Now You See Them: Self-representation and the Refugee Selfie

Risam, Roopika
Popular Communication

Images of Syrian refugees taking selfies have circulated throughout the news media, yielding a range of responses, from dismay to disgust. An exploration of postcolonial digital humanities methods, this article brings together quantitative textual analysis of news media articles from the United States and United Kingdom, postcolonial theory, and selfie scholarship to explore the representation of Syrian refugees in the news media and their self-representation in selfies. Examining “migrant-related selfies” theorized in scholarship on migrant media, I argue that photographs of refugees taking selfies are being marshaled by news media to complement reporting on immigration anxieties within the Global North. On the other hand, “refugee selfies,” the images refugees themselves are taking, avoid co-optation into such narratives. They do so, I propose, as a form of self-representation that produces agency, creates communities, and resists the inscription of refugees as objects of knowledge in the digital cultural record.