School of the Arts, English and Drama

Postgraduate research

James Ellison

Photo of  James Ellison

PhD student

James Ellison is a researcher in the School of the Arts, English and Drama.

In 2011 he was awarded a BA (Hons) in Art and Visual Culture from the University of the West of England, Bristol, which included an exchange semester at the Universität der Künste, Berlin, with artist Lothar Baumgarten. During his undergraduate degree James submitted a final project investigating the visual politics of the zombie apocalypse and a thesis entitled The Uncomfortable Marriage between Art and Politics which examined feminist art practices and the politics of representation.

In 2012 he gained an MA in Art and Politics from Goldsmiths, University of London. During his masters degree James attended a summer school on decolonial politics and aesthetics with Walter Mignolo, Maria Lugones, and Rolando Vazquez at the Roosevelt Academy in the Netherlands. He qualified from his masters degree with a distinction after writing a thesis entitled (Dis)locating the Border : Transnational Narratives and Anarchist Networks, a version of which is soon to be published as chapter in a collected volume on the connections between anarchist politics, geography, and revolt.

James was awarded a fully funded scholarship at Loughborough University to study visual representation and anarchist politics. He is co-supervised within the School of Politics, History, and International Relations (PHIR) where he is an active member of the Anarchism Research group. He is also a member of the Politicised Practice Research group in the School of the Arts.

Thesis title:

On the boundaries of the state: visual representations of border violence in Calais, France

The core of James' thesis is the creation and critical assessment of forms of visual social media that depict border violence in the northern French port of Calais. His thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach to research, Balancing between two core disciplines; visual culture and politics. Some of the subfields he is engaging with include social movement studies, human and political geography, and media activism. Through a method of militant and engaged research James has developed an activist research project that involves the creation of visual material depicting border violence in Calais.

His research critically develops a history of the No Borders movement and its associated politics in conjunction with the production of partisan and militant visual material. The politics of representation and its relationship to anti-racist and anti-fascist non-heirarchical organising forms the basis for this assessment of visual and social media produced as part of freedom of movement struggles in Calais. By reflecting on practices of 'copwatching', this investigation probes the possibility of producing counter-narratives that challenge the politics of the border.

Framed by the limits of representing violence, the thesis draws explicitly on the need to avoid reproducing victims and witnesses of trauma within freedom of movement struggles. Through the production of testimonies and dossiers recounting human rights abuses, these categories seem unavoidable. Therefore, critically reflecting on the function of certain forms of representation that place the body of the insurgent and exile in a co-opted narrative that exploits their suffering, one mobilised for hospitable citizens who attempt to fix the nomad, refugee, and migrant in a Eurocentric cosmopolitanism that requires them to become the unthinking and passive recipients of aid, requires media production that does not simply reflect the violence of the border but instead engages resistant narratives of defiance to restrictions on freedom of movement.

This thesis also analyses the uses of alternative media platforms to build prefigurative activist networks and mobilise forms of disaster anarchism; in comparison it also investigates the possibility of using social media platforms for the same goals. Finally it provides an assessment of the far-right's use of visual social media, analysing the pervasive myth of nationalism as it appears in an age of networked connectivity and demonstrates how exposing violence and mobilising shame, through the cooperation of new and old media, can be an effective use of different media platforms to combat grassroots fascist activity.

Dr Jane Tormey: Senior lecturer in Fine Art, Critical and Historical Studies

Dr Christina Oelgemoller: Lecturer in International relations (PHIR)

Dr Uri Gordon: Lecturer in Politics (PHIR)

Banging on the Walls of Fortress Europe: Tactical Media, Anarchist Politics and Border Thinking. In The Practice of Freedom: Anarchism, Geography, and the Spirit of Revolt, eds. R. J. White, M. Lopes de Souza and S. Springer, London, UK: Rowan and Littlefield (forthcoming)