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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Badzin Fellow Wahutu Siguru presents on "The Politics of Representation: Genocide, Violence and Mass Atrocity in the Media"

On October 31st, 2013 Badzin Fellow and PhD Sociology candidate Wahutu Siguru presented his latest work on his dissertation at the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Workshop hosted by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and sponsored by the Human Rights Program. Wahutu's dissertation will examine the politics of representation surrounding the depiction of genocide, mass violence and atrocity in the media, particularly exploring African perspectives on Darfur and Rwanda through a comparative lens. During his talk, Wahutu provided background on his subject, and discussed his methodologies, his working analysis, and several conundrums and challenges in his research. A discussion filled with insightful comments followed and added rich dimension to Wahutu's presentation.

Taking on a sociological perspective, Wahutu is investigating media narratives surrounding violent conflict and their impact on how people perceive past and present atrocities. He will analyze how the dominant narratives surrounding past atrocities can form a collective memory that may then influence interpretations of current mass violence, and what implications this production of knowledge has in terms of international policy decisions, particularly on the subject of intervention. As these questions illustrate, media narratives of mass violence embody an immensely powerful enterprise of shaping public understanding, with real human consequences and profound human rights implications. Wahutu addressed the common-found practice of simplification in reporting, as simplification increases the chance of public accessibility and large-scale consumption of media coverage, and thus, also increases the chance of a story's publication. This simplification may result in a convergence and homogenization of narratives, often led by dominant western media sources, which then can morph into a black-and-white global collective conception of a profoundly complex civil conflict. Wahutu cautioned against the tendency for media simplification to lead to an "us versus them" narrative, portraying one group as perpetrator and the other as victim, and failing to acknowledge that individuals on both sides inflicted atrocity and devastation. Moreover, the "us versus them" narrative in media coverage negates the courageous and heroic individuals existing within the "killers", group who act out in defiance against the violence.
Considering the power of media narratives, Wahutu turns his attention to a more acute focus on African media representations of Rwanda and Darfur in a comparative light, looking to shed insight on differences between global and African scripts in media coverage, how media sources' construction of a collective memory surrounding Rwanda has shaped societies' understandings of Darfur, and ultimately, what political and social implications this has on regional and international scales. In carrying out his research, Wahutu is conducting content and context analysis of news reports from leading newspapers in Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, and Rwanda. Wahutu will specifically investigate the perspectives of African correspondents in the reporting process, and in his analysis, he will consider the following: on what types of sources the correspondents rely, the amount of influence these sources have on how the story is later told by the correspondent, and what kinds of frameworks of understanding reporters employ in publishing these stories. Wahutu will also consider the interplay of social forces (i.e. historical context, political stance and publishing pressures) in how correspondents and reporters will choose to construct a narrative using the information given to them by their sources. Through this analysis, Wahutu will then look to draw some connections between prevailing emotional charges surrounding Rwanda, which have been maintained through the collective memories constructed in global and localized media scripts and differ according to scale and location, and conflicting interpretations of Darfur.
The Human Rights Program is excited to stay up-to-date with Wahutu's findings as he continues his research on this ambitious, complex topic, and look forward to the completion of his dissertation, which is sure to be an insightful and provoking contribution to human rights scholarship at the University of Minnesota.
Written by Anna Meteyer