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COURSE NAME: "Visual World Politics"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Eszter Salgo
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 11:30 AM 12:45 PM


Prompted by the “visual turn” in the discipline of International Relations, this course explores how the realm of world politics is visually constructed and how pictures, films, graffiti, sculptures, monuments, and digital images all shape public perception (and the views of decision-makers). It offers a supplement to traditional disciplinary accounts of the theory and practice of international affairs, which principally focus on the main schools of world politics as well as the dominant actors, structures and institutions of international relations. The course uses a multidisciplinary approach to elaborate the key theoretical perspectives that focus on the uniquely visual element of world politics, which are set into a conversation with the more dominant (non-visual) approaches to the discipline.


 This course uses a multidisciplinary approach and elaborates on many of those theoretical perspectives that focus on visual world politics. Students will analyze the different forms that visual storytelling can take (how visual narratives are used to legitimize the existing order) and how visual counternarratives seek to challenge hegemonic power structures. Case studies will focus on the functions that visual sources perform in international conflicts and in strategies addressing global challenges such as poverty, famine, human rights violations, migration and climate change. On-site classes will allow students to appreciate the importance of what William A. Callahan (2020) describes as ‘feeling visually’ in international politics. Course fee (for museum tickets): Euro 20 (or less)


By the end of the course students will be able to: understand the importance of the “visual turn” that has taken place in the discipline of International Relations;  evaluate critically the use of images in political propaganda in political protests/contestations;  understand the role memory politics through the analysis of monuments, statues and buildings; gain a better understanding of political problems relating to development, geopolitical conflicts, gender equality, environmental degradation, through the use of visuals; and possess skills and ability to independently explore, present and discuss issues related to visual world politics.


Attendance and participationStudents are required to attend classes, read the assigned chapters/articles (watch the assigned videos/films/documentaries) and participate actively in the discussions.10%
Research filmResearch films (like Bill Callahan’s Great Walls and Toilet Adventures) represent an innovative method for studying International Relations. Students will prepare a 10-minute-long video on a topic of their choice. 25%
Midterm examThe midterm exam consists of essay questions. Students are graded on depth of analysis, logical content and creative thinking; on their ability to formulate sophisticated arguments, show understanding of alternative explanations, provide imaginative interpretations and offer a personal approach.25%
Final examIn terms of structure, the final exam is similar to the midterm exam. It is cumulative.40%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Week 1

Monday: Introduction

Wednesday: using verbal and visual sources


Week 2

Monday: No class (make-up day TBC)

Wednesday: Aesthetic Turn in the discipline of in the discipline of in the discipline of International Relations

Reading: Bleiker (2001) Aesthetic Turn in International Relations


Week 3

Monday: Visual turn in the discipline of International Relations

Reading: Bleiker (2018) Visual Global Politics, Introduction

Wednesday: Ways of seeing

Reading: watch BBC TV series by John Berger


Week 4

Monday: Visualizing International Relations

Reading: Callahan (2020), Introduction and Part I

Wednesday: Research methods, filmmaking

Reading: Callahan (2020), Chapter 4


Week 5

Monday: Visual art, ethical witnessing

Reading: Callahan (2020), Chapter 6

Wednesday: Oppositional gaze and visual activism

Reading: Mirzoeff (2023) Introduction to visual culture, chapter 1 and 5


Week 6

Monday: No class (make-up class TBC)

Wednesday: World politics and popular culture I

Reading: Caso, Hamilton (2015) Chapter 1


Week 7

Monday: Artifacts in world politics

Reading: MacGragor, A history of the world in hundred objects, Part 16

Wednesday: Photography and politics

Reading: The Politics of Documentary Photography: Three Theoretical Perspectives

Friday: Make-up for November1 Photography and politics

Visit to Trastevere Museum


Week 8

Monday: Review

Wednesday: Midterm


Week 9

Monday: Visual politics in China

Reading: Jiang Changa and Hailong Ren (2018) The powerful image and the imagination of power: the ‘new

visual turn’ of the CPC’s propaganda strategy since its 18th National Congress in 2012 plus Joyce Lee (2014) Expressing the Chinese Dream: Imagery and ideograms in the “Chinese Dream” campaign posters send a message to an increasingly pluralized society.

Wednesday: Holiday (make-up day Friday, Oct. 20)


Week 10

Monday: Visuals in the FAO’s public diplomacy

Reading: FAO book

Wednesday: Visuals in the EU’s public diplomacy

Reading: visit to EU multimedia center


Week 11

Monday: OP

Wednesday: OP


Week 12

Monday: Aesthetics of global protest

Reading: The Aesthetics of Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication (2019) Introduction


Reading: Visuals and human rights

Reading: N. L. Stein and A. D. Rentel, Images and human rights, Introduction plus

Bleiker (2018) Chapter 24



Week 13

Monday: The role of visuals in the fight for gender and racial equality

Reading: Salgó (2022) Simone Leigh’s Brick House: America’s Mighty-Mighty New Colossus, Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 or 3

Wednesday: Street art as political activism

Reading: IAI (2021) Art and politics: the streets of Rome


Week 14

Monday: Representation of and fight against climate change

Reading: watch T. Smith (2021) Addressing the Climate Crisis Digitally: The Power of Imagery to Communicate the Urgency of Acting Now

Wednesday: Final reflections. Review