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Smoke, Shadow, Light: Conflict, Photography, and the Tamil Imagination in Postwar Sri Lanka

Buthpitiya, Vindhya Lakshmi; (2020) Smoke, Shadow, Light: Conflict, Photography, and the Tamil Imagination in Postwar Sri Lanka. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis is an ethnography of the political work of popular photography in northern Sri Lanka. For this purpose, I have understood photography as comprising a constellation of images, material objects, and social and representational practices. It is central to the conceptual and methodological undertakings of this research, which interweaves war and image-making. Based on fourteen months of fieldwork located principally in Jaffna, I consider photography’s manifold social and political conjugations as a lens through which to delve into questions of conflict, nation, state, and citizenship, focused on the northern Tamil community. In the burdened ‘peace’ that followed the civil war (1983-2009), acts and spaces of Tamil civilian resistance against the violences and erasures of the Sri Lankan state have been thick with photography. Consequently, this thesis examines a variety of co-existing actors, spaces, practices and ‘genres’ relating to photography and its production, circulation and political mobilization as grounded in the wider visual economy of the post/war. From portraits of the disappeared wielded in roadside protest, the visual debris of wartime atrocity, the animated afterlives of National Identity Cards, studio snaps and cinestyle wedding albums mediating new citizenships to Instagram posts tethering transnational political claims, the local photographic economy remained shaped by the causes and consequences of the war. I highlight the ways in which the social, political, and economic conditions and ambitions bound to the ethnic conflict gave rise to responsive and mediatory forms of photographic practices. These connections offer a rich site to explore the empirical disquiet between contrasting theoretical positions which conceive of photography as ideological tool or emancipatory practice. Where war and image-making have been deemed inextricable in terms of surveillance, militarization, propaganda, and the representational tropes of suffering, I demonstrate how the unruly circuits of popular photography reveal instead its vexed democratic possibilities. Mapped against postwar Sri Lanka, I contend that photography was integral not only to the consolidation of competing nation-state imaginaries and securitization, but the disruptive formation of de-territorialized, transnational political socialities and solidarities that in turn strengthened located claims of homeland.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Smoke, Shadow, Light: Conflict, Photography, and the Tamil Imagination in Postwar Sri Lanka
Event: UCL
Language: English
Keywords: Sri Lanka, Jaffna, Colombo, Anthropology, Conflict, War, Postwar, Photography, Visual Culture, Tamil
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10109746
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