Last lecture, we talked about how social media gave voice to marginalized groups in two ways – first, digital platforms like YouTube give people a way to connect with each other and create community; and second, as an act of ‘public intimacy,’ social media makes visible details and perspectives of marginalized peoples to the wider public.
But does it?
In the article that we read for today, Jo Tacchi gives us two different ways to think about this issue, which centers around the idea of voice:
Voice is about the agency to represent oneself and the right to express an opinion. The promise of voice—the opportunity to speak, be heard and have some influence over decisions that affect one’s life—is central to the institutional legitimacy of contemporary democracies (2012, 218).
To bring this out, Tacchi talks about two distinct yet connected development programs: communication for development (C4D) and information and communication technology for development (ICT4D). (Yes, governments and non-governmental organizations do love their acronyms!). Both emphasize the idea that communication and media should be participatory processes that can catalyze social change. In terms of the digital and social media, the issue is of course suggested by the ‘digital divide,’ but the emphasis should more be placed on ‘digital inclusion.’
Tacchi gives two cases, one that emphasizes ‘voice’ and the other that emphasizes ‘listening.’ The project she introduces (Finding a Voice) was part of ICT initiatives in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, and had three components: capacity development, local development of participatory content creation, and new and inclusive forms of content creation. This all centered around the idea of digital storytelling.
In the second case study, by emphasizing listening, Tacchi wants us to think about the politics of recognition:
the politics of recognition suggests that a redistribution of material resources for speaking or voice is inadequate unless there is also a shift in the hierarchies of value and attention accorded different actors and communities (2012, 225)
But the problem remains in the original inequality of resources, in that ICT4D, like any other development or philanthropy project, is evaluated based on the criteria of the donors (instead of the people on the ground). So while we can recognize as Gabriella Coleman suggests, that media cannot be discussed as a universal experience, any products that come out of these media projects are still held to the standard of the powerful, in ordered to be heard. This may not be intentional, per se, but culture still stands in the way of the things that we do.
Jo Tacchi is a media anthropologist with an exceptional record of collaboration with domestic and international academic, commercial, government and community partners. She has led a number of complex, multi-country research projects and developed ethnographic and action research approaches and methodologies that have been taken up globally.