THE EMOTIONAL POLITICS OF SYRIAN REFUGEES EVOKED BY AUSTRALIAN MEDIA REPORTING Shame, Compassion, Fear

Abstract

On the 2nd of September 2015 the worlds media fixated on an image of a drowned Syrian refugee washed up on a Turkish beach. In Australia this was followed by a policy decision by the Australian Commonwealth Government on the 9th of September 2015 to increase the humanitarian resettlement of Syrian refugees by 12,000 places. This thesis aims to explore the emotional politics of the Australian media and the corresponding public commentary, in reference to the proposed resettlement of 12,000 Syrian refugees in Australia. Adopting an approach that engages with the politics of emotion and draws on the work of feminist and queer scholarship, this thesis identifies the themes and sets of ideas that are produced and circulated by the Australian media over an eight month period. The results map the affective responses that were engendered by media representations, using these to explore what understandings of Australian citizenship are challenged or reproduced by the media’s portrayal of Syrian refugees. Additionally the thesis considers how the emergence of online media publications influenced the creation of affective spaces, enabling alternative discourses to be performed. It is argued that within the Australian media the dominant affective discourses of national shame, compassion, pride, fear and disgust are produced and circulated. The discussion around these argues that emotions of fear and disgust towards Syrian refugees are rekindling movements around White Australian pride, reproducing narrow understandings of the Australian nation. Working against this, the emotion of shame mobilises Australians to reconcile their past failures, generating the politics of compassion and evoking the nation’s ideals of multiculturalism and a ‘fair go’. These findings are partly the result of the dominance of national discourses, but they also indicated variances in affective responses across different scales. Furthermore, this study makes an important methodological contribution by demonstrating the importance of online methodologies and spaces in future studies engaging with the politics of emotion.