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Scholarship details

2024 RTP round - Moving Images: Human Rights and the Politics of Photography in the Asia-Pacific

Status: Closed

Applications open: 7/07/2023
Applications close: 25/08/2023

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About this scholarship

Photography has become an essential tool in the hands of human rights activists and those intent on mobilising viewers into action. Photographs are framed globally and presented to diverse audiences as showing supposedly mutually intelligible, common experiences of suffering. Iconic images, those with a high impact, circulation, and recognition value, have come to underpin knowledge about world historical events. Scholars have turned their attention to the study of how, on the one hand, images ‘move’ people to act based on emotional responses to viewing images, but on the other, the limited capacity of photographs to bring about substantial and lasting change. This project examines how images function and the role of image-brokers (including photographers, activists and communities in the Asia-Pacific region) in producing and circulating images that represent social and political issues. Broadly framed as human rights-related, images in circulation represent issues such as decolonisation, democracy, environmental protection, and climate change. In this project, researchers will apply a framework drawn from the field of international history and visual- and photographic studies to analyse one or several cases drawn from the Asia-Pacific region to probe the extent to which the practices of taking and circulating photographs can create change. 

This project aims to examine the uses of photography in making visible the concept of rights and claims for justice in the Asia-Pacific region in the 20th century into the present time. This region is highly diverse and has seen significant changes, including long years of colonialism, new nation-states being founded in the aftermath of World War II, and emerging challenges of environmental crisis and the search for sustainable development. This research proposes to examine how photographs have been used in post-conflict and postcolonial societies to promote a shared identity and a sense of belonging and citizenship, as well as to repair damage from the years of colonisation and suffering. In so doing, the project will contribute to creating a deeper knowledge about how a relatively modern technology has been adopted and used in non-Western settings and the consumption of photographs in such settings. 

• To derive theoretically informed insights into the practices of viewing and interpreting photographs in Asia and the Pacific, with theoretical studies of photographs being largely Western-orientated and Western-driven. 
• Based on an in-depth analysis of chosen case studies, to gauge how images operate to encourage diverse groups of people in the region to act in concert or apart, and to identify the factors that influence their responses to images as individuals and members of communities and groups.
• To examine the role of photographs and image-brokers in promoting significant change in society and politics also given that images are circulated through material networks and embedded in platforms. 
• To evaluate the extent to which the images that are being circulated and consumed are influenced by global framings, for example, representations of famine and memories of the Holocaust. 

This project builds on recent work by historians and communications scholars on how activists mobilise images to make suffering and resistance visible and to encourage viewers to take action to support campaigns. The mobilisation of images grew apace in the context of the human rights ‘boom’ of the 1970s, globalisation and the information age, which manifested in transnational information networks and the importance of international non-government organisations. 

There are, however, still few studies that historicise photographic practices, the widespread adoption of the technology today and the politics of photography in the context of the Asia-Pacific region. Photographs as part of anthropological studies by Westerners, for example, were some of the earliest depictions of the non-West and, in turn, these photographs are analysed in more recent times by other Westerners. A decolonial approach will be used in analysing case studies and sets of photographs in a way that seeks to reconstruct the bonds between communities and depictions of their ancestors and/or themselves and to develop new readings of these images. This interdisciplinary study brings together approaches and methods drawn from the field of history, politics, and studies of visual culture, memory, and media. This project will also contribute to the study of the international history of human rights to examine how emotions elicited by photographs can motivate and sustain human rights activism. 


  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • International Student
  • Merit Based

The annual scholarship package (stipend and tuition fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a.

Successful HDR applicants for admission will receive a 100% fee offset for up to 4 years, stipend scholarships at the 2023 RTP rate valued at $32,250 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3 years, with a possible 6 month completion scholarship. Applicants are determined via a competitive selection process and will be notified of the scholarship outcome in November 2023. 

For detailed information, visit: Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarships | Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Scholarship Details


All applicable HDR courses

Applicants should have completed a BA (Honours) or Master's degree in History, Politics, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Sociology, or an associated discipline. They should preferably have a working knowledge of the main language(s) needed to undertake research and be prepared to undertake training in the necessary skills to complete the project. Applicants should also have excellent written and oral communication skills, be able to work in teams, and have some experience in qualitative research methods. Previous research experience and outputs will be highly regarded. 

Application process

This project has identified a preferred candidate and is no longer available.  Please review remaining scholarships projects.

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2024.

Recipients must complete their milestone 1 within 6 month of enrolment and remain enrolled on a full-time basis for the duration of the scholarship.


The Project lead has identified a preferred candidate and is no longer accepting applications. Please click here to review remaining scholarships projects.

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