Cite as: Papailias P., 2018, "(Un)seeing dead refugee bodies: mourning memes, spectropolitics, and the haunting of Europe" Media, Culture & Society, 00(0) p. 1-21.
This essay addresses the user remediation and performative rematerialization of the 2015 photographs of 3-year-old Kurdish-Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, as well as acts of concealing and deferring access to those images following intense public debate. This article shifts the frame of discussion from moral spectatorship to mediated witnessing and networked mourning in the context of contemporary affective publics. To speak of the memeification of Kurdi’s corpse-image is to underline the way repetition operates as a gesture of both inhabitation and differentiation by users who connect in this way to others and to the issue at hand. The Kurdi images, thus, were not so much observed by a global audience as produced by, and productive of, a massive, dispersed corporeal network. The conceptual figure of spectrality links the mediality and materiality of the dead body-image to contemporary necropolitics that dispossesses subjects, producing the ‘living death’ of the global precariat. If the public sphere is defined by prohibitions on grieving, conflicts regarding who views, mourns, and speaks for which dead bodies, although often ascribed to debased social media mores, tell us more about the political border of human and nonhuman that produces the revenant figure of the refugee haunting inhospitable and neoliberal, but nominally post-racial, Europe.
Keywords affective publics, Alan Kurdi, mediated witnessing, memes, necropolitics, networked mourning, postmortem photography, refugee death, spectrality