The Paradox of Representation and the Problem with Recognition: What Does it Mean to be Visible?


  • Laura Dixon University of Manchester
  • Jennifer Peachey



visibility, recognition, representation


In many contexts, political and social representation is equated with ‘having been made visible’ and recognition conflated with ‘having been seen’. People’s attempts to express or define themselves in socio-cultural and legal processes hinge upon making themselves visible as they seek recognition from those who dominate them. Such claims often have to be made within a model of vision and visibility that is beyond a person’s control. Excluded from the possibility of rendering oneself ‘visible’ in the manner in which one wishes, a person may paradoxically be coercively included in a given paradigm through an over-determination of representation. That is, in order to be visible and socially legible, people are forced to ‘appear’ as stereotypes or socio-cultural categories which they do not feel truly represent them and so confers a false political recognition. We seek to explore the emotional and experiential implications of being simultaneously ‘excluded’ and ‘included’ from a cultural, social or legal framework. Some of the questions that we seek to address in this issue are: How can we challenge assumptions of what vision ‘is’ and ‘does’ in political and academic notions of ‘representation’ and ‘recognition’? What are the experiential and emotional dimensions of simultaneously being ‘excluded’ from and ‘included’ in modes of representation? How can academics work with other professionals in contesting representational politics and the construction of subjectivity this implies?


In this special edition of Anthropology Matters, Contributors utilise the juxtaposition of photographs and text, words and drawings to explore these questions. In so doing, they shed light on the issues that arise when processes of representation and recognition become irrevocably entwined with notions of visibility.



Author Biographies

Laura Dixon, University of Manchester

Laura is a Ph.D. candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her research explores the negotiation of subjectivity, specifically in relation to nationality and homosexuality amongst British expats living in a ‘gay tourist town’ in Spain.

Jennifer Peachey

Jennifer is a Ph.D. candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She is interested in the visiblity of emotional pain in Papua New Guinean socio-legal contexts and emotional pain as a force in social life.