Dr Tamara Plush
Dr Tamara Plush

Dr Tamara Plush 

Thesis title: We’ve raised their voice. Is anyone listening? Participatory video practitioners and valued citizen voice in international development contexts (available here)

Scholars have long argued that all citizens raising their voices to participate in decision-making as well as challenging injustice, enhances democracy. In turn, governments who are more accountable to their citizens and able to respond to multiple voices, foster civil, equitable societies. With this ethos, strengthening the voice of people living in poverty and marginalisation has become a vital part of global poverty-reduction goals. In this environment, international development institutions are increasingly seeking ways to use participatory media processes to raise citizen voice. Here, participatory video (PV) stands out as an attractive communication for development (C4D) approach. Practitioners who facilitate PV processes often promote the methodology as intrinsically empowering as it amplifies the voice of citizens often excluded from mainstream decision-making spaces. In this way, PV practice embodies both the glamour of filmmaking and a compelling narrative as a community-driven process.

Through an often-evangelised discourse, a predominant assumption is that the grassroots, collaborative filmmaking process naturally leads to transformative social and/or political change. The non-critical conclusion, however, is on a slippery slope in its ideological claim. In practice, transformative change with PV is far from absolute—especially when seeking significant response to the systemic injustices PV participants often face. Accordingly, more research is required into how PV practice might sufficiently raise citizen voice when situated in international development contexts. The resulting knowledge can help PV practitioners navigate complex development environments that hold potential to either enable or diminish the voices of society’s most vulnerable citizens.

This thesis offers a study on the nuanced understandings of and the interplay between PV, citizen voice and international development. The study investigates contemporary PV practitioners’ conceptualisations of the phenomenon of using PV to raise citizen voice in international development contexts. The study participants were 25 global PV practitioners who had experience on more than 650 PV projects. Of those projects, approximately 250 specifically aimed to raise the voice of excluded groups in international development contexts. Through investigating the PV practitioners’ perceptions of the phenomenon, the study identified three distinct epistemologies relevant to PV practice and raising citizen voice. The study called these the amplified, engaged and equitable voice pathways. Making the three categories explicit is of critical value to the PV field. They provide a language and theoretical grounding for why certain PV approaches may be more effective than others for social and/or political change. Of the three pathways, the research ultimately deemed equitable voice as the most viable for citizen voice to be both authentically representative and respectively valued in decision-making spaces.

Accordingly, the study drew from scholarship and the characteristics within the equitable voice pathway to develop a conceptual framework for raising valued citizen voice with PV. The framework offers five key principles; named as personal recognition, collective representation, social and political recognition, responsive listening and empathic relationships. While having a framework is valuable for PV practice, the study also recognised that a conceptual framework in itself is often insufficient. Its viability requires an enabling environment for meaningful application. Thus, the research also identified six institutional views of PV practice in international development contexts with potential to diminish voice. It named them as the output-focused, voice opportunity, apolitical, agenda-led, harmless and uncomplicated views. These were views the PV practitioners in the study described as constraining their ideals in practice. The views ranged from institutions prioritising PV film outputs over political dialogue to institutions setting agendas with potential to suppress authentic citizen voice. The study interrogated the identified institutional views to discover their differing possibilities for legitimising or limiting citizen voice.

The thesis concludes by encouraging three areas of consideration for participatory video to enhance citizen voice in democratic decision-making processes. First, it proposes deliberate attention on strengthening voice representation and voice receptivity in PV activities to reduce social and political inequity. Second, it promotes recognition of how political and institutional environments influence PV’s ability to raise citizen voice sufficiently. Third, it suggests greater reflection on how PV practitioners’ conceptualisations of voice affect citizen voice outcomes; and how practitioners might use their own agency to ensure meaningful change. Such forethought and action expands possibilities for PV practice to support citizen voice in being heard, valued and influential.

Life after PhD

Soon after submitting her PhD, Tamara was employed by UNICEF Indonesia on the Children in a Changing Climate 'Youth Voices from the Frontline' project. It’s a Community Digital Storytelling (CDST) project aimed at strengthening Indonesian youth capacity and voice. Through the project, young people across Indonesia collectively create and share stories in their own language using photos, narration and music. The storytelling process is facilitated by local organisations working with young people on climate change, disaster and environmental issues. The CDST process aims to strengthen youth awarenesss, self-confidence and ownership on concerning issues and solutions through processes of research, reflection, dialogue, engagement and mobilisation.


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