New ARC Funding for a Collaborative Project on Visualising Humanitarian Crises

The Visual Politics Research Program is delighted to announce that one of its pilot projects, led by Prof Roland Bleiker and involving an interdisciplinary team of eight collaborators, has been awarded an ARC Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council.

Titled “Visualising Humanitarian Crises: Transforming Images and Aid Policy,” the project has been funded for $694,366 over four-years. It involves four prominent Partner Organisations that are at the forefront of humanitarian and photojournalistic work: The World Press Photo Foundation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières.

The aim of the project is to draw on the power of images to transform practices of aid. Prevailing visualisations of humanitarian crises are powerful but problematic. They often focus on violent events, suggesting that we are overwhelmed by problems and unable to find solutions. Add to this that crisis imagery tends to portray victims in the Global South in stereotypical ways, as passive and dependent on Western help. Doing so reinforces hierarchical power relations and can undermine policy initiatives that seek to develop local capabilities, build autonomy and value non-Western ways of being.

Solutions are not easy to find. Many humanitarian organisations are conscious of existing problems but they also know that stereotypical images of suffering victims generate compassion in Western viewers and are effective fundraising tools.

The project addresses these challenges by developing – and testing - alternative visual strategies that depict humanitarian crises in ways that encourage compassion for victims without entrenching problematic stereotypes. Expected outcomes include both scholarly contributions and new best practice guidelines that better equip humanitarian organisations to help people in need and contribute to enduring political solutions.

To pursue these goals the project brings together a diverse group of scholars – stemming from international relations to psychology, photojournalism, marketing and policy analysis – with leading industry partners and humanitarian practitioners.

Prof Bleiker will work with five other Chief Investigators: A/Prof Emma Hutchison, from the School of Political Science and International Studies; Prof Matthew Hornsey and Dr Cassandra Chapman from the UQ Business School, as well as A/Prof Sana Nakata from the University of Melbourne and Prof Bina D’Costa from the Australian National University. 

Involved as well are two Partner Investigators: Prof Fiona Terry, Head of Research at the ICRC, and Prof David Campbell, formerly Director of Communication at World Press Photo and now with The VII Foundation.

Ultimately, the project not only contributes to more effective policies but also builds interdisciplinary research capacity across the social sciences and humanities and between university and industry.  A key part of this consists of opening up possibilities for postgraduate students and early career scholars.

The project will support a postdoctoral fellow, two Ph.D. scholars and emerging photographers to help transform how we see and approach humanitarian challenges.

Further details will be announced later this year.

Clockwise from top-left: A/Prof Emma Hutchison, A/Prof Sana Nakata, Prof Bina D'Costa, Prof David Campbell, 
Prof Fiona Terry, Prof Matthew Hornsey, Dr Cassandra Chapman, Prof Roland Bleiker