Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict

Visual culture and ethnic conflict  

In July 2008 the Asch Center appointed documentary photographer Jonathan Hyman as Associate Director for Visual Culture and Ethnic Conflict.  This appointment recognizes the central role that visual expressions and enactments (films, videos, photos, posters, murals and other paintings, flags, parades,  monuments, memorials,  buildings, cemeteries and other sacred sites, clothing, badges, tattoos) can play in long-term conflicts. What is especially interesting is that such expressions perform a range of roles in ethnic conflict and mass mobilization. They are important as indicators of conflict, as activators or inhibitors of conflict, and as causes of conflict. As indicators they offer important insights into how the parties in conflict view each other and what they see as particularly important to their own group; as activators or inhibitors their invocation can increase or decrease the extent to which groups perceive threats or fears and evince a willingness to act upon them; and as causes of conflict, enactments and expressions serve as frames that make various forms of action more or less likely. Visual culture is a significant aspect of ethnic conflicts and their management because images often provide a powerful language through which differences are articulated. One of the many challenges to Asch in this area is better understanding how visual culture contributes to ethnic mobilization and how it can play an important role in peacemaking and peace building as former opponents move to settle long-term differences.

Visit the Asch Visual Culture galleries.