Refugee Selfies and the Media of Migration (with Eszter Zimanyi)

In this week’s episode, guest Eszter Zimanyi discusses her article “Digital Transience: Emplacement and Authorship in Refugee Selfies” which analyzes “refugee selfies” collected from Instagram’s Explore Places map feature as an alternative viewpoint on the so-called 2015 European refugee crisis. Zimanyi argues that that refugee selfies are best conceived as a form of digital transience that provide the refugee with a sense of emplacement in a particular location along with an archive of their movement across locations. At the same time, these digital posts also prompt a disruptive affective charge that forces other viewers of the image to contend with the precarity of the refugee’s existence in any location.

“I was thinking about the affirmative power that the process of putting yourself on the map provides you in a period of time in which you have an incredibly unstable relationship to place. You’re moving, you don’t know where, or when, or if you might be apprehended and deported. That sort of instability and that uncertainty is answered with this act of map making, which is in many ways so simple, but it’s also a way to take ownership of your own narrative and to give yourself a sense of coherence to what’s happening: ‘Where am I, where did I come from, where am I going? I can see it.'”

Episode Transcript (opens as PDF)

Show Notes

09:47 about the 1951 Refugee Convention in Geneva

13:20 brief explanation of differences between “refugee” and “asylum seeker”

24:26 brief explainer on the dominant frames for representing migrant men and women

26:15 example of scholarship on the feminist potential of women’s selfies

27:00The Gestural Image: The Selfie, Photography Theory and Kinesthetic Sociability” by Paul Frosh

30:46New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualizing camera phone photography and locative media” by Larissa Hjorth and Sarah Pink

44:00Family b/orders: Hungary’s Campaign for the ‘Family Protection Action Plan’” by Eszter Zimanyi

About the Guest

Eszter Zimanyi is a PhD Candidate and Annenberg Fellow in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California. Her work has been published in Transnational CinemasVisual Anthropology, Feminist Media Studies, Media Fields Journal, Intermedialities, and Docalogue, among others. She is a former co-programmer of USC’s Middle East Film Screening Series and served as a consultant for The Wende Museum’s 2019 exhibit, “Watching Socialism: The Television Revolution in Eastern Europe.” Her research interests include migration, diaspora, and refugee studies; global and transnational media; postcolonial and postsocialist studies; militarism, documentary and digital media.