Publication details

Refugees as Icons : Culture and Iconic Representation


BINDER Werner JAWORSKY Bernadette Nadya

Year of publication 2018
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Sociology Compass
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

Keywords refugees; iconicity; visuality; culture; iconic representation; photography; Alan Kurdi
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Description The September 2015 photograph of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy, lying facedown and dead on a Turkish beach, quickly became an iconic representation of Europe's “refugee crisis.” Even though images of distant suffering of refugees have become ubiquitous, only a few become iconic. It is this cultural process of iconization that often bedevils sociologists interested in visuality. How does an image gain the necessary currency to sway public opinion or even policy making? Why do some photographs elicit profound compassion that transcends the borders of its particular context? In this review, we explore how various authors have addressed these questions, focusing on the iconic images of Alan Kurdi. The “iconic turn” in cultural sociology and in the social sciences more broadly speaking offers theoretical and methodological insights for the analysis of images such as those depicting refugees and asylum seekers. For this reason, we situate the current work in the field of refugee photography within the framework of cultural sociology, even if many of the scholars discussed are from other disciplines.
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