ICS Seminar Series - Professor Kaarina Nikunen

Date: Thursday, 2 September 2021
Time: 11.30 a.m.–1.00 p.m.
Venue: The seminar will be hosted online via Zoom. Please RSVP to e.blight@westernsydney.edu.au by 1 September, 5:00pm, to receive the Zoom details.

Once a Refugee: Selfie activism, datafied media and material solidarity

Presenter: Professor Kaarina Nikunen

Discussant: Dr Sukhmani Khorana


In my talk I discuss media solidarities: the multiple ways in which media may enhance, express, evoke, and materialize solidarity. This work draws on previous work on activism and alternative media, that also points out how social movements and activists are in contradictory ways dependent on commercial social media and therefore strive to recreate and redesign media systems. I focus on a particular social media selfie campaign ‘Once I was a refugee’ by former refugees in Finland. The case study explores the complex and contradictory ways selfies can be used in activism and the ways in which, in a particular context, they may carry transformative power. With selfie-activism, the campaign expanded and introduced new voices and visuality to the public debate. The case depicts the relevance of ‘expanding the space of appearance’ and the politics of claiming citizenship through self-presentation to counter views of refugees as economic burdens, non-citizens and surplus humanity (Ticktin 2010). Towards the end of the talk I raise the issue of materiality in terms of media solidarities and argue that approaches to media solidarity should also address the very foundations of media: the infrastructure and technological designs that channel and enable media content and participation. This is relevant in terms of identifying the structures of inequality and bias embedded in the technology and design that fundamentally shape media participations.


Kaarina Nikunen is Professor of Media and Communication Research at Tampere University. Her areas of expertise include digital culture, datafication, emotions and affectivity, migration, solidarity and social justice. Her current research projects investigate everyday affective practices of hate speech (Haffect) and  inequalities and intimacy in data driven culture (IDA). She is the author of Media Solidarities: Emotions, Power and Justice in the Digital Age (Sage, 2019) and editor of Media in Motion: Cultural Complexity and Migration in the Nordic Region (Routledge 2011, co-editor E.Eide).