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Images of torture: Culture, politics and power

Carrabine, E (2011) 'Images of torture: Culture, politics and power.' Crime, Media, Culture, 7 (1). 5 - 30. ISSN 1741-6590

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Abstract

The digital recording of torture at Abu Ghraib has left pictures which are likely to be the defining images of the war in Iraq. This paper is an attempt to understand the images and why so many critics sought to locate the origins of the cruelty in US popular culture. Internet pornography, reality television and campus humiliation rituals are among the sources said to have inspired the brutality. While such explanations are more than plausible, they ignore the much longer history of violent representation that figures in the European classical art tradition, which all too frequently has justified imperial ambition, colonial conquest, and belief in racial superiority, while eroticizing bodies in pain. In the rush to situate the images well within the terms of a lowly popular culture a fuller understanding of their visual power is lost, as is their place in the cultural politics of torture more generally. The paper begins by outlining influential understandings of photography and atrocity images, before considering the differing explanations of the abuse. In taking a cue from recent scholarship in 'trauma studies', the argument is that human suffering should not be reduced to a set of aesthetic concerns, but is fundamentally bound up with the politics of testimony and memory - issues that have been pursued in some of the images produced after Abu Ghraib and which are discussed in the final section of the paper. © The Author(s) 2011.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Jim Jamieson
Date Deposited: 06 Jan 2012 11:34
Last Modified: 05 Feb 2019 18:15
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/1814

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