The picture as security policy – University of Copenhagen

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27 April 2010

The picture as security policy

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The Muhammed crisis showed how a set of satirical drawings may prompt a crisis in regard to security policy, and, since 2005, we have witnessed numerous other events in which pictures have played a somewhat charged role. The latest addition is a leaked recording from 2007 in which an American military helicopter engaged and killed at least 12 civilians in a suburb outside Iraq's capital. And picture's ability to prompt a crisis in regard to security policy is the exact topic that Lene Hansen will address in her professorial inaugural lecture at the Department of Political Science.

As newly appointed professor, Lene Hansen presents her latest research project on Thursday 29 April 2010. In continuation of her previous research into, among other things, security policy and national identity, the project emanates from the fact that, till now, research into security has concerned itself with pictures only to a limited extend:

- Within the past 5 to 6 years alone, we have encountered numerous examples of "visual security policy". Consequently, it is important to research whether there is anything about a picture that turns it into a separate kind of communication in regard to security policy. Through my previous research, it has become clear that visual elements pressurise decision-makers in different way than written and oral statements and accounts, says Professor Lene Hansen.

More than thousand words
Lene Hansen is of the opinion that three specific factors apply in relation to pictures:

- Firstly, a picture has direct access to emotions; we say that a picture says more than thousand words. Among other things, this is due to the fact that, even when considering any potential usage of Photoshop, pictures document incidents in a way in which words are unable to do. Secondly, pictures are understood across linguistic borders, but are often interpreted in different ways. Thirdly, pictures often depict persons, whereas politics are about groups and collective entities. The result is that e.g. a picture of a woman wearing a burka may come to represent groups of e.g. women, Afghans or Muslims, and the viewer may come to interpret the picture in political terms, says Lene Hansen.

From picture to politics
Such factors make it a constant political battle to decide the meaning of pictures:

- Even if we shoot strong pictures, as the one of the twin towers burning on 11 September, that in itself does not define a policy. It depicts that the towers were attacked, but could have been interpreted as an isolated event rather than a declaration of war. My research is about the battles that are fought by a large number of players to provide a picture with a meaning.

The professorial inaugural lecture is open to the public. The lecture will be conducted in English, but Lene Hansen is more than happy to elaborate in Danish in subsequent interviews.

Time and place
Centre for Health and Society, Department of Political Science, Øster Farimagsgade 5, Building 4, 2nd floor, Room 26 on 29 April at 14.00. The reception will start at 15.00