The Weaponization of Victimhood

Pro-Israeli protesters with an Israeli flag confront Ultra-Orthodox Jewish anti-Zionism protesters who joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration. Image by Getty Images

Lilie Chouliaraki

Professor of Media and Communications
London School of Economics and Political Science

Why is being a victim such a potent identity today? Who claims to be a victim, and why? How have such claims changed in the past century? Who benefits and who loses from the struggles over victimhood in public culture?

9780231212939_1_.jpgIn this presentation, Lilie Chouliaraki shows how claiming victimhood is about claiming power: who deserves to be protected as a victim and who should be punished as a perpetrator. She does this by outlining a theory of victimhood based on, what she calls, a “politics of pain” and argues that even though victimhood has historically been used in struggles for equality and freedom for the systemically vulnerable, social media platforms and far-right populism have turned victimhood into a weapon of the privileged. Drawing on recent examples such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the COVID-19 pandemic, she reveals why claims of victimization are so effective at reinforcing instead of alleviating inequalities of class, gender, and race. She concludes with reflections on how the vocabulary of victimhood could be reclaimed and used in ways that benefit the vulnerable, empowering cultures of solidarity, and protesting against systems of cruelty and oppression.

Time will be allocated for Q&A.

"Where has the holy sorrow of silent saints gone? Lilie Chouliaraki has an answer. It’s vanished into the market of competitive suffering, one that, like all markets, advantages the usual suspects. She urgently and eloquently calls us, in the name of a just and beautiful polity, to attend to suffering undistorted by power." John Durham Peters, author of The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media

This program is part of the ColumbiaDC CUP series.

thumbnail_IMG_2713.jpgLilie Chouliaraki is Professor of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her work focuses on the ethical and political complexities of communicating human suffering in the media with particular emphasis on four domains in which suffering appears as a problem of communication: disaster news; humanitarian and human rights advocacy; war & conflict reporting and migration news. Her most recent work is on the cultural politics of victimhood in western societies. Her book on the topic, entitled Wronged: The Weaponization of Victimhood is published in Columbia University Press (2024). Other book publications include The Spectatorship of Suffering (2006), The Soft Power of War (ed., 2008), The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-humanitarianism (2013), The Routledge Handbook of Humanitarian Communication (2021), and The Digital Border: Migration, Technology, Power (2022). Her work has been published in French, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Danish, Greek and Chinese; she is the recipient of two LSE Teaching Excellence Award and five international awards for her research publications, including the Outstanding Book of the Year award of the International Communication Association (2015), for The Ironic Spectator. She is also a lifetime Fellow of the International Communication Association (2020)

CUP Series: This is a new initiative between ColumbiaDC and Columbia University Press to showcase acclaimed and pioneering work by renowned academics, scholars, and researchers published by the Columbia University Press.

September 04, 2024 at 6:30pm - 8pm


Washington, DC
United States

Miyako Yerick


Will you come?