The Biopolitical Dimension of the Representation of Images of Atrocity: Newspaper Coverage of Serbian-run Concentration Camps and Abu Ghraib Prison

Sitah AlQahtani

Advisor: Alison Landsberg, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Jessica Scarlata, Hatim El-Hibri

Enterprise Hall, #418
March 19, 2020, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


In our contemporary era, images have been used as a tool to visualize torture, violence and war. This dissertation identifies the role photographic images play in both representing and constructing biopolitical spaces: spaces that were established in times of war to manage groups of people deemed unworthy of life by powerful nation-states. The two spaces explored in this dissertation are the Serb-run concentration camps that were established at the onset of the Bosnian War in 1992 and Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003. The photographs published in newspapers exposed these spaces of atrocity and at the same time exploited and violated the bodies of the imprisoned Muslims. Therefore, this dissertation argues that photography is a double-edged sword, both revealing and making visible the spaces of atrocity, but in doing so, furthering their biopolitical work. The images of atrocity printed in mainstream media such as newspapers, by means of specific framings and contexts, achieve certain biopolitical ends such as degrading the enemy, establishing biopolitical hierarchies, creating a racialized image and establishing a platform for voyeurism and spectatorship. In analyzing these images, this study relied on three key components of newspaper imagery: presentational layout or visual framing, captioning, and textual references. Using these three components, this dissertation proposes a visual analysis and close reading of the photographs from the Serb-run camps and Abu Ghraib Prison while identifying key distinctions between newspapers from different parts of the world. The Western newspapers in their framing of the photographs participated in biopolitics whereas the Middle Eastern newspapers endeavored to resist the biopolitical representation of Muslim bodies in an attempt to avoid exploiting and degrading them.