Professor Chouliaraki's main research focus lies in the mediation of human vulnerability, and she has spent the past two decades exploring four key domains within which human vulnerability appears as a problem of communication: disaster news, humanitarianism, migration and war. In her work on the mediation of disaster news, Professor Chouliaraki has shown the ways in which Western national and trans-national television networks follow hierarchical patterns in their narrative organisation of news on distant suffering and, hence, in the systematic distribution of ethical sensibilities towards distant others. In so doing, she concluded, they reproduce global hierarchies of place and human life, along a West/non-West axis (The Spectatorship of Suffering, Sage, 2006/2011).
In subsequent work, Prof. Chouliaraki focuses on humanitarian and human rights communication, exploring how the mediation of solidarity has changed in the course of the past fifty years. Looking into NGO appeals, rock concerts, celebrity advocacy and post-television disaster news, she demonstrates how major institutional (the commercialisation of the aid and development field), technological (the rise of new media) and political (the fall of grand narratives) transformations have also changed the moral imperative to act on distant others in need. As a consequence, she argues, solidarity has today become not about conviction but choice, not vision but lifestyle, not others but ourselves - turning us into the ironic spectators of other people's suffering (The Ironic Spectator. Solidarity in the Age of Post-humanitarianism, Polity, 2012). She has also coedited a state-of-the art collection on the present challenges and directions of the field, the Routledge Handbook of Humanitarian Communication (with Anne Vestergaard, Routledge, 2021).
More recently, Professor Chouliaraki's work has turned to the communication of migration. Together with Prof. Myria Georgiou, she draws on multi-method research on the biggest migration event of the 21st century in the west - the 2015 migration “crisis” and its aftermath up to 2020 - to unpack the complexity and contradictions of the border in the age of datafication. In their book The Digital Border. Migration, Technology, Power (New York University Press, 2022), Chouliaraki and Georgiou develop a holistic theory of the digital border as an assemblage of technological infrastructures (from surveillance cameras to smartphones) and media imaginaries (stories, images, social media posts) to tell the story of migration as it unfolds in Europe’s outer islands as much as its most vibrant cities. The digital border that emerges in their study, they argue, is neither fully digital nor totally controlling. Rather, it is both digital and pre-digital; datafied and embodied; automated and self-reflexive; and traversed by fragile social relationships that entail both the despair or inhumanity and the promise of a better future.
Prof. Chouliaraki’s current work encompasses a study of the digital witnessing of war through smartphone devices or on social media platforms such as You Tube (published in Popular Communication, Information, Communication and Society; Visual Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Media War and Conflict; and more recently with Dr Omar al-Ghazzi, in Journalism). At the same time, Prof. Chouliaraki is working on a critical study of the concept of victimhood and its current uses in the cultural politics of western public spheres. The manuscript is provisionally entitled Victimhood: The cultural politics of vulnerability.
An overarching interest in Prof. Chouliaraki’s work is Discourse Theory and Analysis. She has written on discourse as a theoretical approach and as a methodological tool is her book Discourse in Late Modernity. Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis (co-authored with Norman Fairclough, Edinburgh University Press, 2000) and in numerous publications (Social Semiotics, Journal of Management Studies; Linguistics and Education, Critical Discourse Studies; The Handbook of Cultural Analysis).