Mediating Identity Narratives: a case study in queer digital storytelling as everyday activism

Sonja Vivienne

Abstract


Digital Stories are short autobiographical documentaries, often illustrated with personal photographs and narrated in the first person, and typically produced in group workshops. As a media form they offer ordinary people the opportunity to represent themselves to audiences of their choosing; and this amplification of hitherto unheard voices has significant repercussions for their social participation. Many of the storytellers involved in the Rainbow Family Tree case study that is the subject of this paper can be characterised as everyday activists for their common desire to use their personal stories to increase social acceptance of marginalised identity categories. However, in conflict with their willingness to share their personal stories, many fear the risks and ramifications of distributing them in public spaces (especially online) to audiences both intimate and unknown. Additionally, while technologies for production and distribution of rich media products have become more accessible and user-friendly, many obstacles remain. For many people there are difficulties with technological access and aptitude, personal agency, cultural capital, and social isolation, not to mention availability of the time and energy requisite to Digital Storytelling. Additionally, workshop context, facilitation and distribution processes all influence the content of stories. This paper explores the many factors that make authentic self-representation far from straight forward. I use qualitative data drawn from interviews, Digital Story texts and ethnographic observation of GLBTQIS* participants in a Digital Storytelling initiative that combined face-to-face and online modes of participation. I consider mediating influences in practice and theory and draw on strategies put forth in cultural anthropology and narrative therapy to propose some practical tools for nuanced and sensitive facilitation of Digital Storytelling workshops and webspaces. Finally, I consider the implications of these facilitation strategies for voice, identity and social participation.


*This acronym refers to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Same sex attracted people whom I henceforth refer to as Queer which is not to say that all the people I include under this umbrella would necessarily embrace the term themselves. Participants in the Digital Storytelling case study also included parents and children of GLBTQIS people.


Keywords


digital storytelling; everyday activism; identity; voice; mediating strategies

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