Friday, February 08, 2008

Video247: David Buckingham and Camcorder cultures

All of the presentations have been extremely engaging and thought-provoking, and my notes certainly can't capture everything that's being said and discussed. But here's a clumsy precis of David Buckingham's presentation.

The key focus of David's talk dealt with how we might establish a research culture around everyday or vernacular video production etc.

He posed the question: "Why research DIY video?"
• Becuse it's a mass popular phenomenon
• Raises bigger issues about the changing media environment
• Connects to policy issues (especially around media literacy and creativity)

However, acording to David, there has been little research published on DIY video production; in fact, he argues, there's been very little research done on creative uses of "older" media.

David also posed a really ompelling and thought-provoking question that should definitely appeal to anyone looking for an interesting research project: "How people come to see themselves as media makers?"

David gave an interesting overview of key themes and perspectives he's found in existing research and theoretical literature. These include:

• Studies of home movie-making (e.g., a focus on the concept of "home mode" developed by Richard Chalfen). Another influential person--for different reasons to Chalfen's contribution--working in this area is in Patricia Zimmerman, who has produced a history of home videos up until about the 1960s. She is generally dismissive of home videos as being too banal to be worth analyzing closely. Richard Chalfen takes an anthropological approach, and looks at home photography as a "social ritual."
•Studies of photography as private and social practice: there has been a lot of research work published on photography, especially out of theoretical perspectives like feminism. Jo Spence, for example, has published a range of interesting critiques of how women are represented in home family albums that aim at a different politics of representation. Bourdieu and his studies of photography as a cultural practice can also contribute to investigations of camcorder culture.
•The spaces of the amateur offer another angle on DIY video studies: Andrew Keen and his book, "Cult of the Amateur", critiques amateur media makers and argues that they have nothing to offer anyone. Stebbins, on the other hand, works with a "sociology of amateurism" (e.g., he studies things like barbershop quartets) and has developed a concept of the "serious amateur". Similarly, Finnegan has studied amateur musicians across a range of genres in looking at how amateurs teach each other.
• Another angle on studying DIY video production is a focus on everyday or vernacular creativity -- which goes well beyond the assumption that creativity is a "quality of genius" (cf. Willis’ work on creativity as part of everyday life). Negus and Pickering, for example, argue that creativity is not just ordinary but extra-ordinary. Jean Burgess has developed a concept of "vernacular creativity" in her "vernacular creativity" study of Flickr and storytelling (pdf).
• Useful insights into understanding DIY video making cn lso be found in the learning and communities of practice literature. Green hs studied rock musician and learning as a social process.
• Participatory culture theories also offer. This includes work by Jenkins (although Buckingham himself has wider interests beyond what he sees as Henry’s focus on fan culture), Burgess, Jameson. John Dovey's concept of "first-person media" can be useful here, too.

David Buckingham wants to develop a social theory of technology which helps to explain how technologies are developed and used within a range of settings; a social theory of amateur cultural production and of creativity and learning.

The kinds of projects David and his colleagues currently have underway give a good sense of how camcorder research is developing at present. These studies include: movies made by skateboarders, spoofers (parody and bonding), pornographers (amateurs and exhibitionists), along with video diaries (e.g., BBC’s Video Nation), to name a few.

David himself is looking beyond the enthusiasts to focus on everyday people and the kinds of video making in which they can and do engage (he calls it his "household study"). He argues that we shouldn’t look at just "cool" stuff (e.g., machinima, activist videos), but should focus on the banal as well. David and his research team have identified 12 households and given them camcorders. They’re monitoring how creative/production technology enters into family life, and collecting data by means of home visits and examining the footage each family takes.


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