“Witnessing and Gender in Digital Publics” (working title)
Researcher: Dr. Saskia Sell
Witnessing manifests itself as privileged proximity (Peters 2001) in media discourse. It is the basis of our mediated realities and a central – yet at the same time highly ambivalent – element of credibility. Journalistic reporting, civil society communication and personal digital communication and exchange of experiences in social networks – all of them draw their authenticity from the witness perspective. Witnessing itself is a process as well as a subject position which actively contributes to the transformation of events and to the shaping of our worldview. With the mediatized distribution of testimony comes a distribution of responsibility. Witnesses and their testimonies appeal to us, they call for immediate action, they enable documentation and archiving for future action of future generations. They make defensive lies, used to make the powerlessness many experience when faced with their own inability to change current circumstances or prevent distant acts of violence more bearable, impossible. We-did-not-know-this is no longer sayable. Testimonial knowledge (Schmidt 2011) circulates under new conditions and with accelerated speed in and through digital media – conditions that challenge the subject position of witnessing.
This project analyzes these discursive dynamics with a specific focus on gender and gendered witnessing: How is gender being constructed within the subject position of the witness in digital publics? Whose testimony and what kind of testimony is represented and distributed as true, trustworthy and credible? Which discursive practices are used in this process? Which witness and what kind of testimony are denied credibility and trustworthyness? The analysis combines Gender Studies perspectives with Journalism Studies perspectives – embedded in a transdisciplinary discussion of the concept of witnessing and its social and cultural meaning. Concentrating on discursive practices of attribution and negation of credible witnessing in journalism and social media, it can contribute to the disclosure of testimonial injustice (Fricker 1998) related to gendered subject positions.
Dr. Saskia Sell is a Research Associated and Senior Journalism Studies Lecturer at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies of Freie Universität Berlin. She wrote her doctoral thesis on the discursive negotiation of Freedom of Communication in Recursive Publics and she currently leads the Training Newsroom at the institute’s MedienLabor.
Period: June 2018 to January 2019