New Book: Peace, Complexity, Visuality (Preview II)

In October, Palgrave Macmillan will publish our book Peace, Complexity, Visuality: Ambiguities in Peace and Conflict. In preparation for the book’s release, we will publish blog posts over the next couple of weeks introducing the book’s different parts.

In Peace, Complexity, Visuality, we argue that we can capitalize on the tolerance of ambiguity enhancing potentialities inherent in visual images – their non-coherence – and thus increase our capability of tolerating ambiguities. Crucially, in a world saturated not only with ambiguities but also with visual images, it is mandatory to think ambiguity and visuality together. We analyze the constructive and peaceful potentialities of ambiguities through an exploration of journalistic imagery in the context of post-war Bosnia and post-siege Sarajevo.

The book contains original photographs taken in Sarajevo between 2018 and 2022. It will appear in the Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies series edited by Oliver Richmond, Annika Björkdahl and Gëzim Visoka.

In a preceding blog post, we introduced the book’s first part, titled Complexity and Ambiguity.


In the book’s second part, titled New Photographies and Visual Ambiguities, we add the concept of visuality to our conceptual tool kit and exemplify it with reference to new forms of visual representation, especially photojournalistic representation, that emerged in the 1990s in post-war Bosnia.

In chapter four, we introduce selected new photographic approaches to war, genocide and violence that emerged in Bosnia and Herzegovina (and elsewhere) in the 1990s. Journalists had recognized that conventional photojournalistic work could not stop violence, although it often managed to raise international awareness and produce memorable photographs. The conventional linkage between photography, awareness and political response that had informed photojournalism since its inception turned out to be simplistic. In this chapter, we develop a typology of the new photographies emerging in Bosnia at that time comprising aftermath photography, forensic photography, post-conflict photography and participatory photography. It is this visual environment within which IR and peace and conflict studies try to make sense of what happened in Bosnia.

In chapter five, we further develop our theoretical background concerning visual images, especially the word–image relationship, and explore how different approaches to words and images affect the extent to which images can be controlled by means of words. An image’s hidden ambiguity awaits rediscovery by curious observers. Viewing, thus, becomes an essentially political act enabling viewers to understand and critically interrogate the politics of interpretation inherent in each single designation of meaning. Indeed, in the digital world, viewers may contribute not only to the evolution of meaning assigned to an image but also, through active interaction, to the evolution of the image. Accepting the existence of ambiguities and explicitly leveraging them, we believe, will create a space to change how we think about ambiguity, control of meaning, difference of perspective and, ultimately, politics and society.

In the following blog post, we will introduce the book’s third part and its case study, Fred Ritchin and Gilles Peress’s Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace.