Tag Archives: AVPC2016

Knowledge Cultures

We are super pleased to have our first collaborative, academic publication out this week. It features in the journal Knowledge Cultures, in a special edition from the 2016 Audio Visual Pedagogies Conference in Zagreb. Here is the abstract and a link:

https://www.addletonacademicpublishers.com/contents-kc/1218-volume-5-5-2017/3183-visual-dimensions-of-protest-three-examples-from-the-balkans

This paper proposes a framework for understanding the visual cultures of protest beyond representative images. Through a performative reading the visual takes on a dynamic role, ultimately producing a variation of the reality that protesters are demanding. Through three examples from Slovenia, Greece and Serbia, the paper examines different dimensions of visual culture of protest. In Ljubljana the how and why of a protest of fans against their own club is examined. In Athens, we look at why activists insist on traditional poster making methods in the digital era, and how these posters then function in the city neighbourhood of Exarcheia. In Belgrade, we look at the uses of video production and distribution by feminist activists Women in Black (Žene u Crnom). Atmosphere, political posters and video activism from the three examples, through which we argue visuals connect the locally specific struggles to a global context, and creating a socially oriented, richer picture of the region without getting entangled in nationalist narratives. Each case also elaborates how and why protest was visualized adapting cultural signifiers and established protest forms to produce the performative reality they are seeking.

Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall, but if you are interested in reading it, get in touch.

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Knowledge – Cultures

We were thrilled to get confirmation a day ago that our team will have its first common and scientific publication in the journal Knowledge – Cultures. Slated to be included in the journal later this year, the article is based on our presentation at last year’s AVPC 2016:  Visual Pedagogies and Digital Cultures conference in Zagreb, Croatia. See this post for more on the conference. The article was collaboratively written by Marija, Angelos, and David.

The article takes the title “Visual Dimension of Protest: three examples from the Balkans” and sketches out a framework that we are all working within. Our central focus here was to operationalize the term Visual Protest Repertoires (VPR), building on social movement theory (specifically Tilly’s repertoires of contention), visual culture, and performativity.

The article then presents the three cases that are the core of our individual research within the Contentious Images project: Women in Black, political posters, and football fan protests. We felt it was important to bring as much “practical” examples to the paper as we are still defining our theoretical frames, exploring the edges of VPR, and conducting our research. In this way, the paper very much represents a mid-way point in the research, and an initial articulation of our concept and fields.

Focusing on the practice, on the tangiable dimensions that we have thus far recorded and considered makes a “work in progress” paper useful and accessible to readers. Reflecting on our data, field notes and work thus far begins (we hope) a process of discussion with a scientific community about/around our work. Finally, it was also useful as a way for us to take advantage of our support structure through comments from various mentors, particularly Marion Hamm – who also worked out the term VPR together with us.

Digital Technologies and History

Has digital production changed how we will remember historical events? This was the question I received at the round table in AVPC2016 in Zagreb. It was not one I was expecting, so my answer was rather awkward at the time, and I would like to develop my point somewhat here. It seems to me to be an important question. The short answer is yes, but with many qualifications, and in the end, also some important critiques. The longer answer follows below, and the focus is on the more practical dimensions of digital media tools in activist and research contexts. The post covers what the explosion and easier access has brought to activism, giving an example of the media collective Komunal, in Ljubljana, and to research. It then covers some of the problems that come with the greater access and use of digital technologies.

The “Yes” part.

The greater access to technology has meant more is produced, faster: we have more people who can document something and share it. The cost and portability is a big factor here. Now a film like Blokada (2016) is possible; a rapidly evolving situation can be covered as it develops, just with a few hand-held cameras, a short (or possibly even no) planning period, and a lot of spontaneous developments and coordination. The cameras are able to move as quickly as the people and the situations.

A person unfamiliar with the technology can easily produce an intelligible image. The digital nature of the image also means no expensive film stock must be constantly bought, loaded, transferred, processed and stored. With just a few memory cards and batteries, and the camera and maybe an external microphone, you can run and shoot all day.

Editing is now also possible from your desktop. There is high end, but still user friendly editing software that can be easily acquired, some at a cost, others for free. So the material can be instantly transferred to the computer or an external disk and then uploaded in to the software, cut and exported onto some online platform, such as youtube or vimeo. For activists in particularly, this has made things much faster. In combination with social media distribution networks, getting things out into public discourse is possible more often and at a faster rate.

Thus activists, and activist film makers, for relatively little money, can establish a media presence and create counter-narratives that can be of high quality, can be quickly produced, and quickly distributed within the network and to their local media. They can produce whole films with DIY knowledge and budgets.

It is also worth pointing out that here the sharing follows a logic of abundance, where use and reproduction increase the quantity of the good or service. I can send one video file in an email to three hundred people, and thus instantly reproduce the film three hundred times for the cost of the few moments of electricity, and with little quality degradation. These reproductive possibilities that do not depend on any additional (or very few) material costs mean access and sharing of the film, or video, or power point, etc., actually increase its availability. Use thus increases the item, rather than reducing or damaging it.

An example from Komunal.org

I used the recent events in Ljubljana, specifically ROG, to highlight the above comments. In short, ROG, a squatted factory, is under threat of eviction from the municipality intent on demolishing some of the buildings. There is no pending investment for remodeling, despite the intention of turning ROG into a center for cultural production (which it already is, just autonomous and self-organized). Yet the municipality sought to impose the deconstruction of some buildings in order to secure open work permits for the next few years (ready, one assumes, for eventual investment). The start of this procedure came at 3am on the 14 of June. A private security firm entered the squat with a large construction digger. The community was ready and resisted, which provoked a violent reaction from the security guards.

Long story short, the struggle was caught on multiple camera phones and video cameras and released bit by bit through komunal. Komunal is a media collective in Ljubljana, Slovenia that produces and provides a platform for media production related to the radical left scene in Slovenia and abroad. The collective has developed a website and uses social media (twitter and Facebook) to share content. According to the website, the aim here is to

Our platform is an attempt to provide better access to issues, events and perspectives ignored by other media. We see our production as research into invisible and misunderstood social conditions. Media in this capacity plays a critical role in opening social conflicts by exposing social contradictions and isolation, oppressions, exploitations and social, political and economic injustice.[1]

In this situation it was the first site to have such media up and sent around. It was quickly picked up by larger media portals and the evening news. This effectively put a perspective into in the public discourse (first, before any other) from within the squat, with the users of ROG as the victims of violence. This was possible because of the ease of producing such material in the digital era. Any future memorializing of this event, of transformation of the city, gentrification, etc. will have this perspective easily accessible as a result.

For researchers, this has also opened new potential for producing material within the research frame. The digital camera (with video capabilities) can fit in your pocket or is integrated into your phone, making it at once more accessible and also less obvious and awkward. Sarah Pink’s work in documenting daily life, for example, takes place in homes (2012) or on the streets with the slow city movement (2008). The use large, heavy cameras would greatly restrict such practices, and make it much harder for researchers to become (at least partially) part of the scene. The documenting of an event as it unfolds, or returning to the site of an event and visually reconstructing it, examining the consequences, etc., and made much easier as a result of access to this cheap technology.

Greater use of these technologies in research can also lead to articulating results in different ways, and thus making, potentially, the results more accessible to a wider audience. This seems to be the theory behind launching the Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy[2]. The predominance of written text confines the image and the video to a bit part, accompanying the narrative in the way that sprinkles do ice cream. But increasingly it is becoming possible to produce picture essays, and now even video articles. Here the hierarchy of text over image is broken down. The picture essay or video article has its own attraction to researchers, but presumably also to audiences, particularly ones who may not read an academic article. I imagine that in a school setting, where a multitude of learning styles is present, such options are important. This also allows us to reimagine the function of the visual in everyday life and where our interaction with the visual produces (new)realities.

The critique bit

So when we consider this in the context of the impact it can have on history, it is of course immense. More records are simply going to be available, from many different perspectives (assuming of course that we retain our access to such technologies in the future). The historical records that this allows us to leave behind is simply staggering, and at such little cost. However, here we must also take account of some of the problems and limitations of this situation. First, leading off of the last point, more perspectives and more videos, etc., does not mean a more accurate, quality historical record. In the worst case it also can just mean more noise and factual, ideological distortions to weed through. It is also easier to hide behind an avatar, making the future sourcing of materials all the more difficult.

The abundance and relative cheap cost masks the reality of most people still not having access to such equipment and knowledge. Outside of a relatively small part of the world, and in the poorer classes, these cheap cameras are still economically unreachable. Along with this comes a large environmental cost to the production of this technology, which at its origin starts with mineral extraction in (often) slave like conditions for the workers. From mainstream leftists like Paul Mason to more radical, academic voices like Michael Hart and Antonio Negri (2004), the notion too often is that the abundance logic of affective labor and non-material labor is achieved through the democratized access to technology and its simplicity. Their argument is that a form of commoning is occurring thanks to the centrality of our immaterial labor and the technologies supporting that labor. However, Silvia Federici (2006) has argued that this ignorance of the production chain profoundly undermines social movements’ claims on justice, and renders invisible forms of labor and exploitation.

The concentration of this technology in wealthier parts of the country also means that the dominant narratives and experiences will again find their voice the easiest and exclude the subaltern ones. As Federici’s critique suggests, the same is true of critical feminist voices. The content produced is thus still highly gendered and subject to global class relations, where the critical voices heard are still just the usual suspects. So even where these narratives are critical it is still problematic as they represent European and North American masculine realities and experiences that should not speak for the world.

An old, yet still valid concern with visual materials is of course the perspective of truth. Is it true because we see it happening on video or in a picture? In short, no. Video is always a representation and not a whole context. The person filming is already making editorial choices before they even turn on the camera: which situations to cover, where to stand, what kind of images to look for, what to ask (if doing interviews), etc. Gillian Rose (2001, 2) reminds us that images “interpret the world; they display it in very particular ways; they represent it.” This is always true, regardless of whether you have five of five hundred images of a situation.

A final point is that abundance of production does not translate into quality productions, important content, or ethical content. It can be used by racist movements just as easily, and the lack of any standards or control means it can be used in harmful, exploitative ways, as it always has. Only now it is perhaps easier to give a response, and create a counter narrative. In short, we need to be careful of claims that the increasing availability and ease of use of documentation technology radically changes the power relations in a society or gives greater power to social justice movements, even while it clearly can and does influence how events will be remembered.

In conclusion, this piece has attempted to reflect briefly on the impact that digital media has had on activism and research in the context of how something is remembered down the line. While I argue that it absolutely can influence public knowledge of something, and diversify the means of representation (and thus the accessible views), this is not without a few problems. There are important ecological questions here, as well as older questions of what and how, and by whom, something is represented. Greater access can, but does not necessarily answer these questions.

Refrences

Federici, Silvia (2006). “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint”. On https://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/precarious-labor-a-feminist-viewpoint/ (last accessed 13.6.2016)

Hardt, M and Negri, A (2000). Empire. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, USA

Pink, Sarah (2012). Situating Everyday Life. London: Sage.

_________ (2008). “Mobilizing Visual Ethnography: Making Routes, Making Place and Making Images” in Forum: Qualitative Social Research Volume 9, No. 3.

Rose, Gillian (2001). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. London: Sage.

Endnotes

[1] http://www.komunal.org/komunal-org – last accessed 5.7.2016

[2] http://videoeducationjournal.springeropen.com/

Collective writing

We are writing our first collective text since putting together the proposal for the DOC-team application back in 2014. Written for the AVPC2016 conference, the text is a reflection on our work since June, taking on board new readings and feedback. The only caveat is that it will not contain any data from our field research since we are only moving to the field towards the end of the summer. It is, however, a chance to get some (very) early clues as to how we might organize our final presentation of the project in a few years’ time. Finally, and this I would like to meditate a bit on here, it is a chance to experiment with collective writing and explore linkages between our works.

Our project is effectively three distinct research fields connected through a common methodological (visual ethnography) and theoretical (social movement theory, visual culture and performativity) framework. At a glance this gives the appearance of a disjointed project. It is certainly not a frame in which our data sets will be building on each other directly. The common work is thus less systematic. Instead, the flow is more like a separating and coming back together. We are constantly floating between our individual research and the common frame.

Our challenge is to find a balance. We don’t want to be too preoccupied with individual components that represent our personal interest and research passions. And yet, we want to have our own voice in the project, not getting lost in the common theories and methodologies. Our voices are our own, but should harmonize as well. This means, of course, that the collective part is transformed through our individual works, and vice-versa, our individual work is transformed through collective work. Importantly, our individual voice is also transformed through the influence of the others’ voices. The distinction remains, we do not become “one voice”, but the interaction changes things – new arguments, approaches, styles, etc., come into the mix.

We want the paper to reflect the same flow as our project, bringing forth this tension between individual and collective dynamics in the research. Our first paper thus takes shape: a common intro (theory, methods), three distinct examples, and a return to the common via a final reflection on the examples we have, and the questions this brings forth for our project. Our writing process has been similar. Common discussions on what we need, individual writing, common review and polishing.

Of course, it was not so linear or so smooth. There was much back and forth, changes to earlier decisions that were not materializing as we hoped, or we just forgot what the agreed approach was, no-one wrote it down, etc. This constant correcting is also a key part of the process of writing the paper, and even the slow cooking of the whole project.

This is, in a sense, an important process of reflection on all levels of our work. “Reflection” is also a key tool in our methodology. Douglas Macbeth (2001) writes: “reflexivity is a deconstructive exercise for locating the intersections of author, other, text, and world…”. We just pluralize all Macbeth’s aforementioned categories, particularly the first one: “authors”.

AVPC 2016: Visual Pedagogies and Digital Cultures

The DOC-team has been accepted for a collective presentation at the first Visual Pedagogies and Digital Cultures conference (AVPC2016) in Zagreb. The conference takes place on the 18-19 of June in Zagreb. This will our first opportunity to present our work collectively at a conference. For more details, check the conference website here: http://avpc.tvz.hr/.

From the call:

During the past decades, traditional media have undergone major transformations. Hierarchical models of one-way dissemination of information, knowledge and culture have been replaced by horizontal models of two-way communication, and everyone has become a producer and a consumer. One by one, traditional media gave in to new modes of production and dissemination.

In the beginning, the Internet enabled people to produce and share text. Soon after,technological development enabled people to produce and share images and music. Finally, following rapid increase in computing power and bandwith, video has joined the long line of digitally transformed media.

The Association of Visual Pedagogies Conference AVPC 2016: Visual Pedagogies and Digital Cultures explores these transformations in the context of human learning around three broad dialectically intertwined themes. The first theme is concerned with practical issues. How to produce suitable video learning materials? When, and under which conditions, can we videotape children? The second theme is related to video pedagogies. What is the role of video in physical and virtual classrooms? How to seize the pedagogical potentials of video? Finally, the third theme is related to digital cultures, politics, and emancipation. What is the new role of video in production and dissemination of culture and knowledge? What are the unique features of video research metodologies? What is the role of visual cultures in new social movements and social transformations at large?

The last question, about visual cultures in new social movements is what interests us the most. We will focus on the visual artefacts we are working with: posters, pictures, videos, and atmosphere generally. These artefacts will be at the center of our presentation and paper.So we are looking to make an applied presentation, focusing on materials gathered, rather than the theoretical core of our collective work. However, from the artefacts, we will make references to the field of visual research in social movement theory as far as they are relevant.