Implicating Practice: Engaged Scholarship through Co-Creative Media

From the Introduction:

“In political asylum proceedings, the way a story is told determines whether one will be granted refugee status or not—or as Evelyn, one research participant whose monologue is discussed in this chapter, has written, “whether you are in, or out.” Often what matters is not the veracity of the story, or the ability to communicate it, but the “plausibility” of the story, and the “believability” of the storyteller. The research presented in the chapter draws from a longitudinal (2007–2010) ethnography of media production with political asylum seekers and labour migrants in Ireland. Said research aimed to develop an exploratory and critical practice of inquiry that responded not only to the ethical complexities of research with refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented migrants, but also to create opportunities for research subjects to interpret, analyse, document, and publicly screen their experiences as newcomers to Ireland. Within a community of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991), participants produced their own media to explore and document their lives as workers, parents, “cultural citizens” (Coll 2010; El Haj 2009; Rosaldo 1994), and artists simultaneously adapting to and transforming a new environment. By centring participants from diasporic communities as the primary authors and co-producers of their audio-visual narratives, the research sought to extend and deepen the public discourse of migration. The precarious circumstances of research participants living in the asylum system and/or living without legal documentation, together with the goal of developing digital storytelling as a research method, necessitated a slowing down of the production process. Instead of the standard CDS (StoryCenter) model of a three-day workshop (Lambert 2013), the seminars were constructed as college courses for emergent media producers. Classes were held every week for 2–4 hours over a period of five months with a follow-up phase of approximately four months for collaborative post-production. Great care was given to mentoring participants as emergent media practitioners and to critically exploring the diverse elements of their documentary essays—visual montage, sound design, script development, and video editing. The audio-visual production process—the opportunity to be creative in new ways—contributed to unprecedented engagement among research practitioners who rarely missed a seminar. The development of a longitudinal space for creativity, and, in particular, the act of scriptwriting facilitated relationships of caring and trust. It provided opportunities for dialogue, solidarity, and recognition. Valuing the story that each participant selected through adequate time to develop not only a monologue but also an audiovisual landscape; providing engaged feedback in an affirmative manner; and encouraging each storytellers’ practice as an author, scholar, and emergent documentarian provided key elements to building a dynamic community of practice (Cammarota 2008; Fine et al. 2000; Freire 1998; Greene 1995; Moll 1992).3 Through the process, research practitioners—seven women and six men from African, Asian, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern countries—interrogated their daily circumstances negotiating migration policy and revealed the structural violence of asylum and migrant labour regimes. A scholarship of engagement necessitates collaboration, analysis, and creativity across domains. As a co-creative (Spurgeon et al. 2009) practice, digital storytelling (Gubrium 2009) can render these domains—the nexus of aesthetic, ethical, political, institutional, and research considerations questions—tangible and open to engagement” (Alexandra 2017:335-336).