The Emotional and Political Power of Images of Suffering: Discursive Psychology and the Study of Visual Rhetoric

  • Jovan Byford
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS)


Drawing on insights from discursive and rhetorical approaches in psychology, the chapter examines responses to the publication of the photographs of the body of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned off the coast of Turkey in 2015. The chapter considers how and why these images of death and suffering were constructed as inherently ‘moving’, and as possessing the power to elicit emotions, and affect the audience on an instinctive, ‘visceral’ level. It also looks at how accounts of (and for) emotional reactions to the images were deployed rhetorically to manage accountability associated with viewing, and sharing, images of a dead child. Through the examination of the Kurdi images and their impact, the chapter considers the possibility of a psychologically informed approach to visual rhetoric, one that offers a better understanding of how and why certain images (but not others) are constituted as topics of humanitarian concern, and a source of emotional and political investment.


Discursive psychology Peace psychology Photography Refugees Visual rhetoric 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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