Re-Orienting Refugee Representation? A Multimodal Analysis of Syrian Refugee Representation on the social media platform Humans of New York
thesisposted on 22.05.2021, 15:55 by Nicole Aarssen
This major research paper (MRP) examines a selection of photo-narratives presented by the social media account Humans of New York, focusing on a series that documented Syrian refugees in the fall of 2015. It seeks to answer the following questions: How does the HONY platform frame the Syrian Refugee crisis? Which visual, textual, and multimodal elements are mostprevalent in the sample? How does HONY’s representations of Syrian refugees contribute to or challenge the discourse of Orientalism and Othering? Does the HONY coverage provide the opportunity for a more humanizing, compassionate perspective? To answer these questions, I coded the twenty most “liked” posts from the series for various visual, narrative, and multimodal elements. A codebook was developed from the literature review on Orientalism, neo-Orientalism, media representations of Islam, and media representations of refugees, as well as from theories of visual social semiotics, narrative analysis, and multimodal communication. The findings of this MRP question how alternative media platforms may challenge or reinforce traditional tropes utilized by mainstream media to represent a marginalized group such as Syrian refugees. The results suggest that while alternative platforms may challenge aspects of the Orientalist discourse and highlight a shared sense of humanity, the continuity of this discourse is seen to adapt through more subtle manifestations. The HONY audience is more likely to affirm representations that fit within the neo-liberal notion of who is an acceptable and “worthy” refugee. Based on the findings, this study is relevant to how professional communicators and audiences engage with media representations of marginalized groups, particularly in the current sociopolitical environment that is witnessing the unprecedented mass movement of displaced peoples.