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Microscopic War: Fragmenting Vision in Contemporary American Militarism

Rebecca AdelmanHumanities Forum
Thursday, April 9 | 4:00 p.m.
Rebecca Adelman, Assistant Professor, Media and Communication Studies, UMBC 
Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery 

Editors manipulate the tiniest elements of digital images to obscure combat atrocities. The U.S. Army invests deeply in a pixelated camouflage pattern that it expects will keep soldiers safely invisible. The NSA disaggregates human targets into miniscule bits of information. These seemingly disparate phenomena comprise a microscopic visual approach to militarization. It is here that Adelman considers the links between pixelized photos of violence committed by American military personnel, the Army’s failed multi-year, multi-billion dollar experiment with ‘digital’ camouflage, and the NSA’s approach to “identity intelligence,” built on the smallest pieces of data. All of these efforts at fragmentation promised to solve problems unique to contemporary war: soldiers’ unregulated use of digital cameras in the field, battles fought on multiplying fronts, and unconventional, undetectable threats. And in every instance, fragmentation failed: uncensored pictures are readily available, digital camouflage rendered soldiers more visible, and Edward Snowden leaked the documents detailing the NSA’s plans. These failures expose the limits of state power over the visual, dependent as it is on the smallest of things, while this new visual culture of fragmentation raises urgent questions about what it means to be a citizen, a spectator, and a subject.

After earning her Ph.D. in Comparative Studies from The Ohio State University in 2009, Rebecca A. Adelman joined the UMBC Department of Media & Communication Studies as an Assistant Professor. She is also affiliate faculty in Gender and Women’s Studies. Adelman’s research and teaching interests include visual culture, citizenship, and cultural studies of terrorism and war. She has published on spectatorship, transparency, and visual ethics, methodologies, and pedagogies as they intersect with militarized violence. Her first book, Beyond the Checkpoint: Visual Practices in America’s Global War on Terror (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014), maps the visual circuits linking the terrorized American nation-state, its citizens, and its enemies by exploring the practices of image creation, circulation, and consumption that animate these relationships.  She is working on a new project about imagination and affect in wartime that explores the intersections of fantasy, violence, and sentimentality as they coalesce around certain militarized figures.

Sponsored by the Dresher Center for the Humanities and the Media and Communication Studies Department.

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