Are We Listening Yet? Participatory Knowledge Production through Media Practice

From the chapter:

Encounters of Political Listening

“The “promise” of digital storytelling has primarily focused not on listening, or even visibility per se, but on the power and possibility of “voice.” But what impact does “voice” have if no one is listening? After all, not listening is to exercise power (Bickford 1996, 3). Anthropologist Michael Jackson (2002) cautions against assumptions regarding any inherent “power” of storytelling, arguing that there is nothing necessarily, or automatically, transformative about speaking up and “telling your story.” Jackson writes, “There is no automatic or magical efficacy in speaking one’s mind unless the institutional framework of a community, profession, or religion, contextualizes and recognizes the act” (Jackson 2002, 4). Media theorist Jean Burgess similarly argues, “The question that we ask about “democratic” media participation can no longer be limited to ‘Who gets to speak?’ We must also ask ‘Who is heard, and to what end?'” (Burgess 2006, 203). Nick Couldry echoes this concern when he points out, “The issue is what governments do with voice, once expressed: are they prepared to change the way they make policy?” (Couldry 2010, 146). Of course, what is “done” with voice is not easily determined, or shaped.” “Entrenched hierarchies of voice” (Dreher 2009, 446) that enable and sustain the privilege to not listen constitute a complex site of conflict. In the digital storytelling literature, conflict and adversarial communication are not associated with the critical feminist practice of reclaiming experience. Instead, gaining control over the telling of a story, and the workshop site itself, are assumed to be a supportive process and an encouraging environment. Nevertheless, the practice of producing stories unfolds within a field of diverse and, at times, conflicting interests. Participants, facilitators, researchers, and collaborating and funding agencies have different ideas about which stories to tell, who is best positioned to tell them, how they “should” and “should not” be told, and what is at stake. Within this nexus of interdependent yet unequal relationships, methodological attention to the politics of listening offers conceptual inroads to address the power asymmetries inherent in participatory knowledge production through media practice” (Alexandra 2015: 43).