Operationalising Sen’s ideas on the visual representation of social movements by the media

Veneti, Anastasia; Poulakidakos, Stamatis; Karadimitriou, Achilleas (2014). 'Operationalising Sen's ideas on the visual representation of social movements by the media' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Upon the introduction of austerity measures in many European countries and the unfolding of a multifarious crisis – social, political and economic –we witness an unprecedented wave of riots, protests as well as the formation of new social movements. Theorists like Castells and Douzinas view the values emerging out of the moulding of these new political formations and activism as progressive and transformative.  In addition, Amartya Sen's human development approach stresses on the importance of empowerment: people's participation in the decisions and processes that shape their lives. This paper reflects on Sen's work in light of the dynamic of the social movements as a force of empowerment and the role of the media.    


This research focuses on the visual framing by dominant news media of social protest including: the Greek indignants, the Spanish indignants, the Occupy Wall Street, Tahrir square and Taksim square. We examine the focus of photojournalism on the emotion and the implications that this trend has in the dynamic of the movements.


Given the well-established role of the news media in providing political information to the public, citizens rely heavily on them for their information and understanding of these cataclysmic political and social developments. Media's visual narration of social movement is vital as it affects their perception of the movements and consequently their decision concerning their involvement. The main research question is which visual narrative forms of protests do media choose and why? We examine the character of photographic representation of the social movements with regard to the aspects of the crisis in general. Based on the media representation of protests, we reflect on whether these representations encourage or not citizens' participation in this form of political action.


We tried to answer these questions through an interpretative framework that has been formulated by the findings of our research. Our research methodology was content analysis and compositional interpretation of photos and videos of social protest on popular news web pages of three countries: Greece (www.in.gr), Italy (www.repubblica.it), UK (www.theguardian.com/uk). In the analysis we take into consideration both the visual elements and the verbal context of the photographs or videos.  The analysis adopts a comparative approach to the use of visual elements. 

scroll to top