Rhys Crilley

Legitimacy Claims in the Digital Age: Analysing Visual Narratives of Strategic Communication

Supervisor: Dr Cerwyn Moore and Professor Nicholas Wheeler

Historically, images of war and conflict have had a lot to say about the nature of war and how conflict is experienced by those involved; often in contrasting ways. Images of conflict have proliferated in the digital age as image production, circulation and consumption has been made cheaper and easier through the development of communication technologies.

With such diverse visual representations and experiences of conflict existing in the new media ecology of the 21st century, my research seeks to analyse how certain political actors use images and narratives of conflict on social media platforms to claim legitimacy for violence.

My research draws upon an aesthetic approach to IR, alongside insights from the fields of media studies and visual culture, to frame research centered around the practice of strategic communication. Through two case studies of the British Army and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, I argue that images are central to strategic communication and legitimacy in contemporary conflict.


I completed my undergraduate degree in IR at the University of Birmingham in 2011 before being awarded a bursary to study a Masters in IR (Terrorism and Political Violence) with POLSIS.

Upon completion of this in September 2012, I began PhD research funded by the College of Social Sciences. I am investigating how political actors use images and narratives of conflict on social media platforms to claim legitimacy for violence.

Alongside my PhD studies I have been responsible for organizing the 2013 School of Government and Society Postgraduate Colloquium and I am now the convenor of the POLSIS Postgraduate Researcher Colloquium and the co-convenor of the International Relations and Security Theory reading group.

I am a deputy editor at e-International Relations where I am responsible for the editorial process of a diverse and wide range of articles related to the subject of International Relations.

In 2013, I co-founded Critical Securities; a blog dedicated to discussions of global politics through a critical lens.


  • 1st Class BA (Hons) International Relations University of Birmingham
  • MA (with Distinction) International Relations (Terrorism and Political Violence Pathway) University of Birmingham

Research interests

  • Critical Approaches to Security
  • International Relations Theory
  • Popular Culture
  • Visual Culture
  • Political Violence and Terrorism
  • Strategic Communication

Professional memberships

  • BISA

Conference papers

Crilley, R. (October 2013) ‘Like and Share Forces: The British Army and the ‘Clean War’ Narrative on Facebook’, at the First Annual Warwick Graduate Conference in Security Studies, October 21, 2013.

Crilley, R. (November 2012) ‘Like and Share Forces: Virtualised Violence on Facebook’, at the Advanced Doctoral Workshop University of Birmingham, November 13, 2012.


I have published several blogs and book reviews on e-International Relations and I also have two book reviews forthcoming in Political Studies Review.

Contact details

Email: rxc882@bham.ac.uk

Twitter: @rhyscrilley