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Special Issue on Affective Witnessing

Abstract Deadline: 30 October 2019

Editorial Information

Guest Editors:
Michael Richardson, School of Arts & Media, UNSW, [email protected]

Kerstin Schankweiler, Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Science, TU Dresden, [email protected]

Executive Editor:
Eric Prenowitz


At a time when political unrest, social movements and technological change ripple the fabric of nations, communities and cultures, bearing witness is an increasingly significant act. To bear witness means not only giving an account of an experience and making it accessible to others, but also entails affecting and being affected by the world, by others, by the event itself. In bringing together critical and cultural theories of witnessing and affect, this themed issue aims to offer new perspectives on forms, practices and politics of witnessing.

Witnessing is how we make sense of events, how we determine their meaning, significance and even truth. It is, as John Durham Peters (2001) claimed, how we become responsible to what has happened. To bear witness is to be brought within the intersection of the political and the ethical and in doing so to be caught in a thick web of relations. This web of relations begins, first and foremost, with the affective bonds between the witnessed, the witness and their co-witnesses. Yet this affectivity is often elided or relegated to the background in political philosophy and critical theory on testimony.

“Affective witnessing” provides a new paradigm for understanding all witnessing as inherently relational and inescapably bodily, as well as describing a particular mode of witnessing in which affect itself is what is witnessed. New forms and practices of “media witnessing” (Frosh, Pinchevski 2009) have brought this specific mode to new prominence. In our contemporary moment, the necessity for understanding witnessing as affective increases as media technologies proliferate. We live in “an era of becoming a witness” (Givoni 2011), one in which the modes, forms, capacities and potentials of bearing witness are rapidly changing. New devices, cameras and sensors make possible the transmission and circulation of testimony, setting veracities of experience on a collision course with post-truth culture. Now more than ever, corporeal and technological practices, tools and techniques of witnessing are increasingly co-composed: entangling, converging and diverging in unexpected ways. The capacity of media to generate, circulate and modulate affect (Gibbs 2001, Dean 2010, Papacharissi 2014) means that the economies of meaning within which witnessing takes place are also increasingly affective, transitory and contested. All this has consequences for what witnessing does, for the production of veracity and the formation of witnessing communities.

Testimonies of body transformations on social media, witnesses in the courtroom, photographs of fugitive encounters, taking note of the minor gestures of events—an expansive, affective account of witnessing opens up space for these and countless other sites, situations and techniques of bearing witness. This themed issue seeks contributions that investigate the affective dimensions of witnessing. Topics might include but are not limited to:

  • Politics, affect and witnessing
  • Media technologies and affective witnessing
  • Affective witnessing in the arts
  • Witnessing as community practice
  • Witnessing, affect and social media
  • Image testimonies
  • Theories and methods of affective witnessing

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Submission Instructions

Abstracts of 500 words along with bios of up to 150 words, should be submitted to the editors by 30 October. Full papers will be required by 1 December.

Works Cited:

Dean, J 2010, Affective Networks, MediaTropes eJournal, vol. II, no. 2, pp. 19–44.

Frosh P & Pinchevski A (eds) 2009, Media Witnessing. Testimony in the Age of Mass Communication, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke et al.

Gibbs, A 2001, ‘Contagious feelings: Pauline Hanson and the epidemiology of affect’, Australian Humanities Review, 24. Available from: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-December-2001/gibbs.html. [31 January 2018].

Givoni, M 2011, ‘Witnessing/Testimony’, Mafte’akh: Lexical Review of Political Thought, no. 2, pp. 147–169.

Papacharissi Z 2014, Affective Publics. Sentiment, Technology, and Politics, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York.

Peters, J D 2001, ‘Witnessing’, Media, Culture & Society, 23, 6, pp. 707–723.