The Uncertain Possibilities and Necessary Risks in Participatory Visual Communication: Towards an Emergent Ethics of Contestation in Global-Local Policy Spaces

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:00
Location: Hörsaal 46 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Joanna WHEELER, Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, South Africa
Jacqueline SHAW, Royal Holloway University of London, United Kingdom
Sustainable change processes require that decision makers really listen to and work together with the most excluded groups over time. The practical challenge is that, by definition, the perspectives of excluded people are rarely articulated and often neglected, and even when they are given a space to be heard, there is a high level of risk involved in entering those spaces.  To counteract these power relations, it is necessary to build both communicative capacities and deeper awareness in context, and receptive and inclusive spaces for external dialogue. Participatory visual processes provide a way to inhabit both the risk and hope of these moments simultaneously, and negotiate between the two through creativity.

This paper discusses the use of participatory visual processes to mediate between global policy makers and people living in poverty in the context of UN deliberations on a new global sustainable development framework. We start from the assumption that risk-taking is intrinsic to transforming the balance of social influence, in contrast to the conventional ethical urge to do no harm. Creative visual processes as a source of innovation always generate both hope for new possibilities and risks in terms of the dilemmas inherent in these processes. Recognizing this opens the opportunity to learn from practice experiences in context about how these tensions can be negotiated, and what this means for ethical research. We will consider digital storytelling and participatory video projects in South Africa, India and the Balkans to raise key critical questions about the balance between mutuality and critical transformation, the importance of iterative processes as an emergent ethical response to hope and the possibility of harm, the centrality of relationship building, and the need for flexible application of visual and creative methods in supporting particular social aims.