Advertisement

Watching to Witness: Responses Beyond Empathy to Refugee Documentaries

  • Sukhmani KhoranaEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter takes the preoccupation with empathy in Australian documentaries advocating for asylum seekers as a point of departure to look at alternative modes of responding. The focus here is on audience responses to ‘Freedom Stories’ (Steve Thomas 2015) that uses the community screening model, and puts the spotlight on former refugees who are now Australian citizens. Reactions to the film, recorded through a pilot study at the University of Wollongong, are analysed through the lens of Roger Silverstone’s notion of ‘proper distance’ in an attempt to unpack the difference between spotlighting one’s own feelings (or the conventional use of ‘empathy’ in humanisation discourses), and perceiving the feeling of the other in a way that is likely to lead to responsibility action (what I call here ‘witnessing’).

Notes

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Associate Professor Tanja Dreher and Professor Bronwyn Carlson, who were co-chief investigators on the FCG project on which this chapter is based. Many thanks also to our very able research assistants—Dr Trent Brown, Ashleigh Johnstone, and Dr Poppy de Souza.

References

  1. Bleiker, Roland, David Campbell, Emma Hutchison, and Xzarina Nicholson. 2013. The Visual Dehumanisation of Refugees. Australian Journal of Political Science 48 (3): 398–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown, Sarah. 2013. What Is Mandatory Detention? The Asylum and Refugee Law Project (Blog), July 8. https://uqrefugeeresearch.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/what-is-mandatory-detention/. Accessed 24 Oct 2017.
  3. Cast from the Storm (film). 2016. David Mason. Dir. Australia: Missing Archive Productions.Google Scholar
  4. Chasing Asylum (film). 2016. Eva Orner. Dir. USA: Nerdy Girl Films.Google Scholar
  5. Cheezum, Rebecca R., Chris M. Coombe, Barbara A. Israel, Robert J. McGranaghan, Akosua N. Burris, Sonya Grant-White, Ashley Weigl, and Michael Anderson. 2013. Building Community Capacity to Advocate for Policy Change: An Outcome Evaluation of the Neighbourhoods Working in Partnership Project in Detroit. Journal of Community Practice 21 (3): 228–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Constance on the Edge. 2016. Belinda Mason. Dir. Australia: Constance on the Edge Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
  7. Cover, Rob. 2013. Undoing Attitudes: Subjectivity and Ethical Change in the Go Back to Where You Came From Documentary. Continuum 27 (3): 408–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dreher, Tanja. 2009. Listening Across Difference: Media and Multiculturalism Beyond the Politics of Voice. Continuum 23 (4): 445–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Einspruch, Andrew. 2017. Alternative Finance and Distribution for Documentaries. Truly Free Film (blog). http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/06/alternative-finance-and-distribution-for-documentaries.html. Accessed 19 Nov 2017.
  10. El-Enany, Nadine. 2016. Aylan Kurdi: The Human Refugee. Law and Critique 27: 13–15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10978-015-9175-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Freedom Stories. 2015. Steve Thomas. Dir. Australia: Flying Carpet Films.Google Scholar
  12. Go Back to Where You Came From. 2015. Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). http://www.sbs.com.au/programs/go-back-to-where-you-came-from. Accessed 7 Aug 2017.
  13. Harris, Anne. 2011. “Singing into Language”: Sudanese Australian Young Women Create Public Pedagogy. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 32 (5): 729–743.Google Scholar
  14. Kirkpatrick, Heather.2014.Email Correspondence with Author. Transcript Available on Request.Google Scholar
  15. Kirkwood, Steve. 2017. The Humanisation of Refugees: A Discourse Analysis of UK Parliamentary Debates on the European Refugee “Crisis”. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 27: 115–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Khoo, Olivia. 2014. Missing Water: Imagination and Empathy in Asian Australian ‘Boat Stories’ on Screen. Continuum 28 (5): 605–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Khorana, Sukhmani. 2015. Self-Distribution and Mary Meets Mohammad: Towards Ethical Witnessing. Studies in Australasian Cinema 9 (1): 66–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mary Meets Mohammad. 2013. Heather Kirkpatrick. Dir. Australia: Waratah Films.Google Scholar
  19. Mortensen, Mette, and Hans-Jörg Trenz. 2016. Media Morality and Visual Icons in the Age of Social Media: Alan Kurdi and the Emergence of an Impromptu Public of Moral Spectatorship. Javnost – The Public 23 (4): 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nikunen, Kaarina. 2016. Media, Passion and Humanitarian Reality Television. European Journal of Cultural Studies 19 (3): 265–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nuemann, Klaus. 2012. The Politics of Compassion. Inside Story (Blog), March 1. http://insidestory.org.au/the-politics-of-compassion/. Accessed 26 Oct 2017.
  22. Pedwell, Carolyn. 2014. Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Power, Paul. 2010. Australian Attitudes to the Acceptance of Refugees. Summary of speech given to Racism Revisited: Anti-racism Leadership and Practice Conference, Murdoch University, Perth. Accessed 7 Aug 2017.Google Scholar
  24. Refugee Council of Australia. 2014. Mandatory Detention. Last Modified May. https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/fact-sheets/asylum-seeker-issues/mandatory-detention/. Accessed 20 Oct 2016.
  25. Ristovska, Sandra. 2016. Strategic Witnessing in an Age of Video Activism. Media, Culture & Society 38 (7): 1034–1047. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443716635866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Silverstone, Roger. 2007. Media and Morality: On the Rise of the Mediapolis. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia

Personalised recommendations