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I regard negotiations at the heart of Digital Citizenship as central in my approach to both teaching and research.
These are some of the central questions that emerge - and I’ll go further into contested notions later - they are questions around identity and belonging, voice and participation, and the shifting boundaries of the ‘self’ and the ‘collective’ – in the following I tell the story of how these teaching and research interests have unfolded for me, beginning in my own student experiences at Uni in 1989 (nearly 30 years ago!)
I did an exchange program in Honduras in Central America for a year when I was 17… so by the time I re-joined my peers doing Arts at Ad Uni the following year I had already gained a heightened awareness of cultural difference, poverty and injustice. I’d also been to the spectacular Museum of the Moving Image in London and resolved that making movies was clearly the way to change the world - bearing in mind that this was in the era of the telex and the VHS vs Betacam debate… after some more travelling (and the many hours of waitressing that funded it) I ended up at Flinders because at that stage they were the only SA institution that did applied film production.
This eventually led me to AFTRS and nearly 10 years in Sydney where I learnt to direct (and edit on a Steinbeck among other things). My sense of ‘difference’ and my desire to ‘find a place’ in a politicised and vocal community led to me ‘coming out’. And gave me much fodder for storytelling - my first doco collaboration was called ‘Personals’ and explored lesbian personal columns back when they appeared in the back pages of the queer press. Interestingly this research interest persisted and I am now part of an online community that explores ‘hook-up-app-studies’ alongside privacy, geo-location and self-branding. Here I am celebrating the screening of one of my graduate films ‘Something Honest’ alongside stars Tracey Mann and Zoe Carides.
Following graduation I found myself more attracted to social justice filmmaking than the advertising jobs that were necessary if one was to pay rent or succeed (arguably mutually exclusive) in Sydney. In this period I made several low budget educational documentaries - about Youth Suicide and troubled boys who were the sons of violent fathers. I also had a baby and moved back to Adelaide. I worked as a Project Officer at the SAFC when they were housed at Hendon. This was an invaluable experience where I learnt the merit of an excellent application - and more about securing funding than I had ever learnt at Uni or film school.
When I left the SAFC I established an independent film production company - Incite Stories - and an ABN that I still use for freelance and community work. I secured funding for 2 bilingual educational documentaries that explored issues around drug dependence and parenting. I’d like to offer a little detail on the next couple of projects not as a catalogue of personal achievements but as a means of illustrating some of the lived experiences I bring to teaching and researching in ‘media and communications’. I edited and directed these 2 productions and they taught me a lot about modulating language for different audiences - both Vn. and English and the often alienated communities of parents and teens we were hoping to communicate with. Recruiting participants was hard because so much stigma is attached to drug-dependence, yet we hoped for more nuanced and complex stories than mere ‘survival narratives’. In order to evoke the trauma of living with a drug dependent parent from a child’s POV we chose animation as an ethical means of sparing already damaged kids from the intrusion of camera, crew and probing questions. These ethical complexities are ones I now teach in ‘Non-Fiction Form’ - my personal insights add depth when prompting critical analysis and comparison - for example recently my students and I consider Blackfella films productions of ‘First Australians’ (in 2008) and ‘First Contact’ (in 2016).
Building on this work between in 2007-2009 I produced ‘Wadu Matyidi’ or ‘Once Upon a Time’ a cross platform multi-media series of 5 short docos and an 8 min animation. The project developed from a Taoundi College based Adnyamathanha language class - they wrote a script about 3 ‘yakadis’ children hunting, playing and telling stories about the ancient ‘Yamati’ - which was actually like a giant wombat - or megafauna ‘Diprotodon’. The children encounter a weird footprint and scare one another with stories. Later, during a storm, they shelter in a cave - and catch a glimpse of a new legendary beast - their first sighting of a white man, riding a horse. This project involved leasing with urban and remote community members, young and old and just under $250K of finance from NITV, SAFC and the Federal Dept of Water, Heritage and Environment. Building on the scheduling, budgeting and creative animation skills of previous, this project involved working with Jurevicius Prod. and coaching the language class kids to voice the animated characters in Adnyamathanha. This project gave me excellent experience in negotiating editorial agency and authority - the differences between direction, facilitation and collaboration if you will - in the midst of complicated and longstanding webs of power and control.
It left me with a desire to further analyse and articulate these complexities of process - details that are rarely pertinent in the context of ‘finding a story’ - as audiences we prefer tidy beginnings, middles and endings… or at least with the option to toggle the ‘director’s narration track’ on and off. Following a series of community based Digital Storytelling projects I began to consider the possibility of a longer study, giving air to some of these theoretical concerns. The Rainbow Family Tree project was born as a web-space resourced with DST DIY manuals and a grass-roots social change agenda. The case studies I facilitated as community development projects for SHine SA and later ACSA also became vehicles for analysing what I came to call ‘everyday activism’, networked self-representation, privacy and publicness.
I was super-lucky to find fabulous supervision with John Hartley, Jean Burgess and later Alan McKee at the QUT ARC Centre for Excellence in the Creative Industries. I gained interdisciplinary context and international networks of ECR colleagues via the prestigious Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Program… but still found it beneficial to cut and paste drafts all over my office floor! Later in a post-doctoral fellowship at University of Queensland I had opportunity to rework my PHD as my first book. In the Centre for Communication and Social Change I gained further insight into development of grant applications and had opportunity to design curriculum for and supervise a small Masters cohort.
Control - at government and institutional level, surveillance, big data, education and policy Contest - via hacks both large and small scale, both strategic and spontaneous and often subversive Culture - the role of creativity and everyday life in weaving together the now inseparable digital and material or embodied…
My own contributions - a collaboration with Brady Robards and Sian Lincoln on research methodologies that abstain from framing clear questions… a case of sitting firmly on our hands and allowing, sometimes slow emergence of research participant concerns. And a chapter that develops Ken Plummer’s concept of ‘Intimate Citizenship’ first coined in 2003, for digitally networked complexities. I do this through comparison of strategies used by 3 case studies - people who in their everyday. embodied lives contest the boundaries between social control and personal imperatives to die, be born and express the gender of their choosing. 2 of these studies are of well known activists - Phillip Nitschke and birth educator and former home birth midwife Lisa Barrett - and the remaining case studies a pseudonymised trans couple as they negotiate employment and the finer details of wellbeing in the face of transphobia.
Returning now to my theme of teaching and researching Digital Citizenship… arguably more now than in my own early days as an undergrad… every moment of our lives is now interwoven with the digital - and I believe this is neither wholly good or bad. Media, whether mainstream or personal, offer opportunities for and obstacles to belonging. Communication processes may appear more arbitrary - maybe, maybe not - but what is certain is how absolutely necessary critical analytic skills have become…
As I’ve flagged, my research interests unfold from previous work and prevailing concerns in popular culture - intersecting in feminist and queer theory and mediated communications. I remain absorbed in somewhat intractable questions of access, agency, voice and rhetoric. To a large extent these concerns are pragmatic and applied - what consequences for health policy, education and law reform? However they are also conceptual and find a place in emergent *trans studies - questions of fluid and multiple identities, the traces of memory and digital archives, past present future… consequently concerns regarding ubiquitous data collection, surveillance and privacy also dominate. How are the risks and rewards of digitally mediated communication experienced unevenly across marginalised and stigmatised communities?
Over the last couple of years I have facilitated a creative arts and community development initiative that I call Stories Beyond Gender - working with the gender-diverse community here in Adelaide and regional hubs including Mt. Gambier and Pt. Lincoln. Every month or so we undertook a social media storytelling workshop exploring digital self-representation. Activities ranged from face-painting vines, twitter haikus, photo tai chi through to more traditional short video production and blogging. We ran a Trans* world cafe in which gender-diverse people, family, allies and in some cases people who don’t quite ‘get it’ - together explored questions of ‘when do we feel ‘at home’’, and what is it like to ‘play’ with gender expression? All of our creative outputs are curated on a website and recently these born digital works evolved into material forms as an art exhibition that we have now mounted twice and a zine, that is circulating the room.
In terms of future research plans I hope to secure further funding to accomodate an international comparison of community engagement activities used by gender-diverse activist storytellers in key centres of social change. I’m currently collaborating with other scholars (many of them in this photo from the Berlin conference of the Association of Internet Researchers) around emerging trends in ‘post-gender’ and ‘post-digital’ scholarship.
These themes were also recently represented in my leadership of the Flinders Research Institute in the Humanities annual theme of ‘Technologies of Memory and Affect’. This research focus has resulted in a special collection soon to be published in ‘Media International Australia’ and interestingly, creating this somewhat all encompassing space has resulted in divergent interrogations of Indigenous memory, stories of resilience among new arrivals, discussions of material trace in ‘Space Junk’ scholarship and ethical ramifications of the ‘google books’ project. So… where do I see myself in 5 years time?
Probably continuing to wrangle negotiations of Digital Citizenship, both personally and professionally. I aim to publish another book - this time out of the ‘Stories Beyond Gender’ project (and I’m currently working on the proposal). I believe the themes I’ve explored in this presentation remain urgent and continue to get more complicated… and they have broad significance for us all, regardless of whether we choose to embrace mediated technologies or scorn them. As always those who are ‘left out’ whether by choice or imposition are just as revealing as those who have the loudest voices.