Seeing Human Rights

From Information Policy

Seeing Human Rights

Video Activism as a Proxy Profession

By Sandra Ristovska

As video becomes an important tool to expose injustice, an examination of how human rights organizations are seeking to professionalize video activism.





As video becomes an important tool to expose injustice, an examination of how human rights organizations are seeking to professionalize video activism.

The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Visual imagery is at the heart of humanitarian and human rights activism, and video has become a key tool in these efforts. The Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, the Green Movement in Iran, and Black Lives Matter in the United States have all used video to expose injustice. In Seeing Human Rights, Sandra Ristovska examines how human rights organizations are seeking to professionalize video activism through video production, verification standards, and training. The result, she argues, is a proxy profession that uses human rights videos to tap into journalism, the law, and political advocacy.

Ristovska explains that this proxy profession retains some tactical flexibility in its use of video while giving up on the more radical potential and imaginative scope of video activism as a cultural practice. Drawing on detailed analysis of legal cases and videos as well as extensive interviews with staff members of such organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, WITNESS, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ristovska considers the unique affordances of video and examines the unfolding relationships among journalists, human rights organizations, activists, and citizens in global crisis reporting. She offers a case study of the visual turn in the law; describes advocacy and marketing strategies; and argues that the transformation of video activism into a proxy profession privileges institutional and legal spaces over broader constituencies for public good.

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$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262542531 288 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 30 b&w illus.


  • “Engaging and lucid, Seeing Human Rights offers a vital analysis of the institutions and collectives that mobilize video in the fight for human rights, tackling key issues of our times.”

    Lisa Parks

    Distinguished Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

  • “Ristovska transforms an older conversation on humanitarianism and photography by investigating the uses and limits of video technologies for human rights campaigning. Her focus on attempts to mediate visually between activists and institutions is original and productive.”

    Samuel Moyn

    Yale University; author of Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World

  • “Ristovska has written a definitive book on how human rights activists use video technologies globally. As she closely examines experiences and tactics, she has produced a theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich analysis.”

    Silvio Waisbord

    Director, School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University; coeditor of The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights

  • “Professor Sandra Ristovska's illuminating book about human rights video activism offers fresh interdisciplinary insights important across several fields, including law, human rights, political science, journalism, and information science.  Drawing on extensive original research, Seeing Human Rights offers a superb account of how networks of human rights activists and media players deploy video activism, creating new possibilities for human rights work and visual evidence. This vital book charts fresh pathways in human rights activism and appeals to scholars, activists, practitioners, and general readers from diverse domains.”

    Mary D. Fan

    Jack R. MacDonald Endowed Chair in Law, University of Washington and author of Camera Power: Proof, Policing, Privacy, and Audiovisual Big Data