Dr Kylie Navuku
Dr Kylie Navuku

The Centre's Kylie Navuku has been conferred a PhD for her fascinating research exploring the effect of positioning famous fictional characters as celebrities in communication outreach activities targeting international audiences.

Kylie drew on years of experiences in the academic, development and visual art sectors to study the effectiveness of famous fictional characters in raising awareness about thematic areas such as the environment, health, and the status of women.  We asked Kylie to share some of the insights, motivations and experiences gained through her research.

What initially interested you in exploring the practice of using famous fictional characters in communication for social change processes?

Before coming to Brisbane, I was living in Fiji where I was involved in a number of projects that used creative and visual arts for communicating messages about development and social change but I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to analyse this from a scholarly perspective.  As a result of the practical experiences I became interested in the ways in which materials (and characters) created for the child audience can be used to communicate with adults.  Exploring the field further, I came across a number of cases where fictional characters (famous and not) have had a significant impact on raising awareness and contributed to public education on specific themes.  But it was the use of famous fictional characters that were initially created for children to communicate with adult audiences about development and social change matters that really intrigued me.

What did you enjoy most about doing a PhD?

There were a number of things that I enjoyed about the process.  My previous education experience had been in a different discipline and so exploring a field that was new to me was refreshing.  In my past employment in academia, my research had focused on areas compatible with the subjects I was teaching.  Pursuing a PhD in this area gave me the opportunity to engage in research about a field that I had not been able to investigate earlier.  Also, because I have some practical experience in the use of art for communication for social change, I found the opportunity to learn about developments in other regions extremely valuable.

Can you give a brief overview of your research?

My research examined the effect of positioning famous fictional characters as celebrities in communication outreach activities targeting international audiences.  In this process, rather than use a living human celebrity figure, a fictional character is presented as a ‘real’ living being and used to help generate interest in the messages.  Mass and social media become an important part of the chain of message transfer.  I was interested in discovering how effective this is in raising awareness about thematic areas such as the environment, health, and the status of women (for example).

What were some of your key findings?

I found that that the more closely aligned a character is with the message, then the more likely it is that the media generated will be able to contribute to the intended awareness raising.  However, when the link between the character and the message is tenuous, the story tends to become focused on the character as a celebrity and the message is obscured.  The research also proved to me the importance of conducting formative research with audiences and – if you are going to use mass and social media to transfer your messages – extending the concept of your audience to include members of the media.   I believe that it is essential to gain a real appreciation of how a character is viewed by varying audience members because this will have an impact on the way the message is transmitted, received, and interpreted.

If there was one thing that you’d like people working in the communication for social change field to take away from your research, what would that to be?

That formative research – to understand all aspects of the character you plan to use and also to understand your audience’s view of that character – is crucial.

What has the research taught you about communication and social change more generally?

The research reinforced to me the challenges that practitioners engaged in communication for social change are faced with.  Although I have stated that formative research is crucial, the reality is that there is not always the time or other resources (including finances) available for this to occur.

Do you have any other plans for life after your PhD?

I plan to continue to research and write about creative initiatives related to Communication for Social Change.   I’m also hoping to return to producing creative work that contributes to communicating social change messages.

Read more about Kylie's PhD project on her CfCSC Research Profile.


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