Bearing Witness: Practices of Witnessing in Geopolitically Marginal Conflicts

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Richard STUPART, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
As part of a cosmopolitan ethical project, the representation of others in need grants us the opportunity, however imperfectly, to make good on a responsibility to people that the media has allowed (or perhaps forced) us to see. The work of producing these representations, of 'bearing witness', involves journalists negotiating an ethically ambivalent position of seeking proximity to suffering for purposes that do not include immediate (or, in the long run, possibly any) assistance for the sufferer. Furthermore, this work takes place within a social space affected by both changes in the political economy of international conflict reporting and a manichaean sociological universe particular to large scale peacekeeping and humanitarian operations that described in existing literature on 'Aidland' and 'Peaceland'.

This paper develops an understanding of the concept of ’bearing witness’ - present in existing work on media witnessing - as being both a discourse used to justify the ethics of journalists’ presence before suffering and a practice requiring material and discursive resources to enact. Based on research examining the case of journalists bearing witness to conflict in South Sudan, I suggest potential forms of this discourse and some of the resources that may enable or constrain its practice.