Dilemmas of representation: organisations’ approaches to portraying refugees and asylum seekers
Mackenzie Green, Andonis Marden, Maira Seeley, and Kristiina Wells
Intergovernmental and nongovernmental organisations use images of refugees and asylum seekers to reach out to potential donors, inform their respective audiences, and demonstrate the positive impacts that the organisations’ activities have on the populations with whom they work. This pilot study seeks to better understand how organisations choose these images and what they hope to communicate with them. By interviewing representatives involved in the image selection process at both large and small organisations with a variety of outreach efforts and humanitarian goals, we investigate the decision-making procedures behind the images that connect subject and viewer. Our findings focus on (1) relationships formed between organisations and the audiences they target through images of refugees and asylum seekers, (2) relationships between organisations and the subjects of images they use, and (3) organisations’ strategies to position themselves in the 'humanitarian marketplace’ (Crisp 2010: 75) through image use. We then use the anthropological concept of gift exchange relations (Weiner 1992; Mauss 1990), as well as concepts of solidarity and 'post-humanitarianism' (Chouliaraki 2011: 364), to identify the implications of these relationships for both organisations and the subjects of the images they use. We end with suggestions for further investigation into the creation and use of images of refugees and asylum seekers.