Amplifying the Voices of the Poor

Participatory video (PV) is a great way for a community to explore issues or voice their concerns by creating their own film. I found Tamara Plush’s talk at the ORECOMM Festival on “The Reflective Lens: How Participatory Video Practitioners Experience their own Agency in Raising the Voice of Others” very fascinating. Plush was giving insight into how participatory video can be used as a tool for communicating social change to reinforce citizen engagement efforts in the international development sector. PV as a method can enable citizen voices of people living in poverty within an international development context. 

Plush’s research is based o3 - idealn Nick Couldry’s 5 principles around voice and how they relate to participatory video. Four of his principles (that voice needs to be socially grounded, an embodied process, include reflexive agency, and be in material form to gain value) can all be realized through using PV but his 5th principle, to recognize subtle ways voice can be diminished or devalued, needs further exploration and is hence the interested of Plush’s research.

Through interviewing PV practitioners with vast knowledge in this area, Plush is exploring how PV is being used to rais4 - realitye the voices of the poor. Her findings are being split between the purpose for using PV and the experience of PV processes. These are further broken into 3 formative views each, with agency located at the center.

  1. Agenda-Driven:
    • Participatory projects have to fit within a results-based agenda set by the funding bodies, be driven by specific outcomes designed through linear planning processes, or being used as a one-off event.
  2. Output-Focused:
    • PV is not being viewed as a social process for group development or social mobilization.
    • PV is being used by organizations as a way to acquire video products for branding, communication, or fundraising.
  3. Voice as Opportunity:
    • Couldry calls this the 2nd order value of voice.
    • PV needs to not only amplify the voices of excluded groups but also to address the structures and the organizing mechanisms that keep voice from being heard.
  4. Apolitical Participation:
    • At a project’s inception, gathering opinions is prioritized as the main value rather than using PV as a process of social justice for people to engage politically.
  5. Innocuous:
    • PV has the potential to reinforce local power dynamics and put people in more vulnerable situations than they were before if their views challenge the status quo.
    • PV participants can be dis-empowered if the process does not allow for local control or ownership.
  6. Quick-to-Learn-Sustainable:
    • The belief that PV processes can be quickly learned and sustained at the community level is deceptive as even professionals need to take long-term courses or gain work experience to build skills.

Plush does not go into too much detail about specific projects; however, one example of a PV project Plush is known to have worked with in an effort to empower ethnic minority child voices was with Plan Vietnam to build child-centered disaster resilient communities.

For voice to matter, it requires to be acknowledged, heard and reacted to. It will be interesting to see the result of Plush’s research which aims at exemplifying how participatory video might facilitate or limit how the voices of excluded groups matter in the context of international development. As Cammaerts and Carpentier (2007) argue, deliberative processes and active citizens’ involvement have been neglected in the past, and thus it will be fascinating to see how the adoption of ICT to enhance citizens’ participation is being actualized in practice.

Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK.

2 thoughts on “Amplifying the Voices of the Poor”

  1. Thank you Kim for highlighting the importance of Plush’s lecture. It is usually the case that only lip service is paid to raising the voice of the marginalized. As you mentioned, PV projects tend to underestimate the challenges that are posed in this process. The technophilic idea that just by administring ICT, all problems are solved, is quite familiar among some development agents. However, this proves not to be the case most of the time.

    Lovink, G. & Zehle, S. (2005) the Incommunicado Reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures

    1. I think touches upon a crucial point and that is how individuals can make use of technology in order to empower themselves and their communities. ICT can be seen as a speaker that magnifies their voices.

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