Writing 305: The Politics of Visual Rhetoric

Lilie Chouliaraki: The Ironic Spectator

In this work, Lilie Chouliaraki undertakes the difficult task of pointing out the systemic inequalities and hierarchical structures at work in mediating human suffering. The selected chapter (2) lays down a conceptual framework for the analysis of the “imaginary,” allowing the reader to become familiar with the author’s viewpoint. To this end, Chouliaraki presents a definition of humanitarianism and posthumanitarianism, solidarity or irony.

The author is primarily concerned with various manifestations of normative morality in the mediation of suffering. For instance, Chouliaraki argues that, sometimes, mediation of suffering can be rendered “a paradoxical affair that threatens to undermine the ethical dispositions it intends to cultivate” (p. 28-29). In this sense, the “spectacle of suffering” rather undermines one’s moral aims through two major paradoxes of humanitarian communication: authenticity and agency.  Solidarity, then, becomes skewed.

Perhaps, the author could have included a deeper discussion of when the beneficial strategies proposed to “fix” the paradoxical manifestations of humanitarianism may not be effective. However, the generally excellent analysis is of paramount importance, contributing to the flourishing literature on unequal power relations vis-à-vis media, humanitarian efforts and suffering as a normative concept.

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