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Collaborative Videoing - A Reflexive Account

Collaborative Videoing - A Reflexive Account

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Published by Abhigyan Singh
Singh, A. ‘Collaborative Videoing – A Reflexive Account’. IASDR 2011, the 4th World Conference on Design Research, 31 October – 4 November, Delft, the Netherlands
Singh, A. ‘Collaborative Videoing – A Reflexive Account’. IASDR 2011, the 4th World Conference on Design Research, 31 October – 4 November, Delft, the Netherlands

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Abhigyan Singh on Nov 04, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Abhigyan Singh*,
Multimedia Information Retrieval Lab, Delft University of Technologya.singh@tudelft.nl
In this paper, I present collaborative videoingexercise conducted during an ethnographic fieldresearch conducted at Sudarshan Layout, an urbanslum in Bangalore, India. AC3 Members, a group of local youth of Sudarshan Layout were the participant-collaborators in the collaborative videoing exercise.In this paper, I discuss collaborative videoing withinthe discourse of collaboration and reflexivity fromthe domains of visual anthropology and designresearch. I argue that collaborative videoing is aninformally structured approach which served as aboundary object during the research process. Ireflect on how collaborative videoing, as boundaryobject, facilitated this research at Sudarshan Layoutand assisted in collaboration, communication andcooperation between participant-collaborators andme.
Keywords: Video, Collaboration, BoundaryObjects, Reflexivity
This paper is based on findings of an ethnographicfield research conducted at Sudarshan Layout, anurban slum in Bangalore, India in February 2009. Thefield study was part of my master’s thesis (title:Design Opportunities and Challenges in Indian UrbanSlums- Community Communication and MobilePhones). The thesis investigated the area of mobile-based community communication for marginalizedcommunities belonging to Indian urban slums. Theresearch question which this study addressed was:What are the design opportunities and challenges formobile based community communication services for
* This paper presents research done by the author when he wasenrolled at Aalto University School of Art and Design, Finland forhis master’s studies.
residents of Indian urban slums? In this article, Iexclusively discuss the collaborative videoingexercise, which assisted this design research projectin various ways.The methodological approach taken in this researchis inspired by Ethnographic Action Research (EAR)and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). EAR is theresearch approach to study impact of Informationand Communication Technology (ICT) especially inthe area related to poverty alleviation (Tacchi et al.,2003). PRA is a research methodology whichadvocates bottom-up research approaches withflexible and innovative mix of various methods andsensitivity for the local context (Kumar, 2007). BothEAR and PRA insists on use of participatory methodsto engage participants as fellow researchers, andsuggest adaptation of the research process accordingto challenges faced in the field. This participatoryresearch was conducted in collaboration withmembers of Ambedkar Community Computing Centre(AC3), referred as AC3 Members, a group consistingof local youth of Sudarshan Layout. The researchmethods employed for this study were: participant-observation, field notes, group interviews, in-depthinterviews, social map drawing exercises and self-documentation through camera exercises. ‘Self-documentation’ exercises involve the creative use ofmedia, such as photography or videography, in theresearch process by allowing people to documentthemselves and their environment.In this paper, I focus on collaborative videoingexercise conducted in collaboration with AC3Members. I discuss collaborative videoing within thediscourse of collaboration and reflexivity asoriginating from the domains of visual anthropologyand design research. My main argument is thatcollaborative videoing is an informally structured
approach which served as a boundary objectbetween AC3 Members and me. I reflect on howcollaborative videoing, as boundary object,facilitated this design research and assisted incollaboration, communication and cooperationbetween AC3 Members and me. In this paper, I alsorefer to AC3 Members as ‘participant-collaborators’instead of ‘participants’ for the purpose of clarityand to differentiate from the other participants inthis research.
Since 1980s, with the development of cheaper,convenient and reliable video technology, visualanthropologist started exploring video for fieldresearch. It was only since late 1990s when thestatus of video moved beyond than that of arecording medium to a channel through whichknowledge is produced (Pink, 2007).Contemporary literature on video in visualanthropology argues for the themes of reflexivity andcollaboration. The theme of reflexivity deals withthe acknowledgement of the subjectivity of aresearcher in visual representations and theknowledge production process (Banks, 2001; Rose,2006; Pink, 2003, 2007; Buckingham, 2009). Areflexive approach argues that visual artefacts andthe knowledge produced during any ethnographicfieldwork, by participants or researchers, is alwaysconstructed, and hence should not be considered asan objective documentation of reality. Rather thanjust focusing on the content of them, a reflexiveapproach aims to build a broad understanding thatincludes the social context of visual artefactsproduced during any ethnographic fieldwork. Themeaning of visual artefacts has to be understood notjust in the context of content or ‘internal narrative’,but should deal with ‘external narrative’, i.e. thesocial context of the production of visual artefactsincorporating the discussion of intention,relationship, identity, subjectivity, materiality andunderstanding of perception of technology amongstthe participants (Banks, 2001; Buckingham, 2009;Pink, 2003, 2007). Pink (2007) argues that‘ethnographicness’ of any video is in context of usei.e. any video could be of ethnographic value if aresearcher considers it to be of an ethnographicinterest.‘Collaboration’ recognizes knowledge productionfrom any fieldwork as a process of collaborativenegotiation of meaning between the researcher andthe participants. Pink (2003: 190) remarks:“Collaboration is important in any project involvingpeople and images, both on ethical grounds and as away of recognizing the intersubjectivity thatunderlines any social encounter.” The theme ofcollaboration entails collaborative construction ofmeaning. Unlike the traditional methods where onlythe researchers handle artefact-producing devicessuch as cameras, a collaborative approach includesresearch methods that allow informants orparticipants to produce visual artefacts andrepresentations of themselves. The collaborativeaspect of visual artefact production makes the visualmethods significant for participatory research(Buckingham, 2009).Many visual ethnographers employ visual elicitationmethods where participants are interviewed on thebasis of visual artefacts, like videos and photographs,and are requested to reflect and interpret visuals forthe researcher. It has been documented thatparticipants express and convey their emotions andthoughts on visuals with much greater depth (Ulusoy&
, 2009). This enriches the research, firstly byhelping the researcher to build a deeperunderstanding of the participant’s social world, andsecondly as described by Freidenberg (1998: 177):“The significance of visual ethnography as a stimulusin interviewing is that, rather than providing answersto direct questions, it generates questions and elicitsa dialogue. This process helps the informant ratherthan the anthropologist, define the social context ofthe interview…”The visual methods are also appreciated forproviding access to knowledge that may haveremained inaccessible to the researcher (Pink, 2007),and for balancing the power dynamic between theresearcher and the researched (Gotschi et al., 2009).
Video is considered an important medium and tool inthe field of design. Video is also discussed as animportant tool in communicating the experientialknowledge (Löwgren 2011). Design research utilizingvideo has been discussed and explored for variety ofapproaches, attitudes and purposes. Ylirisku & Burr(2007) have discussed four major video traditions indesign, each varying significantly from other incontext of position and role of ‘user’ in the designprocess:
Video in design ethnography: Considers ‘user’ asan ‘informant’ of interaction or use of atechnology.
Video for documentation of design activities anddiscussions in participatory design: Considers‘user’ as ‘participant’ in creating designconcepts, and finding design issues.
Video in usability studies: Considers ‘user’ forbehavioral observation in a controlledenvironment.
Video in scenario based design approach:Considers a possible ‘user’ for an interaction infuture with the product or services beingdesigned.Ylirisku & Burr (2007) and Raijmakers et. al (2006)argue a constructivist position for video in design i.e.an approach that embraces reflexivity andacknowledges the subjectivity of designer,researcher, ‘user’ in visual documentation anddesign knowledge creation. Raijmakers et. al (2006)have also argued for use of video in design researchbeyond than purely observational and recordingapproach. They argue for video in design research toenable the dialectic between the objectivedocumentation and the representation rather thanopposing it.
India, world’s largest democracy, amounts to 17% ofworld population and includes one-third of world’spoor (Rao, 2009). According to the last Census ofIndia (2001), India’s overall population was 1027million, out of which 285 million (27.8 %) lived inurban areas. This research is based on ethnographicfield study conducted in Bangalore city. Bangalore islocated in southern part of India and is the capitalcity of state of Karnataka. Bangalore has apopulation of over 6.5 million and is ranked fifthmost populous city of India (Raman, 2008). It iswidely accepted that ‘slums’ are difficult to defineand there are multiple definitions and meanings co-existing (Sliwa, 2008). According to UN-HABITAT(2003):“Slums are distinguished by poor quality of housing,poverty of inhabitants, the lack of public or privateservices and the poor integration of the inhabitantsinto the broader community and its opportunities.”Approximately 924 million people, 31.6% of theworld’s urban population, lives in slums. 67 millionof the urban population of India lives below povertyline. This translates into people living on less thatUS$ 2 per day (Rao, 2009). Urban Slums aremarginalized and accommodate the mostdisadvantaged group of urban dwellers. Much of thelabour force in cities of developing countries lives inslums (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Similarly, SudarshanLayout fits the above mentioned UN-Habitat’sdescription of ‘slum’. This settlement is discussed indetail in the next section.
This research is based on ethnographic fieldworkconducted in Sudarshan Layout, an urban slum inBangalore, India. Sudarshan Layout is a residentialarea for the marginalized community of constructionworkers, domestic helps, labourers all belonging toscheduled castes (SC). As recognized by Indianconstitution those listed under SC are the casteswhich need to be granted reservations in governmentpolicies in order to enable them to overcome theirhistorical and contemporary deprivation. The localresidents identify themselves as dalit, a self-designation for people belonging to lowest of thecastes in Indian caste system. Dalits have sufferedprolonged social discrimination due to their lowercaste birth.

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