Not media about, but media with: Co-creation for activism

In this chapter I address the co-creative dimension of two interactive documentary projects – Question Bridge and Quipu. I examine the cultural precursors and contexts that inspired their divergent co-creative approaches. I consider how the producers perform as facilitators, asking how co-creation is invited and structured? How is the project agenda set, and what is the participants’ agency? Both projects stage processes of dialogue among communities, between participants and with audiences. My interest is in how the communicative structures of the projects are produced.
The first example – Question Bridge: Black Males (Johnson et al 2012) – engages those who take part in processes of dialogue and self-reflection in order to disrupt a problem of image and self-image with deep historical roots and dire contemporary consequences. The second – The Quipu Project (Court et al 2014) – provides a media platform through which witness testimony can be recorded, gathered and heard in order to support an activist movement in a struggle for legal redress that has been going on for twenty years.
In both projects, the participants are the subjects of the respective struggles, and the producers devise strategies which cede significant editorial control to them. Crucially, in order to bridge the participation gap, both projects stage face-to-face as well as digital engagement.
De Michiel and Zimmermann have developed the persuasive concept of ‘Open Space Documentary’ to reflect this generation of collaborative, iterative, often open-ended work. This body of work, they argue, replaces documentary rhetoric with, ‘a politics of convenings’ (De Michiel and Zimmermann 2013: 365). Following Castells’ argument (2009) that communications networks constitute contemporary public space, such convenings can make a significant contribution to contemporary politics. Whereas documentary rhetoric might intervene within the public sphere, interactive documentary can be a platform for a convening through which an audience becomes a public – a group conscious of itself and its shared sense of purpose. The projects I discuss are fundamentally works of convening in which documentary as representation gives way to documentary as a process of staging multiple interactions and engagements – between participants and with viewers/users. These projects suggest how co-creative interactive documentary can play a role in change making in our increasingly unequal and precarious economic and ecological times.

Rose, M. (2017) “Not media about, but media with: Co-creation for activism”. In: M. Rose, S. Gaudenzi, & J. Aston (Eds.), i-docs: the evolving practices of interactive documentary Pp. 49—65, Wallflower, Columbia University Press ISBN 9780231181228


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