Distant Suffering and the Mediation of Humanitarian Disaster

J Engelhardt, Jeroen Jansz

Research output: Chapter/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


Most of today’s humanitarian catastrophes are taking place in countries of the so-called Global South. At the same time, countries in that part of the world are often among those least likely to be visited by those living in the West. In this configuration, what most of Western audiences know about and how they relate to victims of large-scale humanitarian disaster is almost exclusively derived – directly or indirectly – from various media accounts. Not surprisingly, media scholars have thus recently shown a growing interest in theorizing Western spectatorship of mediated distant suffering. The goal of this chapter is to offer a conceptual contribution to this debate by discussing four dimensions in the representation of distant suffering that appear to be crucial in facilitating or foreclosing engagement in spectators that typically are very much removed – geographically and psychologically – from the material reality of disaster. Distance encompasses various ways in which representation renders humanitarian crises as distant or as proximate to the audiences. Actuality in the representation of humanitarian crises describes the extent in which stories of human suffering are told as actual and consequential. Scale refers to the depiction of suffering as that of single individuals or of large groups. Relievability highlights the significance of presenting suffering as something that can mitigated in the present and/or prevented in the future. We conclude the chapter by discussing contemporary changes in the media landscape and avenues for future research based on our framework.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorld Suffering and Quality of Life
EditorsR.E. Anderson
Place of PublicationNew York City
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

SeriesSocial Indicators Research Series


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