Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Little more of a chapter 1 of a possible dissertation...

I cut and pasted this from a pdf file that some doctoral candidate sent to me..shhhh...
For any time we interact with others or the material world we are attempting to change the lead of common experience into something more than it was before. (Cavelli, 2002, p. 17)

            The opening narrative of my experience in this story circle was written after a lab for a class on storytelling for peace and justice, an undergraduate liberal arts class at a university in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. For this particular class, I was a teaching assistant in charge of facilitating discussions around helping students apply themes from traditional, oral stories into their own digital media projects around big ideas of peace and justice. In other words, I mentored students on the process of transforming traditional narratives into digital narratives where they projected themselves as central agents or actors for peace and justice, a daunting task for any of us. Yet, it is a task I find myself compelled to describe as I turn to investigate the lived experience of digital storytelling for the projecting of peaceful and just narratives. The discussion of authentic care and its manifestations in story heralded the following guiding questions regarding this investigation: In what ways do students enrolled in the Good Stories class use their experiences with story to transform themselves into perceptive beings engaged in authentic care? What are students’ experiences and conceptions of peace and justice? In what ways do their experiences with stories, oral and digital, reflect upon their experiences of peace and justice? What pedagogical insights may we distill from the students’ experiences with using digital storytelling as a vehicle to project narratives on big ideas like peace and justice?
            In order to seek understandings of the lived-experiences of digital storytelling in the present study, I employ hermeneutic phenomenology as the methodology for this seeking. In addition, in order to discern a better understanding of digital storytelling multimodal, multi-mediated essences, I choose alchemy and its spiritual practices of using the synergy of “base” experiences for transformation into a “just” soul; possibly just as important, alchemy can be a guide showing us how to transmute our lived-experiences into valuable digital stories to tell others.
            Heidegger’s (1962) analytic of Care as a result of our being thrown into a world means, for me, “that Being gets to me,” which means that being calls to me. My way of being seeks to use  story as method to transmit a peaceful and just narrative, which heralds the arrival of my caring and seeking for understandings of digital stories mediated through digital places. I am compelled to investigate the class on storytelling for peace and justice because it creates an exigent role for narrative and digital narratives in particular. It requires students to move beyond the autobiographical celebration of their own lived-experiences into projecting stories to better not only their own communities, but to act as counterfactuals to other dominant narratives designed to coerce and oppress. My advisor, who created and teaches this storytelling course and credits storyteller Idries Shah for the term, calls these types of stories teaching-stories[1]: stories we use to teach and learn. In order to move story into a teaching-narrative, the story must have the capacity to be transformative for the teller and the audience. The experience of telling and listening to teaching-stories must provide a space allowing both audiences and storytellers to see the possibilities for projecting their own narratives for peace and justice. This requires the individual to transform herself into an agent, or individual, with the purpose of disseminating positive change within her community.
Transmuting the Philosopher’s Stone
            Carl Jung (1963/1970) likens this transformation to the individuation of a coherent “whole” self, a capable well functioning individual capable of projecting positive change into her community. Jung uses alchemy as the guiding principle of the psychological development of individuation. Alchemists describe the process to heal disease or extend life as the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone:
The Philosopher’s Stone is a concept that describes the most sophisticated psychology a person could ever hope to achieve. Accordingly, changing lead into gold psychologically means transforming our base, unconscious nature (symbolized by lead and called the prima material) into the philosopher’s stone. (Cavelli, 2002, p. 21)

            Cavelli (2002) continues to point out that our symbolic and alchemical relationship to fire is “our awareness and our capacity to change all that we see and touch” (p. 9), which alludes to how our narratives can change our lifeworld. However, these narratives have the potential for benevolence or malevolence. As educators, we should want all our students to aspire to tell ameliorating narratives that heal our lifeworlds. However, not all individuals will aspire to tell healing narratives; some may aspire to manipulate and trick others like many email scams using stories of foreign “princes” seeking help to transfer their “wealth.” In what ways are students able to perceive ameliorating or coercive narratives? Does their experience in critically looking at the different levels of narrative (Boyd, 2010), archetypal, social/cultural, individual, and particular, allow students to be able to reflect upon and deconstruct the important narratives in their lives in order to determine or evaluate narratives as the transmuted “golden” narratives used to teach others? A person’s individuated narrative, a narrative that has undergone the alchemical transmutation turning into a “golden” narrative, has the potential to project a teaching-story capable of healing and extending not only the lives of others, but the quality of lives as well. This is a critical function in today’s digitized world, where narratives can be spread “virally” almost instantaneously through the networked publics [2]interconnected globally via the Internet.
During our class discussion on authentic care, the discussion shifts toward one of the big ideas of the good stories class, reciprocal altruism. After our remembering of the youngest prince’s journey in the Grimm brothers’ Water of Life, the students begin to reflect on the story.

 “I think the youngest prince learned a lot about reciprocal altruism after his brothers betrayed him by stealing the Water of Life and accusing the youngest brother of trying to kill the king,” one student remarks.

“You just can’t simply trust everyone, you have to be careful because some people might take advantage of your kindness,” she continues.

            Boyd (2010) combines evolutionary theory and game theory to define reciprocal altruism as a maxim: “I help you in the expectation that you may help me later” (p. 57). This maxim runs contrary to many survivalists conceptions of evolution as well as early models of game theory, which focus on constant-sum games (sometimes referred to zero-sum games) where in order for one to score or win a point another has to lose an equivalent amount. Boyd’s argument for reciprocal altruism plays the central role in the good stories class because it is through the spirit of cooperation and collaboration with others while discriminating against cheaters or people who “game” the system where peace and just acts can be seen. The lens of reciprocal altruism begins to define the big ideas of peace and justice within the good stories class.
            For Boyd, the evolution of story, especially fictional story, allows greater possibilities to teach cooperation and collaboration by emplotting stories about sympathy, trust, gratitude, shame, indignation toward cheaters, and guilt to keep me from “seeking the short-term advantages of cheating” (p. 58). All these themes constructed around teaching reciprocal altruism are built in and evolving through our capacities to tell stories. This is how we as participants in the good stories class begin our journey to amalgamate a story about our own role as a practitioner of reciprocal altruism. This is the turning toward an understanding of peace and justice and our roles in disseminating these ideas through digital narratives.
            Most producers of digital videos use digital media to recapture and tell meaningful experiences in their lives (Ito et al., 2010). The underlying social purpose of most digital media, then, is to give memory to one’s lived experiences and retell them in forms that are accessible and meaningful for digital audiences: digital stories, or lived digital-stories. Digital stories are multimodal/multimedial representations of lived experiences using image(s), sound(s), and text(s) (speech and writing) presented, or mediated through /in digital places. The interplay between images, sounds, texts, and authors-tellers-audiences through the environmental architecture of digitally mediated places opens a clearing for an existential examination (lived-time, lived-body, lived-space, and lived-relationship) of our experiences, participating as digital storytellers-memoirists-audiences within these digital places. We experience these places, despite the illusion of digital disembodiment, as an embodied threefold present with similar cohesion to our experience of temporal events inherent in “traditional” narratives (Carr, 1986; Ricoeur, 1984).
            Gadamer (1975/1989) asserts in his analysis of history and historicity that an unconscious teleology constructs our coherent understanding of historical significance when we read or write history. Carr furthers Gadamer’s assertion by explaining that the telos projects the coherence of narrativity as to how we, as human beings, experience the world. We have an innate desire to construct coherent narratives that give purpose to the history embedded in our lives. Could this narrative telos design coherence in the narratives of our lived experiences, which we can transmute into digital projects? What is the meaning of coherence that is arrived at through image, sound, and language? What are these experiences like in the lived stories of digitally mediated places where narratives are always incomplete (Monaco, 2009), always becoming? What are these experiences of digital stories and the places of lived digital-(re)telling existentially? What does the transformation of digital narratives into purposeful teaching-stories for peace and justice entail for students? These experiential questions require ontological understandings of this phenomenon; therefore, in order to come to a deeper human understanding of the lived experience of lived-digital storytelling, I employ van Manen’s (1997) methodology of hermeneutic phenomenology according to these guidelines for human science inquiry:
(1) turning to a phenomenon which seriously interests us and commits us to the world;
(2) investigating experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualize it;
(3) reflecting on essential themes which characterize the phenomenon;
(4) describing the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting;
(5) maintaining a strong and oriented pedagogical relation to the phenomenon;
(6) balancing the research context by considering parts and whole. (pp. 30-31)

My purpose for this chapter, then, is to reflect on my turning, or (re)turning to the phenomenon of telling lived-stories through digital media, or digital storytelling for the purposes of creating narratives designed for establishing a more peaceful and just world. The ultimate purpose, then, is to develop an understanding of the following question: What is the lived experience of telling digital stories for the purposes of peace and justice?

[1] According to Shah (1978), “No account of teaching-stories can be really useful unless there has been a recital of some these tales without any explanation at all. This is because some of the effect can be prevented by an interpretation: and the difference between an exposition and a teaching-event is precisely that in the latter nobody knows what his or her reaction is supposed to be…so that there can be a private reaction and a personal absorption of the materials” (p. 120).
[2] boyd (2007) defines networked publics as online places that have different interactions than face-to-face encounters. There are four characteristics of networked publics:  persistence, searchability, exact copyability, and invisible audiences. These characteristics will play a significant role in describing digital architecture and the place of digital story.

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