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Engagement as antidote to marginalisation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog post from danah boyd on the excellent Social Media Collective Research Blog.

She asks four difficult questions about bullying and youth suicide 1) What if the stranger danger/sexual predator moral panic increased LGBT suicide? 2) What if ‘It Gets Better’ increases emotional devastation for some LGBT youth? 3) What if the media spotlight around bullying causes harm to youth? 4) What if us adults are part of the problem?

Mostly I’m too time poor and/or shy to post comments to high profile blogs like this one… but then I got to thinking about walking the talk.

One of the areas I’m exploring in my research is mechanisms by which storytellers engage with their audiences… and one of the points I wished to make in response to the bullying provocations was kids who ‘speak out’ or ‘act/look/feel different’ need affirmation. It strikes me that these are two examples of a big (and simple) communication problem – we don’t often tell people, especially those we don’t know well, how their stories (or thoughts, or behaviour) effect us… Perhaps this is exacerbated by disembodied online communication (eg easier to lurk than participate) but the flip side is that NOT being physically co-present (and in some cases cloaked by anonymity) is, for some people, license to ‘flame’.

Anyway, I decided it’s time I started ‘being the change that I want to see’… Here’s my response:

Three things I’d like to take up here:

 

1. Our cultural obsession with happiness – perhaps the campaign should be called ‘It gets better, then worse, then better again…’. Life is, after all, a roller coaster ride so why are we so obsessed with perpetual self-improvement and being happy? Teaching and learning resilience and patience and how to sit with sadness/grief/anger from time to time would better equip us and our kids to survive. Which is, of course, not saying that bullying, victimisation or discrimination is OK, just that bad stuff happens and sometimes it’s a very big challenge to get past it… but time passes, and we move on to other dramas, some good, some bad… some both = always challenging!

 

2. Our cultural obsession with inner truth – social discourses around adolescence and coming out invariably focus upon congruence with ‘true self’… rather than living with the knowledge that we are always growing and changing and frequently take positions (or ‘perform identities’ as per Goffman, Giddens et al) that are inconsistent with previous incarnations. Gender Queer and Trans people (sometimes) get this but then there’s also the ‘born this way’ discourse that emphasises the ‘innate’. Social convergence illuminates the difficulties of performing different versions of self to different audiences (and we’re often punished for ‘inconsistencies) but, oddly enough no-one accuses a new parent (who behaves differently to how they did when they were a teenager) of being ‘inauthentic’. That kind of personal transformation is socially condoned and ‘normal’.

 

3. How to develop a culture of affirmation – when people put themselves out there, take social risks, by blogging, vlogging or simply speaking against classroom/social norms they frequently experience deafening silence when they were hoping for support and affirmation. How can we create ‘definitional ceremonies’ (Myerhoff, 1982) or at least cultures where people actually leave a comment or go out of their way to say ‘good job!’. If we model this rather than bitching/gossiping would it actually make a difference? Sounds good, but how do we actually make this happen?

 

We’re undertaking an experiment in Queer Digital Storytelling as ‘everyday activism’ – you can check it out here: http://www.rainbowfamilytree.com – my daughter (10) and I made a story called ‘Marriage is So Gay!’ that’s about acceptance and speaking out. There are stories by divergent ‘marginalised voices’ – a Gay Muslim; parents of a Trans child; HIV pos people; Aboriginal daughter of Lesbian mums – they’ve all taken a risk in sharing their stories in public spaces and needless to say they thrive on feedback… so far no bullying ; )

Now I’d like to work out how to distill some of these ideas into tangible research questions…

– do face to face community engagement strategies (like Myerhoff’s ‘definitional ceremonies’ and White’s ‘outsider witness’ practices) work in online spaces? Examples?

– how do grassroots communities of marginalised people sustain themselves and grow larger? Do they contribute to social change? Examples?

Care to engage by sharing thoughts anyone?