Visual Culture as a Pedagogical Tool Toward Human Rights and Global Citizenship

40 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020

See all articles by Safia Swimelar

Safia Swimelar

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: August 20, 2009


One of the goals of higher education today, and particularly many liberal arts colleges, is to aid students in their development as global citizens and ethical human beings who see the world and their role in it as holistic and interconnected. As a political scientist who teaches human rights, this goal is even more important. While this goal is in itself challenging, particularly from a position of security and abundance, it is even trickier in the context of teaching the “GenMe” student body that tends to focus on the ‘self’ and its expression through digital media and visual culture. In response, educators such as myself, seek creative and useful pedagogical tools to teach and engage students about ethical issues such as human rights. Visual culture itself is a strategic and important instrument in this endeavor. This paper will explore how I have used visual culture (e.g. art, in particular, film, theater, and photography) to engage students in a conversation about human rights and ethical dilemmas in global politics. In addition to using images to “teach” or “illustrate,” my approach moves farther in that it seeks to examine how our assumptions and our relationships to, for instance, poverty, discrimination, suffering, genocide, and our moral and political responses to these are all strongly shaped by visual representation. In a sense, American college students likely have only related to human rights abuses through a visual medium such as a film or a vivid news report. This experience shapes their understanding and response to major ethical and human rights questions. These ideas can be seen as part of visual ethics, an emerging interdisciplinary field. In examining the relationship between pedagogy, visual culture, and human rights, I will use examples from my courses where my human rights students have performed in a play, organized a film series, and studied photography as part their learning and engagement. I will seek to evaluate the usefulness of these pedagogical tools and how teachers and students can take advantage of them in the future.

Suggested Citation

Swimelar, Safia, Visual Culture as a Pedagogical Tool Toward Human Rights and Global Citizenship (August 20, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Safia Swimelar (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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