Focusing on the heartbreaking photograph of Alan Kurdi - the three-year-old Syrian refugee whose small body washed up on the shores of Bodrum, Turkey in 2015 - this talk begins by exploring our persistent hope that images of injustice will have the power to catalyze progressive transformation. At the same time, however, there remains widespread belief in the inevitability of ‘compassion fatigue’. Bringing philosophers of habit into conversation with contemporary scholars of affect, visual culture and digital media, I argue for a more nuanced understanding of the links between images and change – one in which political feeling and political action are complexly intertwined and repeated sensation does not necessarily lead to disaffection. When affect acts as a ‘binding technique’ compelling us to inhabit our sensorial responses to images, I suggest, we may become better attuned to everyday patterns of seeing, feeling, thinking and interacting – and hence to the possibility of change at the level of habit. This talk thus contends that thinking affect and habit together as imbricated may enable us to better understand the dynamics of both individual and socio-political change today.
Carolyn Pedwell is Associate Professor in Cultural Studies at the University of Kent, where she is Head of Cultural Studies and Media. Carolyn has been Visiting Fellow at the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney; the Centre for the History of Emotions, Queen Mary, University of London; and the Gender Institute, London School of Economics. She is the author of Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy (Palgrave, 2014) and Feminism, Culture and Embodied Practice (Routledge, 2010). Her third monograph, Transforming Habit: Revolution, Routine and Social Change, is under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press. She is also an Editor of the journal Feminist Theory.