Community-Based Multiliteracies and Digital Media Projects

Questioning Assumptions and Exploring Realities

by Heather M. Pleasants (Volume editor) Dana E. Salter (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook XVIII, 260 Pages


Within community-based digital literacies work, a fundamental question remains unanswered: Where are the stories and reflections of the researchers, scholars, and community workers themselves? We have learned much about contexts, discourses, and the multimodal nature of meaning making in literacy and digital media experiences. However, we have learned very little about those who initiate, facilitate, and direct these community-based multiliteracies and digital media projects. In Community-Based Multiliteracies & Digital Media Projects: Questioning Assumptions and Exploring Realities, contributors discuss exemplary work in the field of community-based digital literacies, while providing an insightful and critical perspective on how we begin to write ourselves into the stories of our work. In doing so, the book makes a powerful contribution to digital literacies praxis and pedagogy – within and outside of community-based contexts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Community-Based Multiliteracies and Digital Media Projects
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword: The Complicated Work of “Making the Familiar Strange” in Community-Based Literacies Research and Practice
  • References
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction: Writing Oneself into the Story
  • Thinking through Community
  • Considering Geopolitical Discourses and Community-Based Multiliteracies and Digital Media Projects
  • Tensions and Challenges in Community-Based Multiliteracies and Digital Media Work
  • Overview of the Book
  • Conclusion: Questioning Assumptions and Exploring Realities
  • References
  • Part 1: Ethics and Politics of Representation and “Doing Good”
  • Chapter 2: Digital Storytelling and the Politics of Doing Good: Exploring the Ethics of Bringing Personal Narratives into Public Spheres
  • Introduction
  • Responsibility to the Story; Responsibility to the Storyteller
  • Case Study Number One: Consent and Its Limitations: Digital Storytelling with Foster Youth
  • Case Study Number Two: The Right to Privacy versus the Right to Know: Supporting Storytellers in Making Choices about Representation
  • Case Study Number Three—From Ethical Facilitation to Ethical Story Sharing: Digital Storytelling with Sonke Gender Justice
  • Conclusion
  • Digital Storyteller’s Bill of Rights, Silence Speaks
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Entry Point: Participatory Media-Making with Queer and Trans Refugees: Social Locations, Agendas and Thinking Structurally
  • Introduction
  • Status Matters
  • Competing Agendas
  • Thinking Structurally
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part 2: Identities and Relationships
  • Chapter 4: Our Stories, Ourselves: Exploring Identities, Sharing Experiences and Building Relationships through Patient Voices
  • Introduction
  • Patient Voices
  • Breaking Down Barriers: What We Do and How We Do It
  • Exploring Identities or Patients Are People Too
  • No Longer Suffering in Silence
  • Sharing Experiences: A Transformative Act?
  • Passing Dragons
  • Safety Within and Without
  • Building Relationships, Embracing Identities
  • Conclusion
  • What Have We Learned?
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 5: I Transform Myself, I Transform the World Around Me
  • Introduction
  • Conclusion
  • The Allied Media Project’s Network Principles
  • The Living Document: By Diana J Nucera
  • References
  • Part 3: Methodologies
  • Chapter 6: You Want to Do What with Doda’s Stories? Building a Community for the Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling in Digital Media
  • Who We Are and How We Came to Be
  • Challenge One: Grand Theft Rez?
  • Interlude: The Mechanics
  • Curriculum
  • Structure
  • Resources
  • Challenge Two: Anybody Wanna Dance?
  • Challenge Three: You Wanna Do What with Doda’s Stories?
  • Future Work
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Adventures in Community Media: Experiments, Findings, and Strategies for Change
  • Introduction
  • Creating My Dream Job
  • Learning by Doing
  • A Collaborative Public History
  • How the Experiments Played Out
  • Lessons Learned
  • Unresolved Dilemmas
  • The Way Forward
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part 4: Pedagogies and Knowledge Construction
  • Chapter 8: The Teaching to Learn Project: Investigating Literacy through Intergenerational Inquiry
  • Introduction
  • Intergenerational Inquiry as a Means of Learning from Teaching
  • The Teaching to Learn Project
  • The Limitations and Potentials of Reading in School
  • “What teens are actually like”: Unlearning Assumptions about Adolescents
  • “Where I’m From”: Critical Investigations of Identity
  • Implications: Teaching to Learn
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 9: Finding Voice: Building Literacies and Communities Inside and Outside the Classroom
  • Introduction
  • Case Study: Finding Voice Project Work, 2007–2008
  • Permeable Boundaries: Balancing Acts, Tensions, and Co-construction in the Finding Voice Project—A Dialogue
  • References
  • Part 5: After the Project
  • Chapter 10: Visions Beyond the Bricks: Reflections on Engaging Communities to Support Black Male Youth
  • “Do you think you’re a smart kid? Yes, I’m a smart kid...”
  • Introduction
  • “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats:” Building Effective Collaborations Around the Beyond the Bricks Film
  • Listening to the Boys Themselves: Challenges of Building a Program that Supports Black Males Where They Are
  • Blurring the Lines between Beyond the Bricks and the Beyond the Bricks Non-Profit to Add the Stories
  • Funding the Cause: The Challenges of Obtaining Consistent Funding for This Emerging Work
  • Conclusion: Moving Onward
  • Chapter 11: Seeing the Synergy in the Signals: Reflections on Weaving Projects into Social Movement Mobilizing through Community Radio
  • Introduction
  • The Salt of Life—Contexts of Struggle in Ada’s Songor Lagoon
  • Joining the Literacies Discussions—Contributions from Ada
  • Synergies Across Projects
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 12: Afterword
  • Getting Here
  • A Note on Our Methodology: Identities and Roles within Community-Based Work
  • Contributing Knowledge and Next Steps
  • List of Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix → Foreword

The Complicated Work of “Making the Familiar Strange” in Community-Based Literacies Research and Practice

Lalitha Vasudevan

For nearly a decade, I have spent time as a volunteer, mentor, tutor, and researcher involved with a community-based alternative to incarceration program in New York City. This organization provides a range of educational, social service, and therapeutic programming for youth who have been arrested and mandated by a judge to attend. I first met Vicki (pseudonym) when she was a case manager with the organization; she has since taken on the role of senior education specialist within an affiliated afterschool program for younger youth under the auspices of the same organization. In her current role, Vicki must advocate on behalf of the adolescent participants in their school settings and must likewise work with the same adolescents to create connections to school while they are in the charge of the mandated afterschool program. Advocacy, in this vein, requires Vicki to engage in multiple layers of everyday inquiry, data gathering and analysis, interpretation and diverse forms of representation for equally diverse audiences about the meaning making, communicative, and expressive practices of the youth with whom she works. Although she does not identify as a literacy or media expert, Vicki has had to become fluent in the multiliterate discourses of the youth in her charge in order to better represent them in school settings in support of their educational trajectories. This is work that requires translation of the non-school practices and activities for teachers and administrators inside of school.

Vicki exemplifies the ethos of negotiating multiple institutional boundaries in service of social action that is echoed in the work of many of ← ix | x → the practitioners and researchers that Pleasants and Salter and the authors in this volume describe and that resonate strongly with discourses currently ongoing among researchers who are committed to participatory, actionoriented, and community-based research. As Lytle and Cochran-Smith (1994) have long advocated, research and practice must be understood not as two sides of a coin or somehow in opposition to one another, but as copresent elements of one’s work that feed each other. In Vicki’s case, for example, her research into the literate and digitally mediated lives of her youth informs her practice as an advocate and educator with and for youth.

Thus, with the abundance of literacy studies and projects whose contexts transcend school boundaries into the realms of afterschool programs, virtual worlds, community settings, and participants’ homes, we have more than ample evidence to support Street’s (1993) long-held assertion that we must regard literacies as multiple rather than a singular entity and that literacies vary with context and circumstance. To the calls for action inherent in subsequent sociocultural studies of literacies, and later with the emergence of a multiliteracies framework, there continues to exist, however, an ongoing need to make visible not only the richness and variability of literate traditions in unlikely or not easily accessible contexts; but also to render visible the conceptual and empirical spaces in which these emergent and changing insights about the evolving nature of literacies come to fruition.

In framing this volume, Pleasants and Salter respond to this call by making a simple yet profound assertion: those of us engaged in the community-based, literacy-rich, digitally mediated, action-oriented research -that is, researchers, scholars, and community workers—“have largely written ourselves out of the stories of our work.” They set out to make visible the many contours of community-based research and practice that must be negotiated as part of the process, including relationships, beliefs, access to resources, normative practices, institutional policies and more. In doing so, they raise a number of questions about the oftentimes complicated and nuanced nature of multiliteracies research and practice within community settings: What are the rich literacy tapestries that are emergent and flourishing in the communities in which we are working, studying, and conceptualizing literacy shifts? What does the engagement of digital media—as object of inquiry and as medium of investigation—allow us to see about the contexts in which literacy practices flourish? How does materiality shape relationships in community-based digital collaborations?

← x | xi → As a literacies researcher, Kate Pahl has engaged similar questions in her community-based research partnerships in which participatory approaches are central to all stages of the research process (i.e., conceptualization, data collection and analysis, representation), acknowledging, of course, that these are often iterative and overlapping stages. Along with her colleagues and youth participants, she has written about the research process as both a site of discovery and as a sometimes unsettling and uncomfortable place (Pahl & Pool, 2011; Pahl, Steadman-Jones, & Pool, 2013). Whilst engaged in research about young people’s everyday literacies and employing a variety of multimodal methods, including photography and video, Pahl admits to important tensions that arise when epistemological ruptures give rise to differences in how, for example, artifacts within a study are interpreted or what meanings are assigned to various social and cultural practices.

Thus, in Pahl’s work, we find questions that strongly resonate with others that are called up throughout the chapters in Pleasants and Salter’s volume: Whose work is it? What is the impetus behind the engaged scholarship and what are the driving forces that initiate and sustain the work? In what ways do researchers and community workers navigate the tricky shores of power, of letting go of power and institutional privilege and striving to distribute and share power more democratically? What are the temporal bounds of the work—and what traces does a temporally bounded project leave behind? How are we—researchers, scholars, community workers—situated in relation to the communities in which we work? These are fundamental questions to be asking as researchers, community members, youth participants and other stakeholders come together to negotiate both the purpose and promise of projects that seek to enact something rather than merely studying a phenomenon at a distance.

In their framing of this volume, Pleasants and Salter also evoke ethnographic questions wherein they implicitly call into question the challenge laid bare by the simple edict to “make the familiar strange” –how does one accomplish so seemingly straightforward a task when not only one’s identity, but also one’s livelihood, intellectual pursuits, and personal interests are implicated in the nature of community-based collaboration? Does engagement with digital media further complicate these endeavors? As the editors and their authors suggest, the existence of intangible but shareable artifacts further necessitates communication across project members about who takes ownership and responsibility for the artifacts that emerge from ← xi | xii → such community partnerships, especially if project partners hope for their work to be sustained beyond the temporal boundaries of a study.

Community-based literacies research and collaborative digital media production are endeavors that necessarily construct new social arrangements within which to interact and allow relationships to form, as researchers do not maintain a distanced stance in relation to the organizations with which they are working, and thus their roles, like the roles of their organizational partners and participants, and ways of interacting are increasingly hybrid and shifting. The authors in this volume reflect a range of these roles and positionalities. Likewise, the youth and community members with whom they work also inhabit myriad social locations and bring with them a wide range of expectations as they engage in visual arts projects, filmmaking, inquiry-based storytelling, and more. These multiple sites and practices allow us to see how the boundaries of literacy and digital media practices are never as clean as our polished analyses may lead others to believe.

Woven throughout the chapters are various responses to many of the questions noted above. Authors tell stories of learning to work together as a project team, of the constraints and affordances of media making and varying access to technologies, and of the at times competing interests between a project’s research and pedagogical purposes. These stories of process also are rich with illustrations of curriculum in practice, pedagogical approaches, lessons learned about working at institutional borders, and seeking and gathering resources that add further flesh to the frame that the editors sketch out in their introduction. And what continues to linger after the manuscript comes to a close are the voices of youth, of community members, practitioners, media makers, and of the researchers themselves in which they dare to make visible the vulnerabilities inherent in collaborative work of this kind. Pleasants and Salter have provided a platform for their diverse perspectives, uncertainties, wonderings, and hopes to be taken seriously so that they may inform the practices of and knowledge production that results from future community-based research partnerships.

← xii | xiii → References

Lytle, S. L., & Cochran-Smith, M. (1994). Inquiry, knowledge, and practice. In S. Hollingsworth & H. Sockett (Eds.), Teacher research and educational reform: Ninety-third yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (pp. 22–51). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pahl, K., & Pool, S. (2011). Living your life because it’s the only life you’ve got’. Qualitative Research Journal, 11(2), 17–37.

Pahl, K., Steadman-Jones, R., & Pool, S. (2013). Dividing the drawers. Creative Approaches to Research 6(1), 71–88.

Street, B. E. (1993). Cross-cultural approaches to literacy. New York. Cambridge University Press ← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv → Acknowledgments

This book is the product of two years and hundreds of conversations, late night phone calls, mid-thought text and email messages, and as many faceto-face meetings as possible with friends, colleagues, and momentary strangers from around the world. These conversations and meetings have pushed our thinking and given rise to even more thoughtful questions about community-based multiliteracies and digital media projects as we conceptualized and edited this project. From the bottom of our hearts, we would like to thank all who have participated in this project in a myriad of ways.

The editors would like to thank the authors of the chapters for being a part of this project (in order of appearance in this book): Lalitha Vasudevan, Amy Hill, Ed Lee, Liz Miller, Pip Hardy (special thanks to Pip for her early contributions to the introduction chapter), Tony Sumner, Diana Nucera, Jeanette Lee, Jason Edward Lewis, Skawennati Fragnito, jesikah maria ross, Rob Simon, Jason Brennan, Sandro Bresba, Sara DeAngelis, Will Edwards, Helmi Jung, Anna Pisecny, Josh Schachter, Julie Kasper, Ouida Washington, Derek Koen, Kofi Larweh, Jonathon Langdon. You all are thoughtful, serious-minded friends and colleagues, who through your work and ways of being were fundamental in helping us push the boundaries of our own conceptualization of this book and the work we all do.


XVIII, 260
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (January)
critical perspective praxis pedagogy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XVIII, 260 pp.

Biographical notes

Heather M. Pleasants (Volume editor) Dana E. Salter (Volume editor)

Heather M. Pleasants received her PhD in educational psychology with a specialization in language, literacy, and learning from Michigan State University. She is a past Spencer Dissertation Fellow and is a writer, ethnographer, and the Director for Community Education at the University of Alabama. Dana E. Salter is completing her PhD in curriculum and instruction from McGill University and is the Community Outreach Specialist for the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence at Georgia State University.


Title: Community-Based Multiliteracies and Digital Media Projects
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