Emotions and war on YouTube: affective investments in RT’s visual narratives of the conflict in Syria

Crilley, Rhys and Chatterje-Doody, Precious N. (2020). Emotions and war on YouTube: affective investments in RT’s visual narratives of the conflict in Syria. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 33(5) pp. 713–733.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2020.1719038

Abstract

Recent scholarship claims that narratives and images of war have political effects, not simply because of their content and ‘form’, but because of their affective and emotional ‘forces’. Yet, International Relations scholars rarely explore how audiences respond to narratives and images of war in their research. Addressing this gap, this paper combines discourse analysis of RT (formerly Russia Today) ‘breaking news’ YouTube videos of Russian military intervention in Syria with analysis of 750 comments and social media interactions on those videos. Our findings demonstrate how RT layers moral and legal justifications for Russian intervention in multiple audio-visual formats, within a visual narrative of the conflict that relies on affective representations of key actors/events. Viewers largely approve of the content, replicate its core narratives and express emotions coherent with RT’s affective representation of the Syrian conflict. Audiences’ responses to these narratives and images of war were shaped by their affective investments in the identities and events portrayed on-screen. These affective investments are therefore crucial in understanding the political significance of images of armed conflict.

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