Interdisciplinary Research Workshop

'Disappearing War: Cinema and the politics of erasure in the war on terror'

This workshop took place at the Minghella Studios at the University of Reading on Monday 13th April, 2015. It drew together speakers from a range of different disciplines including filmmakers, to explore the processes of erasure readable in media representation of military action linked to the 'war on terror'.

The workshop is part of a British Academy-funded cross-disciplinary research collaboration between Dr Lisa Purse, Associate Professor of Film in the Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading, and Dr Christina Hellmich, Reader in International Relations and Middle East Studies in the Department of Politics and International Relations. More information about the project can be found here.

 

The event was funded by the British Academy, hosted by the Department of Politics and International Relations and the Department of Film, Theatre and Television under the FAHSS Rights and Representation research theme, and was supported by the Centre for Ways of War and the Centre for Film Aesthetics and Cultures at the University of Reading.

 

Call for Papers

The war on terror and the battles that have been fought in its name have fuelled a rigorous debate about the changing nature of war. Is the war on terror even a war? Should we think of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 as large-scale counter-terrorism / counter-insurgency operations rather than wars in the traditional sense? Highlighting the effects of technological advances, drawing on statistics and the alleged precision of modern warfare, some scholars have moved to argue that war is declining and the idea of peace is gaining traction in the world. Others, emphasizing the complex experiences of war, reject claims of war's disappearance. They argue that that it is the geography of wars that is changing and that new spaces such as counter-terrorism operations in the West are increasingly more war-like. What these emerging notions of contemporary war lack is a meaningful engagement with the full extent of collateral damage and the experience of its victims. In more theoretical terms, what is missing from the debate is a focus on the fragmentary evidence on which our knowledge of contemporary war is based. The unprecedented level of technologization and visual mediation that marks the experience of life in the here and now raises an acute question: how do we know war?

The privileged act of analysing at a remove from the geographical theatres of war entails that we experience the characteristics of modern war by proxy. Specifically, the proliferation of visual media interventions make visible that to which we have no direct access. As a consequence, visual media becomes the new battle ground for war to take place, shaping understandings of what war is, what it does and what it does not do. Cinema, with its wide reach and powerful affective potential, has the ability to make visible to us, and in a sense allows us to experience, the wars from which we are physically removed. At the same time, the ability of cinema to select what we see engenders a necessarily partial view which carries the risk that wars' brutality is simply erased from the picture.

The workshop seeks to address these different processes of erasure and their consequences for our understanding of modern wars: What is made visible, and what is not? How do we experience what we see and hear? What are the consequences of these impressions and experiences for our understanding of contemporary wars?

We invite 20-minute papers on the above topic, and particularly welcome those that address some of the following questions:

Battlegrounds

  • Can we view the body as a site of war?
  • Are hotels, boardrooms and offices the new battlefields?
  • How can we characterize these recent arenas, protocols and technologies of war and counter-terrorism?
  • To what extent do 9/11 and the War on Terror represent a 'break' or shift away from traditional conceptions of battleground and fighting?
  • Are notions of absence and presence reconfigured in this new technological and geopolitical context, through war 'at a distance', fighting 'by proxy'? .

Bodies and death

  • To what extent do we see an avoidance of death and dying in the visualization of war and counter-terrorism?
  • Are other processes of erasure at work, such as the erasure of the victims of collateral damage, such as in the so-called 'precision bombing' of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Technologies

  • Might we view the technologies of war and of its visualization as technologies of erasure?
  • Does this challenge the idea that modern war technologies allow a totalizing vision?
  • What are the socio-political and cultural consequences of erasure for how we know war?

Narratives of war:

  • What kind of narratives do we actually encounter about war these days?
  • How do forms of fiction and non-fiction filmmaking intersect with real-world geopolitical, social and cultural narratives?
  • How are narratives of loss and trauma, causality, heroism, and moral imperatives expressed, complicated and interrogated by forms of fiction and non-fiction filmmaking?
  • How does cinema negotiate a path between representation and politics?

Please send proposals of 300-500 words, 5 keywords and a brief biographical note to Christina Hellmich and Lisa Purse by 1st September 2014. We hope to offer some travel bursaries to speakers.

The workshop is hosted by the Department of Politics and International Relations and the Department of Film, Theatre and Television under the FAHSS Rights and Representation research theme, and is supported by the Centre for Ways of War and the Centre for Film Aesthetics and Cultures at the University of Reading.

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