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Envisioning Citizenship: Photographic Practice and Human Rights Activism in Contemporary Argentina



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Teichert, Erika 


This thesis is a study of the visual culture of human rights movements in Argentina in the twenty- first century, looking specifically at the mobilisation of photography by activists. In each chapter, I cover different human rights organisations: collectives that respond to the country’s dictatorial past (Chapter One), the Malvinas war veterans’ organisations (Chapter Two), abortion and feminist activists (Chapter Three), HIV activists (Chapter Four), and citizens’ assemblies against the socio- environmental damages caused by open-pit mining (Chapter Five). I explore a variety of photographic genres that are relevant to the movements I study, ranging from fine arts photography to photojournalism and vernacular uses. While the thesis is highly interdisciplinary – navigating cultural studies, history of art, the anthropology of art, citizenship studies and human rights legal frameworks – I ground my analyses in theories of photography to examine how the medium serves the aims of activism. My project advances arguments about both the politics of human rights and about photography as activism. I depart from interpretations of photography as testimony to reveal its performative uses. I argue that, in the hands of activists, photography as activism constitutes a performative effort of imagining time. While acknowledging truth-telling and denunciation as part of the photographic mandate when mobilised for human rights activism, I posit that photography offers another crucial possibility: using the space enabled by photography to imagine and create a different reality. Through photography, activists encounter the present and re-visit the past to materialise the worlds of tomorrow. Through this line of analysis, I also depart from notions of victimhood often tied to a testimonial reading of photography. While recognising victimhood’s particular prevalence in Argentine political culture around human rights, I argue that the notion of citizenship is a more stable lens through which to study these photographic practices. Photography as activism is mobilised to give life to rights claims: not as testimony, but as a performative, relational practice where citizenship comes to be constituted as a political subjectivity. In turn, this local, embodied study of photography serves to foreground the importance of equally localised studies of human rights: despite its status as a global discourse on human dignity, the political currency of human rights frameworks is shaped by locality. Human rights are always re-imagined and re- contextualised through local histories and narratives of which the bodies of the activists are the protagonists. The ways in which activists frame and materialise rights claims in order to shape and produce citizenship act as a localised counterpoint to global human rights discourses and debates.





Page, Joanna


Argentina, photography, human rights, activism, Latin America, citizenship


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge International Trust and Newnham College Scholarship Trinity-MCSC Honorary Scholarship