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    ‘Doing denial’: audience reaction to human rights appeals

    Seu, Irene Bruna (2010) ‘Doing denial’: audience reaction to human rights appeals. Discourse & Society 21 (4), pp. 438-457. ISSN 0957-9265.

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    Whilst many hypotheses have been formulated on why audiences remain passive in response to distant suffering, very little empirical research has been carried out to verify these hypotheses. This article discusses audience denial in response to information about human rights abuses1, paying attention to both content and strategies used in accounts of denial, i.e. what these accounts say and by which means they effectively neutralize appeals for action. Three repertoires are identified as specific targets for neutralization: (1) The message itself (‘the medium is the message’); (2) Campaigners and, in particular, Amnesty International (’shoot the messenger’); (3) The action recommended in the appeal (‘babies and bathwater’). These repertoires are analysed in terms of the discursive techniques – e.g. argumentation, rhetorical and semantic moves and speech acts – used to neutralize the moral claims made by Amnesty International’s appeals. The article suggests that audience denial is an operation of power and production of knowledge in so far as it plays a role in sustaining and colluding with more systemic and official operations of passivity and denial. The normative implication of audiences’ justifications for their passivity is illustrated in their banal, everyday contribution to a morality of unresponsiveness. The discussion aims to contribute to current debates on the ‘Politics of Pity’, social responsibility and distant suffering. It also contributes to psychological work on pro-social behaviour and, in particular, to research on audiences’ responses to humanitarian appeals and mediation in general.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): altruism, Critical Discourse Analysis, denial, discourse, discursive analysis, human rights, moral apathy, Politics of Pity, pro-social behaviour, rhetoric
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics (MAMSIE), Gender and Sexuality, Birkbeck (BiGS), Social Research, Birkbeck Institute for (BISR)
    Depositing User: Bruna Seu
    Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2013 10:46
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:01


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