Folk Media Meets Digital Technology for Sustainable Social Change: A Case Study of the Center for Digital Storytelling

Article excerpt

Keywords: Digital Storytelling, Technology, Media, Social Change, Community, Participatory Model


This paper analyzes the movement of oral and written storytelling practices to online digital storytelling. It is the first comprehensive case study of the globally-recognized Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS), focusing specifically on how the CDS model of digital storytelling contributes to sustainable social change while reflecting the media's shift toward citizen-based journalism. The paper engages the complexities, limits and constraints of the participatory model as it informs digital storytelling, and applies the four theoretical approaches to community media (Carpentier, Lie & Servaes, 2003) to the digital storytelling movement to develop an analytic framework for understanding how these stories can be used to give a voice to the voiceless, raise awareness, increase education, and promote democracy.


For as long as there has been language, there have been people who have used it to tell stories. Whether they are elaborate fictions woven together by many, or carved by one from the barest bones; whether they are tiny morsels of truth told with a careful intent and purpose, designed to relay a message, expose an identity, or nurture a community, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the art and activity of storytelling is an ancient and universal part of most of the world's cultures (Hertzberg & Lunby, 2008). As something that transcends time and space, the implications of storytelling's transformation into digital mediatized form calls for some deeper exploration specifically as it concerns its contribution to sustainable social change. By "sustainable social change" this paper refers to a lasting process of empowerment and transformation that aids in the reduction of poverty and makes possible greater social equality and the larger fulfillment of human potential (Quebral, 1975).

The first part of this paper will analyze the movement of oral and written storytelling practices to online digital storytelling, and look at two examples of digital storytelling projects in Africa. Digital stories are being used as a tool in activist organizing and education, as a technique for increasing understanding of social stigmas such as people living with AIDS/HIV and as a way for victims of trauma and violence to speak out about their experiences (Silence Speaks, 2009). Digital storytelling's growing popularity suggests that it is part of a larger shift in the media industry toward grassroots, citizen-based journalism in a new public sphere.

The second part of the paper will analyze the ways in which the participatory method and multiplicity model inform the process of creating the digital story by exploring these critical questions: To what extent can the digital storytelling movement be participatory if the model is based on a unified structure developed in the West? How are cultural differences addressed during the story telling process? For example, in some cultures the experiences of abuse and oppression are private and never spoken about publicly. What are the access issues in relation to the distribution of a digital story particularly in the developing world? Who is going to see it? What are the best ways to know and or measure its impact?

Finally, the third part of the paper will demonstrate that the four theoretical approaches to the definition of community media (Carpentier, Lie & Servaes, 2003) may also be applied to the digital story telling movement (and by movement, I refer to the content, production processes, distribution, and viewing audience) in order to situate digital storytelling within a framework for analysis and to demonstrate support for the idea that the application of digital storytelling in a community and its subsequent effects, will always be in relation to the community itself (cultural), and the relation that community has to the larger society, state, market and structures of power. …


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