Banal phenomenologies of conflict: Professional media cultures and audiences of distant suffering

Markham, T. (2020). Banal phenomenologies of conflict: Professional media cultures and audiences of distant suffering. In P. Budka & B. Bräuchler (Eds.), Theorising Media and Conflict (1st ed.). Berghahn Books.


Open access: No

Notes: In this book chapter, Tim Markham explores distant suffering from the everyday and mundane experiences of media producers. In this sense, this text aims to better understand how audiences recognize the way violence is depicted—where there has been argued that the performativity of mediated violence results in compassion fatigue and the spectacularization of harm. As such, this chapter discusses the notion of ‘proper distance’ between audiences and violence. Accordingly, Markhan reports on participant observation and phenomenological interviews conducted in Cairo and Beirut with journalists. Here, he finds that

the experience of mediated violence is not about revelation, of grasping the enormity of things going on out there. It is about an orientation to the everyday world experienced by these journalists and audiences alike affectively, habitually, as given. The way we experience conflict in everyday life does not necessarily hinder grasping what is at stake in it for the individual, group and society as a whole; on the contrary, it is (or can be) the routines and felt experiences that sustain such an awareness and active engagement in environments in which one’s subjectivity and what that affords are not always and already foreclosed. (p 108)

Through this line of thought, Markham argues that it is not the one event of mediated violence that creates or shortens the distance between the audience and the violence. Instead, it is in the mundane—yet significant and political—encounter with these narratives that a wide range of emotional responses are found. As a result, “encounters with conflict through either media production or consumption that appear superficial cannot be read as direct evidence of a lack of engagement with others; that is something worked on over time, not achieved in particular moments.” (p. 111)

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