Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Journal of Multicultural Discourses
For a Special Issue on
Multiculturalism and the Politics of Visual Representation
17 January 2022
Multiculturalism and the Politics of Visual Representation
With the rise of globalisation and mass migration, multiculturalism has become an important topic of debate. What happens when people of fundamentally different, perhaps even incompatible, habits, tastes and beliefs are forced to live side by side? And how can we best manage this diversity? While these questions are at present particularly urgent, they are by no means entirely novel; indeed, they have been asked by theorists for many centuries – for example, by Herder, Voltaire, and Nietzsche, to name but a few. Yet these thinkers approach the issue from markedly different empirical angles. For instance, while Herder and Voltaire are more concerned with the political and linguistic dimensions of cultural pluralism, we find that Nietzsche is equally interested in how such pluralism is represented in aesthetic media – for instance, in music, poetry and opera, but also in specifically visual media such as painting and architecture. One of the principal reasons that Nietzsche analysed aesthetic artefacts was because he believed they offered an insight into the socio-cultural health of the political communities in which they were produced. In this way, visual media can be said to function as a form of cultural diagnostic.
In the 1980s, the topic became popular within Anglophone academia, namely, under the heading of "multiculturalism". This development was perhaps most conspicuous in the field of political philosophy, and particularly in the work of Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka. The focus of this debate tends to centre on whether minority cultures have a right to self-preservation. Those who argue that there is indeed such a right, then explore the range of further rights and legal dispensations that should accrue to members of minority cultures. Whereas Charles Taylor claims a Herderian heritage, Kymlicka broadly dissociates himself from historical treatments of multiculturalism. But whether or not these Anglophone philosophers of multiculturalism see themselves as part of an ongoing historical project, they all similarly neglect a key part of the history of cultural theory, namely, Nietzsche's emphasis on the diagnostic value of visual media.
Fortunately, this is not true of all recent multicultural theory. Beyond the confines of Anglophone political philosophy, visual culture plays a far more prominent role (see e.g., the work of Bo Christensen or Karina Horsti). This is perhaps most notably the case in post-colonial theory and the history of art. Theorists in these fields, often seeking to develop and empirically apply the ideas of Michel Foucault and Edward Said, expose the way in which visual artefacts disclose intercultural power relations. Theorists in cultural studies have also begun to move beyond the discourse of multiculturalism, for instance by focusing on notions such as "conviviality" (e.g., Les Back and Shamser Sinha) or "cultural appropriation" (e.g., Bell Hooks).
This Special Issue continues this line of research by seeking to further clarify the role that visual culture plays in ongoing debates about multiculturalism across a diverse range of empirical contexts. Visual culture is not merely a reflection of power but constitutes power through the production of discourses, meanings, and cultural signs . In recent years, the politicisation of visual culture has attracted considerable attention from academics, journalists, governments, and civil society activists in the context of debates about migration, nationalism, and the rise of the far-right in many countries. Critical scholarship has documented the role of visual culture in politics as a site of meaning-making, performance, contestation, and resistance. Recent studies have examined visual and linguistic discourses about cultural diversity in specific media, such as comics and graphic novels, art museums, infographics, and maps. However, there remains a lack of broader comparative and interdisciplinary work theorising the interplay between what Latour calls ‘visualisation and cognition’, that is, between visual culture and ways of understanding multiculturalism.
We invite contributors to this Special Issue to address this gap by critically analysing how multiculturalism is represented in different visual media using approaches and methods from cultural studies, philosophy, political science, anthropology, sociology, history, and semiotics. We seek papers which articulate the various ways in which more traditional forms of media, such as news reportage, television, fine art, or film, are used to communicate ideas about cultural diversity, as well as papers considering newer and emerging forms of media, such as music videos, street stickers, and data analytics. We encourage papers which provoke thinking on both the use of discourse on multiculturalism by government actors, state institutions, and private businesses, as well as individual cultural production and counter-culture movements. Thematically, we invite contributions which examine the intersections between multicultural politics and issues of nationhood, race, ethnic and religious minorities, and gender and sexuality, and especially encourage papers that bring non-Western perspectives to these issues. By reflecting on a range of dynamics of culture and power processes embedded in discourse on multiculturalism, this Special Issue aims to elucidate the politicisation of visual culture and its role in shaping our understanding of multiculturalism in the contemporary world.
We invite the contributors to critically reflect on the following overarching questions with respect to their case studies:
How are everyday visual representations of cultural diversity used by various actors to provoke thinking on power relationships and the politics of multiculturalism?
What is the relationship between visual culture and linguistic meaning-making?
How is multiculturalism visually represented in different ways depending on the specific geographical, social, and political context in question?
What is the normative significance of visual culture for shaping public perceptions and influencing policymaking in such a way as to improve intercultural relations?
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