What does genocide feel like? An autoethnography of visual affect

David Tobin


This article reflects on relations between individual and cultural experience to illuminate how anthropologists and political scientists approach Uyghur narratives of genocide. Uyghur perspectives are often overlooked in global media coverage that represents them through narratives of China’s “restive region” or Western sanctions. The article analyzes my own role in analyzing experiences of violence in a public setting, the Uyghur Tribunal, committed to assessing the truth of Uyghur claims. The method is a reluctant autoethnography, in between Leon Anderson’s “analytic autoethnography” in which researchers are full members in a group setting committed to understanding a phenomenon, and Carolyn Ellis’s “heartful autoethnography,” which crafts evocative stories that create reality. The analysis of visual affect at the Uyghur Tribunal builds on Brian Massumi’s approach, which considers that researchers must be open to affecting and being affected by the world to understand it or to communicate the meaning of their findings, particularly in cases of genocide.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/720564