Sovereignty in the Digital Era

In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia was signed by the major continental European states (the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, France, Sweden and the Dutch Republic). Out of this agreement came the concept of “national sovereignty”, the idea that all nation-states have the power to do everything necessary to govern themselves, such as making, executing and applying laws; imposing and collecting taxes; making war and peace; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations. Each nation-state was granted the right to govern itself without any outside sources and the right to territorial integrity. However, since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, it could be argued that the world order of nation states and the form of sovereignty they represent have undergone major alteration. This has mainly been due to the globalization and new media.

With today’s technology, we no longer have to open up our fold-up town maps to see where exactly a friends house is located, tracing the streets with our fingers to help us figure out how to get from point A to point B. We can simply type into Google the exact location we are looking for and within seconds, view the image of the location as well as specific directions on how to get there. As I type into my search bar the address of my house back in Pennsylvania, it takes me seconds to find it’s exact location on a world map, as well as images of my house, the street, my neighbors cars, etc. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 7.41.58 PM

While I don’t mind people googling my home address, how do nation states feel about Google Earth infringing upon their territorial rights? Many nations perceive Google Earth as threat to their national sovereignty for two reasons: one, because the software creates a threat to territorial integrity due to it’s own presentation of international boundaries and two, because it allows users to access close up images of sites that could be potential targets of attack.

According to Sangeet Kumar, in 2005, great conflict over Google Earth emerged within India for “Google Earth’s version of India’s map differed from the official version in crucial areas such as the disputed north Indian state of Kashmir” (Google Earth and the Nation State 163). In other words, it was Google Earth that mapped the boundaries of India, rather than the actual nation itself. In addition, Google Earth introduced the ability for anyone to see within the border of the nation state, including important government offices, military bases, and other locations for potential attack.

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With the creation of Google Earth and it’s satellite mapping system, the concept of national borders became obsolete- the solid structures of walls and territorial divisions were knocked down. I would argue that Google Earth has become a nation state for it has come to dominate the territorial sovereignty of other nations. Google argues that the mapping system serves the greater ‘good’ for the rest of the world, to retrieve information about other areas of the globe for reasons that don’t bring any harm. But is Google really motiveless? Being that Google is an American company, how would it be perceived by the US government if it had been created anywhere else? I argue that Google has become a dominant nation state that serves under the control of the US, for although it has posed a threat to other nations it still continues to exist because it has only yielded benefits for the nation state of America.


Kumaar, Sangeet. “Google Earth and the Nation State : Sovereignty in the Age of New Media.” Global Media and Communication. Vol. 6. N.p.: SAGE, 2010. N. pag. SAGE. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <;.


Is Realism… Real?

The role of realism throughout history has been to indicate the changing ways of seeing the world. As defined by Sturken and Cartwright, “the term realism typically refers to a set of conventions or a style of art or representation that is understood at a given historical moment to accurately represent nature or the real or to convey and interpret accurate or universal meanings about people, objects and events in the world” (146). What is interesting about the concept of realism is not the approach to how accurate representations are made at a given time, but what the different approaches to realism tell us about the culture and politics of a given social context. In other words, there is no universal standard for realism. Ideas about what constitutes realism can vary dramatically, depending on various cultural and temporal factors.

Throughout the course of history, we have witnessed various eras of realism: from Poetic Realism, a film movement which embraced the spread of truth through documentary to Socialist Realism, a teleologically-oriented arts movement having as its purpose the furtherance of the goals of socialism and communism, various cultures have taken on multiple ways of seeing the “truth” of the world. I would argue that today’s culture is largely rooted in photographic realism, for we have come to  understand reality by how it is represented in photographs. This is explained by Barthes “Myth of Photographic Truth”, which suggests, that which is captured by a technological device can be nothing less than a truthful representation of reality. However, are these images that we see each day”truth-filled”? I would argue no for two reasons: 1) Because the digital formatting of the photo removes the true reality from the representation and 2) Because many images we come across are scripted and staged.

Although we often use photographs as a way of seeing the truth, we must realize that due to the digital age, images are able to be altered and digitally enhanced to create distorted representations of reality. Take Photoshop or Instagram for example. The digital platforms allow one to take a photograph and distort it, adding filters, changing the light, etc. In doing this, the scene or image illustrated is a mere abstraction of the real, not a true representation.

Take a look at these two photos. The photo on the top is an original photograph and the photo on the bottom is the same photo, which was digitally enhanced and modified using Instagram. As one can easily see, major modifications were made to the original photograph to enhance the quality of the image. Does this second photo represent the real? Definitely not.


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In addition to the fact that photographs are able to be digitally modified, photos are not accurate representations of reality because the scenes which they portray are often constructed. Advertisements prove to be great examples of this because all commercial images are constructed and scripted to portray a certain depiction of the real. Gender is a deeply rooted social construction in visual culture, embodying various stereotypes, which we come to see as “reality” for the sole purpose of being captured on film. The conversation on gender roles and visual representation could go on for days, but the point of matter is, viewers come to see photographs and their content as true depictions of reality when really, they are merely constructed abstractions.

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So is Photographic Realism really a type of realism when the “real” is not actually represented? We have looked back on previous movements with criticism but how do we effectively analyze a movement of realism that is so entrenched in our current culture? If we take away the photograph, what is the next step to representing the “real”?

The Meaning Under the Umbrella

Recently, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been assembling along the streets of Hong Kong in effort to support the Occupy Central movement. The moment began in response to an announcement by Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, to vet candidates in the 2017 elections. This decision brought major unrest to Hong Kong citizens, who believe that the restrictions placed upon the election will crush the hopes of a fully democratic election in 2017.

What is quite interesting about this topic, in relation to global visual culture, is the symbolic forms which have begun to take root in the movement. On Sunday, as vast numbers of pro-democracy protesters began filling the streets of Hong Kong in peaceful protest, police forces soon stepped in, using pepper spray, batons and tear gas to put an end to the situation. Umbrellas were distributed to ward off the tear gas, pepper spray and sweltering heat. For the protesters and citizens of Hong Kong, umbrellas began to serve not only as a means of protection, but also a new symbol of protest for a more democratic society.

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Signifier: Umbrella

Signified: Protection against civil injustice and Communism

Sign: The fight for a Democratic Hong Kong

As the civil disobedience movement continued on Monday, logos for the “Umbrella Revolution” began spreading on social media. A type of subculture has now formed by those who support the movement, including both by those who have been physically engaging in the protests, as well as those who have been helping to spread the word about the movement by means of artistic creation. Created by various artists, “Umbrella Revolution” logos, have surfaced all across Twitter, along with the attached hashtag of #umbrellarevolution. To give a few examples: one woman created a colorful image of a girl, holding a rainbow umbrella below a cascade of stars that resembles the Chinese national flag. Angelo Costadimas, a Hong Kong artist and graphic designer designed a sole figure holding up two umbrellas in a defiant way in his design (Chow). These are only two of the numerous logos that have been created and shared in effort to support the movement. 


While it’s very interesting to take a look at the emerging symbolism of the revolution, there are greater concepts to the Umbrella Revolution to analyze. Considering our in-class discussions on nationalism, I think this is an important topic to consider and discuss further How has the nationalistic sentiment in China changed over just the past few days? According to Barbero, the nation state is divided into multiple cultures, which come together to form one nation. That said, how would he describe a situation such as this one where an emerging culture is against the nation itself?

Work Cited:

Chow, Vivienne. “Umbrella Revolution: More Designs on Hong Kong’s Protest Movement.” South China Morning Post. South China Morning Post, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.
Lauren Schroeder