The Power of Participatory Video
Alison Cardinal: “Participatory Video: An Apparatus for Ethically Researching Literacy, Power and Embodiment.”
Reading this article, I found myself wishing that the author had defined the term “embodiment.” While I know what the term means, knowing in what sense the author was using “embodiment” would have been helpful from the start. Since the meaning of a word is frequently context-dependent, this lends visual media a strength that static texts lack. In video, context is visible and aural; the speaker’s pronunciation—intonation, cadence, and stress—conveys meaning. Although context can be supplied with text, it may be difficult to ascertain precise connotation if the reader is not supplied with a definition; we cannot hear inflection in written text. In other words, I think video can sometimes convey implied meaning more efficiently and thoroughly than the written word. The most convincing argumentative support is often personal experience, which is why eyewitnesses are so compellingly convincing to jurors. But participatory video is more than a tool to convey ideas or create knowledge. It can help reset the balance of power between the producer and the consumer.
Another way in which video addresses the balance of power is as a means to record survey responses, an excellent way to mitigate the “observer expectancy” influence. It may also enable a researcher to capture more information about a respondent: as I mentioned above, we communicate through inflection and body language as well. This aligns with what the author calls “participatory design,” which involves the user of the apparatus/space/resource in the design of the apparatus/space/resource (Cardinal 36). For example, creating spaces that are usable and as free from gender bias and other forms of discrimination as possible requires considering the needs of a wide array of users. This is similar to UX, or user experience, which includes the user’s needs in the design process to best accommodate a wide variety of individuals: “[u]ser experience work is commonly project based, even when ongoing, and frequently involves multiple stakeholders from within and outside the organization” (Sandra Hirsh, Information Services Today: An Introduction, pp. 171, 179).Thus, both processes (participatory design and UX) are indicative of researcher/designer respect for the subject. Furthermore, in participatory design, the apparatus used to capture the information aids in conveying equitable status to the user as co-creator “by being inclusive of embodied knowledge-construction” (Cardinal 36).
Participatory video (PV) is another way that “intersectional feminist researchers account for the positionality of the researcher and suggest that the collaborative construction of knowledge with participant/collaborators is a more ethical approach” (35). As Cardinal explains it, “my research suggests video does not just capture a reality but constructs one, and the researcher needs to actively design a method of data collection that works against Western ways of knowledge-production” (35). In this YouTube video, titled “Participatory Video is a Revolutionary Tool,” Samwel Nangiri of Tanzania reveals ways that PV aids activism:
(InsightShare, 15 Nov. 2019)
PV is increasingly utilized by marginalized people the world over to heighten the impact of their message, to increase communication, and to spread the word. PV “democratizes the production of stories and products by including more opportunities for marginalized people to participate” (Cardinal 36). Not only can this lend power to the disenfranchised, it increases literacy—both digital and traditional.
Whether communicating digitally or traditionally, one thing creators/composers must keep in mind is their audience, whether “imagined or real” (Cardinal 43). Referencing Sara Kindon, Cardinal argues that “The boundaries between researcher/researched, audience, and apparatus are slippery, and they change based on emerging assemblages” (43). This is a part of the “democratizing” abilities of PV: to reset the power balance in ways that written communication is not capable of doing.
Many of us may feel like an “outsider” when entering the academic world. How much more alienating it must be for a person who has been marginalized by skin color or ableness. PV, participatory design, and UX all seek to include the marginalized, and PV gives creators greater power to influence their audience as they decide what audiences hear and see. A deeper connection may be established by utilizing viewers’ eyes and ears. A multitude of choices, some involving creators’ bodies, influence and shape both the message and audience perception, while helping to engages viewers’ hearts and minds in ways that static text cannot.