78905 - Semiotics of Conflict (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2022/2023

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Italian Studies, European Literary Cultures, Linguistics (cod. 9220)

    Also valid for Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Semiotics (cod. 8886)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student will have achieved the necessary tools to critically elaborate the main themes and aspects relating to conflict and post-conflict cultures in a semiotic perspective.

Course contents

From the thawing of the Cold War to 9/11, up to nowadays post-Al Queida and Isis threats, the very definition and imagining of war and conflict has dramatically changed. However, while scholarship in such areas as strategic studies, international relations, international law, peace studies, psychology and psychiatry is still addressing conflicts in terms of ‘conflict resolution’, ‘post-conflict reconstruction’, ‘post-conflict justice’, and the treatment of post-conflict trauma, little or no attention has been given to the reciprocal play between conflict, culture and memories as semiotic mechanisms.

The course aims at addressing this very play and tensions, focussing on how a conflict as an “event”, along with its representations, is a semiotic and cultural phenomenon. In other words, it is also a conflict on the significance to be attributed to events and to the actors participating in it as, for example, when mediated discourse labels or sanctions one of the concerned parties as “the barbarian”, “the oppressed” or “the oppressor”, “the victim” or “the perpetrator”, the "bystander" and the implicated subject", thus influencing the effects and the affects that international public opinion lives and feels in confronting and interpreting the conflict itself.

The course will focus on how conflicts – their regulation, repression and particularly their  visual representations – constitute privileged loci for a semiotic analysis, arguing how conflicts challenge and rearrange pre-existing systems of cultural control, not only in the first explosive moments of violence or spontaneous civil disobedience but also, subsequently, when they encounter modes of historicisation linked closely to unifying discourses of national identity.

Particular focus will be given to the relationship between still and moving images (photograph, cinema) and conflict; on how and to what extent images and icons inspired by the examination of issues of memory and oblivion experienced in the last century respond to the challenges imposed by 21st-century conflicts.

In particular, the main topics will be:

First weekWhat is a conflict? How do we define a war? And how does semiotics fit into the study of conflict and post-conflict scenarios?

Second week: media and wars: on still images and photographs; on icons and visual reportage; on conflict and post-conflict situations as iconic events.

Third week: Women and wars; Cinema and post-conflict: the documentary film.

Fourth week: Cinema, memory and post-conflict: how do we represent and fictionalize history?

Fifth weekFinal workshop with individual or group papers


Compulsory Readings for attending students (both on line and in presence attendance)

Boudana, S.; Cohen, A.C.; Frosh, P. 2017, “Reviving icons to death: when historic photographs become digital memes”, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 39 (8), pp. 1210-1230

Demaria, C. (2020), What is a Post-conflict Cultures?, in C. Demaria (ed.). Post-Conflict Cultures. A Reader, London, CCCP Press (the introduction)

Elsaesser, T. (1996), “Subject positions: from Holocaust, Our Hitler and Heimat, to Shoah and Schindler's list”, in V. Sobchack (ed.) (1996), The Persistence of History, London and New York, Routledge, pp. 145-186.

Frosh, P. (2011), “Telling Presences: Witnessing, Mass Media, and the Imagined Lives of Strangers”, in P. Frosh e A. Pinchevski (ed.), 2011, pp. 49-72.

Montanari, F. (2020), “The New Narrative Form of Post-conflicts: New Wars as World-Wide War”, in C. Demaria (ed.), Post-conflict Cultures. A Reader, London: CCCP Press, pp. 49-66.

The students that will not attend the classes will have to add to the list of mandatory texts the following essay:

Zelizer, B. 2012, “Cannibalizing Memory in the Global Flow of News”, in M. Neiger; Meyers; E. Zandberg, On Media and Memory, London and New York, Palgrave.

In addition, they will have to choose two more essays from:

Demaria, C. (ed.) (2020), Post-conflict Cultures: A Reader, London, CCCP Press.

Recommended readings and research material

Glynn, R. 2013, Women, Terrorism, and Trauma in Italian Culture, London and New York, Palgrave.

Hoskins, A. (2011), “7/7 and Connective Memory: Interactional Trajectories of Remembering in Post-scarcity Culture”, Memory Studies, 4, 3, pp. 269-280.

Kaldor, M. (2012), New and Old Wars (3rd edition), Cambridge, Polity Press.

Maurer, K. (2017), “Visual Power: The scopic regime of military drone operations”, Media, War & Conflict, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 141-151,

Radstone, S. (2001), «Trauma and Screen Studies. Opening the Debate », Screen, 42, 2, pp. 188-193.

Pollock, G. 2012, “Photographing Atrocity: Becoming Iconic?”, in G. Batchen, M. Gidley, Miller, K. and J. Prosser (eds), Picturing Atrocity. Photography in Crisis, London, Reaktion Books.

Zelizer, B. 2012, “Cannibalizing Memory in the Global Flow of News”, in M. Neiger; Meyers; E. Zandberg, On Media and Memory, London and New York, Palgrave.

Teaching methods

The classes are meant to engage the students in participating actively to the discussion on the topics of the course. After the first introductory week, students will be asked to give either individual or group (maximum of 4 people) presentations. The presentations can be both on theoretical stances or methodological positions  within the debates addressed during the classes (further reading, in this case, will be provided), or on a specific case-study that will have to be selected and analyzed.

Assessment methods

For those who will attend the course, and therefore will have given a class presentation, the exams will consist in the oral discussion of an exam paper on one of the topic discussed during the course, and it will have to select a case-study of a particular conflict or post-conflict visual representation.

The paper will be valued by assessing the capacity to elaborate the theoretical and methodological categories of analysis discussed throughout the course.

  The students who will not be able to attend the course will have to write a paper on one of the topic of the course program. They will have to undergo an oral examination based on the recommend readings.

In order to choose a topic for the exam paper,  a meeting with the teacher is strongly recommended. For the students who will attend the course, the paper could also be written collectively.

In both cases (that is for students attending the course, and for the ones that will not  attend the course), the paper written will have to be 4000 thousand words long. Paper wrote collectively will have to have a length proportional to the number of people in the group.

The paper will have to be handed in at least seven days before the oral examination.

Teaching tools

Classes will be taught with the help of the multimedia tools (computer, projector, media player) available in all the teaching rooms of the Department.

Office hours

See the website of Cristina Demaria


Quality education Gender equality Reduced inequalities Peace, justice and strong institutions

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.