FLÜCHTIGE BILDER:
AFFEKT // REPRÄSENTATION

Eine trans- und interdisziplinäre Veranstaltung an der Universität Hamburg

Visual Framing of Refugees on Twitter: The Visual Representation of the Refugee Crisis at the Twitter Account of Melissa Fleming (UNHCR)


Twitter has become an important tool of political communication and is intensively used in the current „refugee crisis” by a variety of migration governance actors. Twitter allows for creating new forms of political accountability and has intensified exchange between institutional actors, such as the UNHCR and less institutionalized groups, such as (pro-and anti-) immigrant groups and actors across the globe. Images are a crucial element on Twitter to strategically spread messages, affect both particular actors and a broader public, and eventually mobilize support for certain demands.

In view of this background the paper looks at visual representation of the refugee crisis at the Twitter account of Melissa Fleming (@melissarfleming), Chief Communication and Spokesperson at UNHCR. Fleming has been recently declared by the British newspaper the Guardian as one of the TOP 10 Humanitarians to follow on social media. In June 2016 she had 40.000 followers, which is a significant number. According to analytical software Klear.com Melissa Fleming is a rather active user on Twitter, tweeting 2.6 times per day, and she is also quite popular, given that she receives 1,830 retweets per 100 tweets.

In order to capture changes and dynamics in the imagery (especially mages of flight and fleeing images) and the underlying understanding of migration over time, the paper looks at both patterns of representation and the affective potential of images within a prolonged time span, from 1 December 2015 to date. This choice is based on the fact that during that time the political environment significantly altered, pushed and legitimized to some extent by the widely politicized and racialized New Year’s attacks by migrant men in the German city of Cologne.

The methodological approach used in this paper combines visual frame analysis and political iconography.


Leila Hadj-Abdou (PhD) is a migration scholar focusing on international migration governance, immigrant integration and immigration policies, and the populist right. She currently works in an NGO project for unaccompanied minor refugees in Austria, and is an external lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Vienna. Previously she was a Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield (UK), exploring the understanding of international migration held by international migration governance actors in Europe and North-America (in the framework of the ERC project MIGPROSP led by Andrew Geddes); and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Transatlantic Relations in Washington D.C.

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