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Invisibility Studies

Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture


Edited By Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel

Invisibility Studies explores current changes in the relationship between what we consider visible and what invisible in different areas of contemporary culture. Contributions trace how these changes make their marks on various cultural fields and investigate the cultural significance of these developments, such as transparency and privacy in urban architecture and the silent invasion of surveillance technologies into everyday life. The book contends that when it comes to the changing relationship of the visible and the invisible, the connection between seeing and not being seen is an exchange conditioned by physical and social settings that create certain possibilities for visibility and visuality, yet exclude others. The richness and complexity of this cultural framework means that no single discipline or interdisciplinary approach could capture it single-handedly. Invisibility Studies begins this conversation by bringing together scholars across the fields of architectural history and theory, art, film and literature, philosophy, cultural theory and contemporary anthropology as well as featuring work by a collective of artists.
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12 Visions of Punishment: On Susan Crile’s Abu Ghraib Drawings



A decade after their publication, why should we keep looking at the infamous torture images from the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad? One reason to keep looking, analysing and discussing these images is that they may help us grasp central aspects of contemporary American penal culture, insofar as they provide insights into conditions not only for prisoners in American war prisons abroad, but for the more than two million people who are incarcerated in the US as well. The Abu Ghraib prison certainly differed significantly from state and federal prison systems within the US, not least because of an entirely different and complex jurisdiction, and its specificity should therefore not be ignored. Yet, as has been discussed by several commentators and socio-legal scholars in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the torture conveyed in the digital snapshots that became public seemed conditioned by a wider penal discourse developed in concurrence with correctional contexts within the United States.1 Torture is evidently central to these images in terms of what they depict as well as in terms of ← 241 | 242 → their very production and distribution. As journalist Mark Danner has suggested, even the act of taking the pictures served as a kind of torture, in the sense that the snapshots were visual vehicles for a multiplication in time and space of the shame and humiliation involved in the acts of torture themselves.2 But central to the Abu Ghraib photos is, at the same time, a certain non-exceptional, non-covert, and...

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