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Watching disasters: connections and disjunctures of the cosmopolitan public

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The mediation of distant suffering has been at the centre of a broader debate about globalisation of the media and global media ethics in particular. Global media have rendered the visibility of the suffering of distant others more possible and prominent than ever before. The consequence of such visibility, it has been argued, is the fostering of relations of responsibility towards distant others and the emergence of postnational solidarities. The present paper will address these issues empirically, grounded on a study of Greek audiences in relation to media coverage of distant disasters. It will draw upon material from focus group discussions on the ways people relate to different instances of distant suffering and their victims. Focusing on the variety of discourses people employ to relate to different media disasters, the paper will address the questions of what kinds of action and engagement current forms of mediation of distant suffering allow for and the ways the concepts of space, distance and belonging are constructed by audiences in relation to global disasters. In this way, it will attempt to illustrate the conditions and dimensions of a cosmopolitan public created around these disasters. Such a cosmopolitan public, it will be argued, is heavily dependent on media representational practices and conditioned by cultural biases and interpretations. It is, however, an emerging reality, setting a new agenda for media theory and empirical research both in terms of media practices at a global level and the exploration of cosmopolitanism as a mediated post-national form of solidarity. Paper prepared for the Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Department of Media and Communications, ‘Media, Communication & Humanity’, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, 21-23 September 2008.

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