When a garment factory collapsed outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh last April and more than 1,100 peopled died, a photograph of a woman and a man embracing amid the rubble rapidly circulated through the Internet.
Photographer Taslima Akhter’s heart-wrenching image, shown here, was powerful in itself, creating what sociologist Avery Gordon (in her 2007 book, Ghostly Matters) calls a “haunting” effect, where ghosts from hidden forms of violence make their presence felt.
But the haunting image gained added power via new media, which is an increasingly important component of our “attention economy,” according to sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, writing in American Behavioral Scientist earlier this year.
In fact, dramatic images of the Dhaka factory fire may be a crucial factor enabling labor reforms now underway.
Major apparel companies have been facing pressure from human rights groups and ethical consumers to sign a landmark plan to ensure the safety of workers. Shifts in public opinion have also contributed to the U.S. decision to suspend trade privileges to Bangladesh. Haunting images, in other words, can at times spur political action.