center for Sundhed og Samfund, lokale 1.1.18. Af hensyn til kandidaten lukkes dørene præcis klokken 14:00.

Resumé (på engelsk)

As US and coalition forces deployed to Iraq in 2003, along them around 800 photographers joined the troops to relay images from the war back to Western news audiences. This dissertation takes the starting point in the photographs they took of Iraqis and Armed Forces to inquire the gendered politics of the Iraq war. As spectators encounter subjects in the photographs, ideas about who fights, who is vulnerable, and who is in need of protection are reinforced or challenged. In order to develop an understanding of these complex gendered politics of the Iraq war beyond clichés of mourning women and heroic soldiers, this dissertation introduces the concept of “visual vulnerability”.

Bringing visual and feminist theory together, visual vulnerability is constituted as spectators and photographed persons are exposed to each other in the space mediated by the image’s relations. This concept helps to understand the complex gendered politics of the Iraq war by underlining a wide set of physical and emotional vulnerabilities of Armed Forces and Iraqis. It emphasizes how policy and media discourses constitute subjects, but also lets the gaze wander to new locations of vulnerability through a theoretically guided reading. It highlights that spectators can always propose new interpretations, which enables revisiting the historical images of the Iraq war to see new locations of vulnerability. This creates the potential of images as challenging some of the narratives that have become attached to them.

Mobilizing visual vulnerability, the dissertation conducts a qualitative analysis of images of subjects at two different sites – the Iraqi family home and the army base – focused on relations and practices. First, at the site of Iraqis’ family homes, it proposes a study of how the everyday is interrupted as US forces are present in Iraqis’ kitchens and living rooms. Second, at the site of army base, it provides analysis of the everyday of soldiers and their practices of grief, love, and desire. Visual vulnerability complicates the spectator in the relation with photographed persons to emphasize that a recognition of vulnerability is always a potentiality, which enables imagining different politics. This destabilizes the dichotomies structuring war such as civilian/military, friend/foe, the combatant/non-combatant, and how these are gendered, classed, and racialized.