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Frithjof Nungesser: Studying the Invisible. Experiences of Extreme Violence as a Methodological Challenge. [Abstract]

The study of extreme violence confronts researchers with a number of methodological challenges. This applies especially to approaches in violence research that focus on visual materials. Drawing on research on experiences of violence and resistance in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, this article discusses two key sets of problems connected with the (in)visibility of violence. Problems of contextual (in)visibility result from various aspects of the context under study (e.g., spatial layout, access control, media technologies). An analysis of Guantánamo and its visual representations suggests that, quite generally, visually-oriented violence research needs to reflect the availability, selectivity, framing, and contested nature of its materials. In contrast, problems of epistemic (in)visibility do not result from the contexts studied but from the way they are studied. These problems become particularly relevant when examining the acts and experiences of those affected by violence. I argue that the dominant methodological approach to violence and culturally entrenched concepts of victimhood promote the neglect of the victims’ experiences, subjectivity, and agency. Therefore, research needs to search for alternative ways to approach phenomena of violence – for example, by analyzing non-visual materials, such as personal documents of victims. Referring to accounts of former Guantánamo inmates, some of the challenges of such an approach are discussed. Overall, I conclude that that questions of (in)visibility need to be considered in every study on violence – both as an important condition of analysis and as an essential aspect of the phenomena analyzed.

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