About the project – University of Copenhagen

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Images and International Security > About the project

About the project

Images are crucial for what become security problems. Images can engender international crises, they may harm countries’ reputation and generate public support for foreign policies. The visual’s trigger effect has been illustrated by the Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the photos of Syrian victims of chemical weapons in the summer of 2013. Images can document abuse, provoke aggressive responses, and circulate rapidly reaching audiences for whom they were not originally intended. Visual diplomacy and image management are therefore central to governments, international institutions and non-governmental organizations.

The ability of images to “speak security” is linked to their capacity to deliver a fast, forceful, and emotive message. Seeing someone burned and lynched as in the photographs of US military contractors in Fallujah in 2004 is a different experience than reading about it. Emotional responses may in turn boost the sense of urgency that “security” requires.

But images need interpretation before they can tell us what policy should be adopted. The “security policy message” of images is, in short, negotiated politically. This becomes particularly striking when images are circulated across borders and contexts. Different audiences may not recognize symbols, people or scenery in the same way and this in turn heightens the possibility that images are read differently. 

Images and International Security is a four year project funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research devoted to building new theory and empirical insights on why and how images influence international relations. The project is organized through three sub-projects explained further on their individual pages (accessed through the links on the right side of the screen).