Faces of Insurgents: Encountering the Taliban through Judith Butler’s Ethics and Jacques Rancière’s Dissensus

Photography and the Greater Middle East

Tuesday, October 18, 2016| Clephan Building, room 2.30, 4-6pm

Open to all – just turn up!


Dr Jenifer Chao (Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University) will deliver the first talk in this term’s Research Seminars in Cultures of Photography series.

The autumn 2016 seminar series is dedicated to the theme of Photography and the Greater Middle East. Dr Chao’s talk, Faces of  Insurgents: Encountering the Taliban through Judith Butler’s Ethics and Jacques Rancière’s Dissensus, will juxtapose Judith Butler’s consideration of wartime visuality with Jacques Rancière’s thoughts on the politics of aesthetics to analyze a collection of studio photographs featuring Taliban soldiers. Known simply as Taliban, the compilation, published in 2003 as a book collection, consists of 49 photographs that capture these fighters through studio photography practices that contrast with the visual coordinates of insurgency and warfare commonly portraying them in popular Western media. This deviating visualization propels two ongoing debates in photography concerning its own function and efficacy: first, the ethical force of the medium at the scenes of war and violent conflicts, as discussed by Butler; and second, the status of photography vis-à-vis art which has emerged out of Rancière’s broader examination of critical art. This paper will argue that while these Taliban images might encourage a compassionate visuality informed by Butler’s notions of precarity and grievability, this potential instrumentalization is problematized by Rancière’s aesthetic dissensus, which facilitates a viewing that actually obfuscates legibility and disrupts meaning. As a result, these photographs contest a visual regime that seeks lucidity for the terrorist-enemy by provoking a more perplexing and enigmatic visual encounter with the Taliban.

In case of queries contact Dr Gil Pasternak gpasternak@dmu.ac.uk