Digital Storytelling: Where the Experts
November 8, 2011
I teach a course, Visual Research Methods, for Cultural Studies at the Claremont Graduate University where I push graduate students who have made a career of paper-writing to express their intellectual work about visual culture, visually. Even as the course provocatively pushes them as individuals out of their comfort zones of expression and audience, it also begs larger questions about field formation, training, authority, the use, ethics and scale of academic work, and its normative vernaculars, media, and modalities. While they start closer to home with video essays, then moving farther afield through documentary and ethnographic media, they end someplace new again: right smack here, in the Internet, asked to think about and through “digital storytelling.”
While you might imagine that a great deal of the writing on the Internet might be considered just such a text, there is actually a sort of academic/non-profit stranglehold on the what this terms means: “A short, first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds” as enabled by the standard workshops given to local citizens at the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, CA, and its many official and kindred sites around the world, institutions where trained experts facilitate the voices of the people. The work that comes out of these centers follows a rather predictable model for both form and content—private often painful or sensational stories, illustrated with personal images and moving scores—while also attaining a level of quality and attention that a good deal of the “bad video” of the Internet lacks. These other “digital stories” sit in some precarious and complex relation with the unruly, undisciplined, and often proto-literate projects of citizens who tell their stories outside of institutional sanction, training, or norms: the blogs, tweats, videos, and tumblrs of web 2.0.
For my students (and for me), this begs the role of the (visual/academic) expert in the sea of the digital: to speak here ourselves in new voices and vernaculars and to different audiences, to train the peeps to be more literate, to look at the work of day to day users and better understand it. This post serves as an invitation for my students currently enrolled in the course to blog about their initial stake in and take about digital storytelling (you’ll find their ideas in the comments here over the next few days). But we’d love to hear from other readers as well: about my opening remarks, or my students’ thoughts relayed on their own blogs (another visual research method for the course). In our readings for this week from Digital Storytelling, Meditized Stories, Knut Lundby introduces his anthology by raising these academic understandings of digital storytelling: as small scale stories that give a voice to ordinary people through self-representation using digital technology; as multi-modal transformations that remix culture to challenge institutions through personal narratives and a performance of authenticity. It seems worth noting that many of these ideas about scale, institutional challenge, multi-modality, authority, and performance are equally critical to understanding scholars moves into a digital (research) voice (note my first paragraph), so I invite some introspection and self-reflexivity (as have many past students in the course) about “digital storytelling” as well: