On Thursday 17th September, we were in Brighton at the 4th International Visual Methods Conference to present a paper about digital storytelling, knowledge hierarchies and environmental narratives.
As a starting point of our reflection about the use of digital storytelling to dismantle knowledge hierarchies, we used in that occasion a question that you can hear at the end of this audio file. This is a short extract of a seminar that we had at the beginning of September at the Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development in Uppsala, where Professor Wilson presented our research project DRY – Drought Risk and You and told how he built this connection between his research interest on storytelling and – broadly speaking – the debate around climate change. He mentioned a conversation he had at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, with the Communication Department, about how to engage public in the climate change conversation. And this is a short piece of that “story”, of that particular moment when Mike Wilson found that link: https://soundcloud.com/antonia-liguori/reflecting-on-knowledge-systems-with-prof-mike-wilson-loughborough-university
Reflecting on different knowledge systems stimulates a crucial consideration of language. Sometimes we use the same words with different meanings (what does it mean “data” for a hydrologist? And what else for a Professor of Drama? Do they both collect/extract data in their research?). Sometimes we mean the same concepts by using different terms, but at the end of the day we can find a common ground – as we might do for instance if we started a conversation about “systems” to reflect on the digital storytelling methodology.
Systems theory has had a far-reaching influence with its promise of providing a mechanism to integrate the social and natural (Pelling 2011).
To summarize the main ideas of this theory, we like to use the metaphor of the Slinky described by Donella H. Meadows in her publication about “Thinking in systems” (2007). She explains: The hands that manipulate it suppress or release some behavior that is already latent within the structure of the spring. That is a central insight of systems theory. And it is central in our research if we reflect on how different communities might react to similar drought or extreme weather events. And we have to understand these different results/ types of data if we have in mind – as we planned in DRY Project – to develop an innovative drought science-narrative resource that can be used in decision-making for drought risk management in UK.
As Donella H. Meadows argues, “systems happen all at once. They are connected not just in one direction, but in many directions simultaneously. To discuss them properly, it is necessary somehow to use a language that shares some of the same properties as the phenomena under discussion”. She suggests the use of pictures – “because you can see all the parts of a picture at once” -; she also depicts her theory with graphical language and metaphor – just to be understood easily.
We propose to use digital stories to investigate people behaviours and the connections between feelings/concerns and the place where they live or have their business when we talk about water scarcity and water use in a broader sense.
The paper presented at the Visual Methods Conference proposes an innovative approach to narrative, taking the position that narrative can be understood as system. We propose, in contrast to previous narrative research which has focused on structure as a means to understanding narrative ‘texts’, that the notion of the system as a movement through a structure of related components or ‘interrelationships’ (Giddens, 2007) places emphasis on the performance of narratives.
This paper explores how a systems approach helps deliver understanding in a trans-disciplinary research context, allowing previously unheard voices and experiences to enter the ‘official’ discourse with equal authority, creating a space to build bridges across disparate languages, data and cultures of enquiry, expert and lay knowledges, as part of a system of narratives about drought.
This paper, therefore, explores how digital storytelling practice, within the context of DRY – which uses digital storytelling as a participatory visual method to broaden engagement with diverse communities – and other related environmental narrative research projects, concerns itself not only with how to communicate the science better; but also about how to connect personal stories with science, dismantle knowledge hierarchies and stimulate active citizenship.
Also proposes the digital storytelling itself as a different way of knowing – as argued by Mike Wilson during the above-quoted seminar in Sweden:
Dr Antonia Liguori, Loughborough University – School of the Arts, English and Drama
Dr Liz Roberts, University of the West of England – Faculty of Environment and Technology