University of Sussex
Dix, Benjamin James.pdf (206.15 MB)

Graphic violence: representing conflict and migration through visual narratives

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posted on 2023-06-09, 04:07 authored by Benjamin James Dix
The Ph.D. focuses on the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that ended on 19 May 2009 with the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers, and the death and disappearance of between an estimated figure of 75,000 and 146,679 Tamil civilians and LTTE combatants from that year. The research is based on narratives from oral histories taken largely from survivors of the civil war in order to produce a graphic novel to convey the story of a family whose experiences are paralleled among many other people from the Vanni in north-eastern Sri Lanka. Multiple methodologies were deployed from working closely with an illustrator, Lindsay Pollock, to focus groups and semi-structured and structured interviews listening to survivors’ testimonies and experiences based in Chennai, London and Zurich with those people who are currently going through, or have recently gone through, the asylum process. The thesis and in particular the graphic novel can contribute to the formation of a compelling and engaging ‘human rights culture’ (Galchinsky 2012) both in terms of representing the bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, and the ordeals and dilemmas faced by displaced persons in other countries in its aftermath. As opposed to human rights law which is based on a vertical axis, Galchinsky states that human rights culture is based on a horizontal appeal to a shared humanity. While universalist understandings of human rights and the holistic conception of culture implied in his proposal are questionable, the horizontal axis of enquiry and representation informs this research - ranging from the fieldwork period that led to the collation of testimonies to the production of the graphic novel, to its sharing with research contributors for their opinions and formative feedback, and to its wider dissemination. The accompanying graphic novel is hybrid in terms of the combination of text with illustrations and photographs, and with regards to a fusion between the ‘fictional’ with ‘factual’ – both deemed here as conventions of representing and engaging with real-life events. Even though the nuance of multiple perspectives offered by research interlocutors may be simplified in the narrative of the graphic novel, there are clear theoretical and methodological advantages that, to date, have not been considered in the Sri Lankan context for this kind of literature. These include the ability to retain the anonymity of interlocutors while highlighting the compelling recollections of their experiences, the potential to foster a ‘sympathetic imagination’ across social and other demarcations that can constitute the creation of meanings that offer a particular way of seeing, feeling and thinking about one’s relationship with oneself, others, and with society in general (Salgado 2007), and the possibilities for a collaborative approach with interlocutors. The written thesis provides the contextual and ethnographic foundations for the graphic novel that also elaborates upon the self-reflexive and participatory methodologies and ethical concerns of creating the novel itself. The graphic novel enables a wider career in terms of its readership amongst research contributors as well as others, and its role in promoting educational awareness and humanitarian advocacy on the recent conflict.


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University of Sussex

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