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Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video

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Abstract

Participatory video (PV) projects have put video technology in the hands of the most marginalised in society for self-representation and social reform. PV has gained a favoured place in many devel-opment projects and has been used by non-government organisa-tions, development workers and indeed communities themselves to foster dialogue and to instigate change and empowerment. The case study discussed here combined action research and visual ethnography to study the process of PV production and how the community's engagement in it contributes to dialogue and commu-nity building in a post-conflict society. This study found that rural women in Fiji use social capital – their relationships and social networks – as a key element in video production to highlight com-munity needs and linkages.
Fijian Studies Vol. 6 Nos. 1& 2 © Fiji Institute of Applied Studies
145
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video
Usha Sundar Harris
Abstract
Participatory video (PV) projects have put video technology in the
hands of the most marginalised in society for self-representation
and social reform. PV has gained a favoured place in many devel-
opment projects and has been used by non-government organisa-
tions, development workers and indeed communities themselves to
foster dialogue and to instigate change and empowerment. The
case study discussed here combined action research and visual
ethnography to study the process of PV production and how the
community’s engagement in it contributes to dialogue and commu-
nity building in a post-conflict society. This study found that rural
women in Fiji use social capital their relationships and social
networks as a key element in video production to highlight com-
munity needs and linkages.
Introduction
For a society to prosper within a culture of peace and goodwill, it
should encourage a dialogic and participatory environment in order to
create effective links between diverse and disparate segments of its citi-
zenry. It is not enough for communities to have strong ‘bonding’ ele-
ments which bind homogeneous groups; ‘bridging’ dimensions which en-
courage associations across gender, ethnic, social and geographic divides
(Putnam, 2001) are also necessary to engender inclusiveness and cohe-
sion. Strategic action is required in multicultural societies to encourage
this network of linkages to flourish through participatory politics as well
as community-based reconciliation efforts which encourage dialogue be-
tween alienated groups.
In Fiji, historically, the ruling political elite have encouraged a na-
tion of disparate identities through the political process. This has created
two levels of discourse the dominant political discourse of identity poli-
146 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
tics prevalent in urban areas, and the day-to-day relationships based on
inter-dependence and goodwill, especially among rural communities. The
government information brochure promotes the role of media in Fiji as
one of helping ‘to increase social cohesion’ and ‘playing a pivotal and
mutual role in nation building’ (Government of Fiji, 2004). Unfortu-
nately, mainstream media coverage lends credence to the hegemonic dis-
courses, thus reinforcing the fissures instead of the linkages. Instead of
engaging in projects of nation building the media in Fiji has relied on
formulaic programming within structures which exacerbate the ethnic di-
vision instead of creating innovative programming which can encourage
dialogue between the races. In the absence of a national policy of social
integration and a nation-building agenda of the mainstream media, civil
society organisations (CSOs) can play an important role in fostering
bridging ties in the community. This can be achieved through projects of
reconciliation which encourage dialogue and community building be-
tween ethnic groups using constructive communication methods. Com-
munity based media is one form of process-centred communication which
can provide a valuable forum for disengaged groups to come together
through participation-based production activities to co-operatively pro-
duce programmes about issues vital for their communities.
Over the past eight years in Fiji, there has been a growth in commu-
nity media with several low-power radio stations being operated by di-
verse groups femTALK Radio, a mobile radio-in-a-suitcase project op-
erated by femLINK Pacific; Radio Pasifik, an educational, non-profit
community radio station at the University of the South Pacific, as well as
the proliferation of Christian-based radio stations. These are all clustered
in urban centres, with the exception of femLINK radio, which conducts
monthly broadcasts in regional centres inviting participation of rural
women.
This article includes findings of an ethnographic case study of a par-
ticipatory video (PV) workshop which the author conducted with a multi-
cultural group of rural women in Navua and discusses its implications for
dialogue and community building in a post-conflict society. The idea of
participatory media as a dialogic tool is explored within the context of the
local culture and the ways in which producers integrate local knowledge,
networks, norms and practices in the production process and content. So-
cial capital is used as a conceptual tool to aid in the analysis and under-
standing of the process of participatory production where community
producers appropriate media technology to strengthen their networks of
influence. The study locates the discussion of PV within frameworks of
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 147
empowerment and transformation thus highlighting the connections rather
than the disconnections between people.
Participatory Video for Social Change
Participatory communication is people-centred, process-oriented and
contextualised in a local setting, utilising local knowledge instead of top
down, professionally disseminated messages with a predetermined
agenda. People for whom change is being sought have a say as to the
ways in which they want this to occur. The use of participatory media en-
ables people to produce and distribute content according to their own
needs instead of being reliant on professional producers. White describes
it as ‘a democratic process, characterised by dialogue, creative and con-
sensual thinking, and collective action’ (2003: 20). Cultural identity of
local communities is paramount. For change to occur within a commu-
nity, people have to engage in the message production - a horizontal
process which engages members of a community to exchange views on a
range of topics such as literacy, health, agricultural productivity, land
ownership, gender and religion (Waisbord, n.d.). Thus, participation of
communities in message-making is essential.
While earlier discussion of participatory media occurred around the
concept of media democratisation arising from a binary framework of big
media versus small media, recent discussion has focused on its transfor-
mative potential and its use in communication for social change (Lee,
2007; Rennie, 2006; Rodriguez, 2001). Rodriguez has conceptualised
‘citizens’ media’ as a lived experience whereby the process of message
production catalyses a diversity of experiences:
It implies having the opportunity to create one’s own images of
self and environment; it implies being able to recodify one’s own
identity with the signs and codes that one chooses, thereby dis-
rupting the traditional acceptance of those imposed by outside
sources; it implies becoming one’s own storyteller, regaining
one’s own voice; it implies reconstructing the self-portrait of
one’s own community and one’s own culture […] (2001: 763).
In this reading, researchers seek to understand how an individual or
group’s engagement in message production increases their ability to criti-
cally understand oneself, the community and the wider society. It is this
conceptualisation of community media that has influenced my research.
Since 1970 participatory video has gained a favoured place in many
development projects and has been used by non-government organisa-
148 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
tions, development workers and indeed communities themselves to foster
dialogue and to instigate change and empowerment. Video has the power
to begin dialogue through group work and cultural exchange, thus assist-
ing in reconciliation between communities which have experienced a his-
tory of conflict (Rodriguez, 2004). Shirley White recognises the deeper
implications of video as a tool for social change when she states:
Participatory video as a process is a tool for individual, group
and community development. It can serve as a powerful force
for people to see themselves in relation to the community and
become conscientized about personal and community needs. It
brings about a critical awareness that forms the foundation for
creativity and communication. Thus it has the potential to bring
about personal, social, political and cultural change. That’s
what video power is all about (2003: 64).
Theories that inform the discussion of PV are derived from
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s (1970) critical pedagogy of
teaching and learning with impoverished peasants in South
America, and the theoretical discourses in communication for
social change and participatory communication (see Jacobson
and Servaes, 1999; White et al., 1994; White and Patel, 1994)
PV projects in many parts of the world have put video technology in
the hands of the most marginalised in society for self-representation and
social reform. Video has given voice to non-literate women in projects
such as Video SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) in India
(Stuart, 1989) and the Mayan women in Guatemala by bridging the oral
with the technical, thus allowing their voices to be heard in global fo-
rums (Guidi, 2003: 253). The best practice case studies have been docu-
mented by various authors (Braden and Huong, 1998; Gumucio Dagron,
2001; Johansson, 1999; Riano, 1994; Rodriguez, 2001; White, 2003).
There are also hundreds of PV projects which have gone undocumented.
Citizens’ video collectives have sprung up to support the work of
video activists around the world with online presence. ‘Video power’ is
now well recognised through the incredible success of video distribution
websites such as YouTube. Videos are available to international audiences
through vodcasting and video streaming on websites spanning the many
human rights and advocacy efforts of organisations such as
WITNESS.org, Oneworld.org, UN.org and others.
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 149
Theoretical Framework
Participatory media as a ‘lived experience’ is explored in this re-
search within the context of the local culture and the ways in which pro-
ducers integrate local knowledge, networks, norms and practices in the
production process and content. The research recognises that to own their
media, people must be able to relate it to their own culture and language.
It has to be embedded in their culture and has to reflect their everyday life
experiences. This approach is supported by Pacific scholars Gegeo and
Watson-Gegeo who have noted in their discussion of Pacific epistemolo-
gies:
By indigenous epistemology we mean a cultural group’s ways
of thinking and of creating and (re)formulating, and theorising
about knowledge via traditional discourses and media of com-
munication anchoring the truth of the discourse in culture [...]
(2002: 381).
As such, this study draws on local knowledge, norms and practices
integrating it with a viable framework within which to discuss the find-
ings. Social capital offers a framework within which social networks as
well as participative action can be discussed and offers a link to local
norms and practices. Putnam has defined social capital as connections
among individuals social networks and the norms of reciprocity and
trustworthiness that arise from them’ (2000: 19). Fijian scholar Ropate
Qalo (1998) has linked the Fijian concept of Vakaviti or the Fijian Way to
social capital. He proffers: Vakaviti should be viewed as social capital’,
and discusses the various concepts within it which enhance the common
good more than the self-interest’ (Huffer and Qalo, 2004: 108).
This research locates the discussion of PV within frameworks of em-
powerment and transformation, thus highlighting the connections rather
than the disconnections between people. Social capital, participation and
empowerment are interlinked in projects of community building and so-
cial cohesion. I use social capital theory as a tool to aid my analysis of
social networks and community relations during the process of participa-
tory production. The framework I propose is premised on the idea that
participatory media practice not only functions well in communities with
strong social networks (i.e. high social capital) but also contributes to the
growth of social capital. In other words, it not only accesses local net-
works - bonding capital - but also extends it by enhancing the bridging
dimension of social capital where communities can link with other com-
150 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
munities across ethnic, gender, social, or geographic divides through dia-
logue and information sharing. Mechanisms and forms in social capital,
such as networks, trust, bonding and bridging, provide a viable theoretical
framework within which to discuss PV as a tool for community building
in the context of my research in Fiji because it allows for comparisons
with concepts in local cultures as discussed above.
The research addresses three key questions:
1. How do participants’ social relationships and their levels of trust
affect participants’ involvement in the message making and con-
sequently their ability to represent their lives and aspirations?
2. What are the dialogic benefits of video both horizontally within
and between communities, and vertically to influence policy
makers?
3. How do rural women invite cultural and social inclusion in con-
tent creation, thus challenging national discourses on race, gen-
der and place?
Methodology
Pacific scholars point out the importance of communicating research
outcomes to the community within Melanesian research methodology. In
finding a Pacific perspective in research, Fairbairn-Dunlop has argued
that Pacific-based research should include a component of community
awareness-raising: As for all things Pacific, we must start with the com-
munity and take them with us (2004: 5). Thus I embarked on a journey to
find an innovative method of data collection and presentation which
would provide an important narrative for communities about the way in
which their stories and cultural practices could be documented and used
for community development. Participatory action research (PAR) was the
central methodology used to invite active community participation in the
video workshop. Visual ethnography, in the form of video documenta-
tion, was used to record the production process as well as interviews with
participants and policy makers. This would allow the research results to
be easily accessible to both literate and non-literate members of the com-
munity, such as the research participants. The ethnographic data produced
on DVD would also become a valuable resource for community devel-
opment workers, non-government organisations, policy makers, and fu-
ture researchers in the field.
The workshop participants, between the ages of 20 and 60 years,
were members of the Navua Rural Women’s Telecentre Group
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 151
(NRWTG), a multi-ethnic organisation which was established as a pilot
project by the government to encourage rural women in small income
generation schemes. Initially called the E-chutney project because of the
emphasis on chutney production, over the course of the year the women
had diversified their products to include pillow-cases, sasa brooms, dalo
chips, root crops, and a variety of food products. After a few successful
deliveries the group had lost their internet connection as a result of an in-
ternal dispute.
When I approached the women about the video workshop and my
desire to base my research project within their group they quickly recog-
nised its benefits to them. The women wanted to use their newly acquired
video production skills to create a promotional video to help them market
their products to a variety of clients in Fiji such as civil servants, hotels
and tour company operators. The group exhibited a readiness to adopt
video technology for their own needs and a desire to represent themselves
and their work to a specific audience whom they had identified. Within its
multiethnic structure NRWTG offered to me an opportunity to examine
the dialogic possibilities of video in building relationships in a culturally
diverse setting. As one of the very few multi-ethnic organisations in Fiji,
NRWTG has women from three different communities in Navua. These
include the indigenous Fijians who live in villages or independently,
long-term Indian residents of Navua whose forefathers settled in the dis-
trict to work on colonial sugar cane plantations, and the newly arrived In-
dian displaced farmers whose land leases were not renewed in other parts
of Fiji.
The participatory video workshop was conducted over five weeks
with approximately 10 women who formed the core production team.
Other women in the community participated according to their individual
circumstances and availability. There were five phases in the production
process camera training, story development session, location shoots,
viewing sessions and editing. A six-minute promotional video was pro-
duced at the end of the workshop. In addition, five longer programmes,
featuring each of the five communities where shooting took place, were
completed and given to the communities for their own use. As a participa-
tory project, women had control of content development and the use of
technology during pre-production and production phases.
Discussion
During the course of the project, I discovered a powerful use of
video by the women within a dynamic environment of social relation-
152 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
ships and community engagement. The content produced by the women
became an important element in social cohesion, not only because it
created bridging ties, but because it reflected the interactions, the good-
will and the inter-dependence of diverse communities, thus capturing
the true nature of community in Fiji.
Social agency and community action are the central themes which
dominate the films made by the women. Agency is the capacity of human
beings to act upon their environment in order to bring about change. It is
an empowering act by individuals who have developed an awareness
about needs in their community. ‘Agency can be understood as the way in
which people act on, or assert themselves in, their world […] an element
of self determined actionaccording to Leonard and Onyx). They further
state, The development of social capital requires the active and willing
engagement of citizens working together within a participative commu-
nity’ (2004: 23).
In the promotional video, the women are presented as active citizens
who make significant contributions on a daily basis to the family income
through the money they earn from their work, as well as to the commu-
nity through their involvement in clubs. Stereotyped images of rural
women usually portrayed in mainstream media within the bounds of their
home in scenes of poverty or domestic subservience are replaced by em-
powering images of women at work. This is depicted in a montage se-
quence in the promotional video in which the working hands of rural
women chopping, frying, mixing, weaving, knitting, sewing, dyeing por-
tray these women as aspiring individuals who are integral to the healthy
functioning of their society. In the interviews with women as well as the
government officials, this engagement is repeatedly highlighted.
Women’s Networks – A Storehouse of Knowledge
Women’s civic participation is assisted by their membership and
engagement in social and religious clubs which form a rich web of social
networks in both urban and rural areas. The majority of Fijian and Indo-
Fijian women belong to social clubs, which meet weekly in their local ar-
eas. Unfortunately, as is the case in many other social institutions in Fiji,
there is limited cross-cultural participation; most have racially polarised
membership. Fijian women generally belong to the Soqosoqo
Vakamarama ni Taukei, which encourage communal activities such as
fundraising for village or church projects, the making of traditional and
contemporary handicraft, and the preparation of feasts and ceremonial
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 153
items during important traditional events within the village or at the pro-
vincial level. Indian women generally belong to social clubs known as
Mahila Mandal in the local settlements. Activities include the study of
scriptures, religious and folk singing, sewing, and fundraising for the
building and maintenance of local temples or community halls. Some
clubs encourage members to begin a savings plan using the club’s bank
account. The patron of one such club explained to me that each woman
deposits a small amount every week for a specific purpose. She may be
saving for a festival, a family wedding or a club excursion such as a
shopping trip to Suva. Meticulous records are kept by the club’s treasurer
in the presence of all members, and funds are distributed as the need
arises. For many women the club is their only outlet from the daily grind
of home duties and farming.
By accessing their social networks through their clubs, the segment
producers created dynamic scenes of collective action by the women in
their villages and settlements, and became active agents of community
building. Vunibau Village, which has a strong and active Soqosoqo
Vakamarama, was a good example of how a community rich in social
capital can provide strong support for community-led production. More
than thirty women arrived at the village community hall to show their
skills at craft making. The one thing that impressed me most was the or-
ganisational skills of the participants. At every village and settlement we
visited, there was an amazing display of social cohesion. The success of
each shoot was dependent on the networks each participant could access
in her community. The producers used their strong links with their com-
munity to co-ordinate impressive displays of craft, invite participation of
their club members and even organise lunch for the visiting crew. The re-
sources available through the enabling environment of the club guaran-
teed the success of our shoots. The production process both accessed and
enhanced social networks. The producers of each video segment used
their support network to create dynamic scenes for our shoots and in so
doing gave to the community, especially women, a sense of importance
and the ability to represent their lives through a display of their work and
talents on camera. This supports White’s (2003) assertion that empower-
ing message creation must have the critical elements of participation and
inclusion of the community.
The club for these women represented a social lifeline. In order to
maintain their level of social capital, they not only harvested its rich re-
sources but also constantly supplemented that resource by giving some-
thing back, e.g. helping each other during times of need, thus further en-
154 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
riching the network of interdependence. The women strongly identified
reciprocity as a strength of their club during the story development ses-
sion. As the club president Bale noted: It’s give and take. Whatever I
know I give and what ever they know they give.This exchange of skills,
especially between Fijian and Indo-Fijian women, has led to knowledge-
sharing and capacity building, which have improved their individual abil-
ity to earn an income.
Engendering Trust in the Displaced Community
Establishing trust with the community is vital to the success of par-
ticipatory projects. Finding a community leader who has the trust of all
sections of the community and the authority to engage with them is essen-
tial. In my case this person was the Senior Women’s Interest Officer,
Nanise Gasara, who became the intermediary between the women and
me. She had a close and personal relationship with the women and had
their respect. Even men in the community trusted her well enough to al-
low their wives to go for the club meeting in town. Nanise also became an
important interlocutor in my understanding of the community, their
norms and values.
It was interesting to observe the interplay between the various
groups of women. The indigenous women and the long-term Indian resi-
dents seemed to have an easy-going relationship with each other and were
enthusiastic about becoming involved. They had a sense of ownership
about the area in which they lived. The Fijian women were the most en-
thusiastic participants. The new arrivals in Vakabalea needed much en-
couragement to join the group, to the extent of my own door-knocking to
persuade them to participate. Their participation was a direct result of
their trust in Nanise and they came to the workshop because Nani had
called us. Here Kothari’s (2002) critique of participatory methodology is
especially relevant. She cautions researchers that participation can dupli-
cate the social hierarchy at the grassroots. This may happen through the
acts of inclusion, self-exclusion and non-participation. The most margin-
alised may not participate through self-exclusion. This was true in the
case of the resettled Vakabalea women who are the most marginalised
group in the area. They had excluded themselves from the process, be-
cause of their weak links with the wider community and consequently a
lack of trust. Their participation was assured through my own doorknock-
ing and, more significantly, their trust in Nanise.
Leonard and Onyx posit that isolated communities (such as the re-
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 155
settled farmers), do not need to ‘shift’ from bonding to bridging in order
to ‘get ahead’, but may find other ways to forge links with other commu-
nities such as seeking the assistance of a ‘trusted professional’ who may
become a valuable ambassador in this process. They state:
Clearly people with this professional status can play a strategic
role in facilitating connections across groups. However, profes-
sional standing is not enough. In order to be a useful link, the
professional needs to have demonstrated a commitment to the
values of the community (2004: 70).
In this study, Nanise played this key role ensuring that women re-
turned home on time, and gave assurance to husbands through phone calls
if they were late. She also ensured community representation, facilitating
a central training location and becoming an information conduit between
the participants and me as the researcher/facilitator.
Uslaner and Conley distinguish between the types of trust based on
people’s engagement in either outward looking or inward looking groups.
Outward looking people are generalized trusters. They are willing to trust
strangers, and believe that sharing common values and social interaction
with people unlike themselves can be rewarding. They are the ones most
likely to form bridging social capital. Inward looking people are particu-
larized trusters, who may play an active role within their own social
groups but are less likely to participate in civic engagement in the larger
community’ (2003: 333,335).
As per the three-factor structure (Uslaner, 1997), which distin-
guishes between various types of trust, the Vakabalea displaced farmers
exhibited a high level of particularised (thick) trust, preferring to network
with friends and family and a lower level of generalised (thin) trust, such
as relating to strangers and a minimal level of trust of government. This
community was not as functional as the other communities who demon-
strated greater trust and consequently stronger relationships with other
communities or government structures. However, they did have strong
links within their own units of extended family members. A link between
empowerment and social capital is apparent here. Lack of trust of the
government, the wider community or the new situation can preclude mar-
ginalised communities from engaging in self-development and communi-
ty action. I wondered how this same community would have performed if
the video workshop had taken place in Labasa, their old place of resi-
dence in which they had a defined social structure and strong social net-
works.
156 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
Bridging the Divide with PV
Norris states that rich and dense associational networks facilitate
the underlying conditions for interpersonal trust, tolerance and coopera-
tion(2002: 3). In Fiji, women belong to these networks through mem-
bership in clubs which are strong in the bonding dimension of social capi-
tal in what Putnam describes as ‘ethnic fraternal organisations’ (2000:
22), but weak in forging bridging networks, especially across ethnic lines,
which is essential in trust building and social cohesion. The clubs are
ethno-specific, formed along gender lines, and exclusive to local villages
and settlements. With the formation of the NRWTG, membership was ex-
tended to cross cultural groups bringing exclusively local and ethnic
groups together, thus creating a bridging dimension. This bridging net-
work brought new skills and knowledge into a common pool, which en-
riched the social capital of individual members. The women met at a cen-
tral location for their activities and established closer bonds with their
colleagues who came from diverse backgrounds. Building on this re-
source, the video production then enabled the women to actually extend
the bridging ties by visiting each other’s clubs, villages and settlements
thus leading to greater dialogue and understanding. The visit created a
greater transference of knowledge and cross-cultural understanding. One
participant of Indo-Fijian background noted: Living in Navua, I’ve never
been to a koro (Fijian village) before, but the camera allowed me to ex-
perience this opportunity’ (Priya, pers. comm., 2005).
Through her involvement in the production process, Priya was able
to visit both Mau and Vunibau Villages during the course of the filming.
She also formed closer ties with two Fijian girls from Vunibau Village
who were also in the production team. Another participant, Josy, who was
from Mau Village, asked me if she could be in the production team when
we visited Vunibau Village because I’ve heard a lot about that village
but have never been invited to visit there. Similarly, Fijian participants
also visited the homes of Indian women, especially in Vakabalea where
they had never been before.
Self-Representation
Sue Braden has argued that the camcorder has offered another
reading and writing and removes dependence on the mechanics of alpha-
betisation in order to record and transmit voices, images and ideas. The
tapes can provide a conduit between under-represented, non- or less liter-
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 157
ate groups and those they would not normally be able to address
(Braden, 1999: 119). In the case of the NRWTG, the videotapes helped
the bureaucrats to reassess their own views of the group. The recorded
images created a vital shift in the imagination of the bureaucracy. Sud-
denly, the women’s activities, as presented on video, gained in status and
importance in the minds of the bureaucrats. People who sit in their offices
making important policy decisions could now be included into this world
of the women’s everyday lives and aspirations. The video images legiti-
mised women’s work and became the catalyst for rural women to be re-
imagined by the bureaucrats. By their skilful use of technology and their
confident appearance in front of the camera (something the bureaucrats
themselves struggled with) the women re-presented themselves as active
citizens capable of negotiating their own futures instead of state depend-
ants who waited for top down mechanism to intervene. After viewing the
completed video segments produced by the women, the visiting Divi-
sional Head from the Ministry of Women observed how participatory
video projects like this can be integrated into the Ministry’s policy and
practice:
We’ve been reading the reports, (rather) than looking at the ac-
tual output of what they’ve done… it tells a lot. This is a very
good educational tool even for us, a very beneficial tool that we
can use for other projects or issues such as violence against
women. This could be a very good tool for mainstreaming
women into the development process of the whole community
(E. Duinabua, pers. comm., 2005).
People in positions of power saw for the first time what the women
were capable of achieving. They were not just a women’s group doing
whatever women do within the walls of their home, but active, engaged
and empowered individuals who had successfully used modern technol-
ogy to present themselves and their talents to the wider world.
Producing within their local context allowed the women to integrate
the social and cultural values of their society and develop their own pro-
duction culture, instead of using foreign production values. This was an
excellent example of how technology can be made to conform to peoples’
way of life. If these women had been brought into the studio to talk, they
would have been awed by the technology and the urban environment. In-
stead, the camera came into their life space. The interviews took place in
their homes, and in community halls familiar places in their lives. The
cameras rolled as they sat on the floor where they feel most comfortable,
158 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
instead of on chairs. Location became an important aspect of their repre-
sentation. The subjects of discussion were their lives, their skills and their
communities, about which they were experts, and they spoke about these
things with great ease and delight. It validated their lives and the impor-
tance that the camera gave to them. This supports the notion that to own
their media, people must be able to relate it to their own language and
socio-cultural practices. It has to be embedded in their everyday life ex-
periences.
The promotional video has become much more than a tool through
which they can sell their products. It has become a development message
in itself as seen in the words of the song Chalo Chale Bahine Bisnis
Karenge penned by Nirmala Devi. The Fiji Hindi lyrics (left) translate
into English as follows:
Chalo Chale Bahine bisnis karenge
Let us go sisters, let’s start a business
Chalo Chale Bahine bisnis karenge
Let us go sisters, let’s start a business
Chalo Chale Bahine chutney banao
Let us go sisters, let’s make chutney
Navua mein chutney banao bahina
Let us make chutney in Navua,
Suva mei becho, Nausori mei becho
Sell it in Suva and in Nausori
Chalo Chale Bahine bisnis karege
Let us go sisters, let’s start a business
Chalo Chale Bahine bisnis karege
Let us go sisters, let’s start a business
Mithai banao, doillie banao
Let’s make sweets and doillies
Achaar banao, jam banao...
Let’s make pickles and jam..
Nirmala, a woman who has no formal education, became an impor-
tant aspect of the promotional video by writing the lyrics of the above
song. This aspect of her inclusion and the validation of her skill as a folk
singer added to her sense of pride. She told me during the recording proc-
ess that she liked the fact that she could review the footage instantly after
recording. The instant feedback allowed her to revise the lyrics by listen-
ing to the song instead of relying on others to write and re-read these back
to her. This confirms Padma Guidi’s assertion that video has given voice
to non-literate women by bridging the oral with the technical, thus al-
lowing their voices to be heard (2003). In India, Video SEWA members
who are illiterate, self-employed women also found that one of the most
empowering qualities of video was its instant playback feature, which en-
couraged collaboration between producers and subjects (Gumucio Da-
gron, 2002). Video offered a non-written form of communication through
which the women could showcase their real talents without being con-
strained by the written word, over which they did not have mastery.
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 159
The women recognised the top-down hegemonic structure of main-
stream media when they voiced their frustrations at being unable to tell
their own stories in mainstream media or influence media content in en-
tertainment programming. For example, Toby wanted to celebrate the lo-
cal community effort to support the hospital after the floods in Navua by
inviting the mainstream media to cover the event, but was unable to do
so. Toby’s experience led her to observe: ‘My general opinion of the me-
dia at that time was very bad; either they build or they destroy’. She rec-
ognised the power of media in building social cohesion by highlighting
collective agency, or sustaining the rupture through their failure to report
on community-centred issues and events. Nanise also reflected this frus-
tration when she commented on inappropriate entertainment programmes
such as Desperate Housewives and Shortland Street which infiltrate local
cultures and values because there is no other programme to see...’.
As the women engaged in the production process and began to un-
derstand visual grammar, they also became critically aware of the way in
which story telling could be manipulated by the choice of shots or the
questions they asked. The capacity-building aspects of PV were reflected
in the women’s aspirations to become part of the technological change.
Kalesi described it as a privilege and realised how this type of training
would be out of their reach - only available at universities- and very
expensive to undertake.
Dialogue and Knowledge Sharing Beyond the Kitchen Table
The story development session turned into a dialogic encounter be-
tween the women as each shared her own perception of what the club
meant to her. From these individual insights a theme for the video
emerged. The story development exercise demonstrated that the process
engaged the women in a constructive dialogue through which they identi-
fied the strengths and weaknesses of their club. Again, the multi-ethnic
nature of their club emerged as the main strength. The cultural diversity
of members allowed for a greater mix of knowledge and skills amongst
the women. The Fijian women learned to make chutneys and Indo-Fijian
women learned to make new types of jams. But this exchange was of far
greater significance than mere activities at the kitchen table. Fijian and
Indo-Fijian women were engaging cross-culturally, recognising each
other’s strengths instead of seeing each other through a prism of fear and
distrust. The video images reflected this collaborative partnership be-
tween the two races and could be shared with other communities.
160 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
Through a feedback loop of viewing and reviewing the videos, the
participants also identified strengths and weaknesses in their own prac-
tice. For example, the women realised that they had forgotten to use
gloves and hair nets while cooking the dalo chips, an important aspect of
hygiene required in the commercial production of food. During the script
development phase, through the active participation of Nanise and com-
munity development worker, Nureen Das, the women also gained a
clearer understanding of their club’s main objectives and its mission
statement. This confirms that when people make their own content, their
understanding of their own community grows. Video production encour-
ages transactional communication through the various stages of the pro-
duction process as an ongoing dynamic process of building relationships
where communication is truly something we do with others and not to
them(Adler and Rodman, 2003: 28). True learning is based on dialogue
between equals. But to be able to achieve it, a strong foundation of love,
faith and humilitywhich engenders mutual trust is necessary (Freire,
1984: 79).
At a meeting with the then Director of the Ministry of Women, Mrs
Maria Matavewa, I played the DVD which the women had produced.
Matavewa recognised the ‘information sharing and knowledge dissemina-
tion’ potential of video:
I do believe that this technology is a must for our communication
and information unit. Not only that, to be able to empower the women’s
groups that are out there, in terms of the social and economic empower-
ment programme, I believe this must be a tool that must be owned by our
officers that go out, and also to promote the use of this tool amongst the
groups that they work with, to be able to document and have it as a living
document for their future reference.
I really and truly believe that if the facilities are to be sustained
over the years to come than this technology must be owned by
the community. But we must facilitate, in whatever way possi-
ble, that this technical know-how must be able to get out to the
community at large (M. Matavewa, pers. comm. 2006).
By watching the women in action, the Director realised the value of
community-based production in community development and dialogue.
Seeing women proactively engaging in the process of production allowed
her to link the use of communication technology to empowerment and
community development through its knowledge sharing potential. With a
new understanding of how communities can engage with video, appropri-
Bridging the Divide with Participatory Video 161
ate government services can provide enabling environments in which
communities have access to this technology for their own development.
Conclusion
Through the channel of small-format video, the women in this re-
search found a way to record not only their own voices, but also those of
other women in their communities. Healthy and functioning social net-
works which invite multi-ethnic membership, as in the case of the
NRWTG, are essential structures within which the process of PV or other
forms of participatory media can become embedded. It is a place where
communities can link up, share their knowledge and communicate their
concerns. Participatory video assists in shifting knowledge and power
away from the elites and locates it within subordinate groups. The video
content produced by the women did not address political or economic is-
sues, nor did it voice the mindless infighting of political elites. Rather, it
represented women’s work, their abilities, their skills and their potential
as income producers, as well as their empowering networks. Having
found their voices, the women were keen to use video to capture the ‘im-
pressions and expressionsof their daily life to effectively communicate
their hopes and aspirations to the world. Their knowledge of video pro-
duction opened up new ways of recording their voices. These women
proved that technology was no barrier to their storytelling. The knowl-
edge they had gained had also quietly made them confident about the In-
formation Age, as one of the participants said to me, this is the era of
technology and we’ve been invited to become part of it.
Community based media such as participatory video with its power-
ful imagery is able to bring the everyday lived experiences of people into
the public realm, celebrating the interdependence and collective agency
of diverse groups in their daily construction of community. In naming
their world, grassroots producers reflect the true nature of their communi-
ties through their own lived experiences instead of those framed in hege-
monic political debates. By recodifying the established norms and net-
works, community-based programmes create new opportunities for dia-
logue and revitalise atrophied relationships within and between communi-
ties. Aspects of community building and social cohesion become the un-
derlying themes in the production of local content, not driven by a top
down agenda of reconciliation, but through the portrayal of community
action in the everyday experiences of the producers and their social net-
works. Thus the process of production and content development become a
162 Fijian Studies, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 2
dynamic site for community building and reconciliation.
On a personal note, this journey to find a way of connecting the two
cultures through the use of communication technology was also transfor-
mational for me. As an Indo-Fijian child, I grew up in Fiji acutely aware
of the two ethnic groups living side by side with little knowledge of each
other’s culture and language. By undertaking this research and working
alongside Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities, I have become aware of
the richness of the two local social systems and the accommodating quali-
ties of the indigenous culture. It has awakened in me a deep respect for
Fijian traditions and knowledge systems which 18 years of schooling had
not been able to provide in Fiji.
If a concerted effort is to be made towards intercultural communica-
tion between the ethnic groups in Fiji, then core traditional beliefs which
drive fear and suspicion between communities need to be discussed
openly, reframed and given new meanings within the context of the cur-
rent conflict. Community centred media can play a vital role in the recon-
ciliation process by opening discussions on issues that affect the whole
nation and by reflecting the spirit of goodwill and the voices and aspira-
tions of common people in Fiji. This work can be supported by civil soci-
ety organisations such as the Fiji Media Watch or high schools to encour-
age interethnic relations between students by incorporating small media
in projects of peace building. By watching communities from diverse
backgrounds working together, sharing knowledge and information, other
communities may also see the benefit of working cross-culturally to build
individual skills and community resources. Unity in diversity can create
not only a socially cohesive society but also one that is economically and
politically viable.
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Usha Sundar Harris, PhD., is a lecturer in International Communication at
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Nanise’s assistance and enthusiastic support of this project.
... Recent research in the Pacific (Thomas, Eggins, & Papoutsaki, 2013;2011;2010;Harris, 2008) demonstrates the use of participatory video (PV) by local communities to promote their stories. These projects have produced positive results, such as greater awareness of localised health challenges (i.e., HIV in Papua New Guinea) and increased support from government agencies (i.e., using PV outputs to showcase microentrepreneurship in Fiji, thus building business capability for local communities). ...
... Moreover, as opportunities for development increase in the region, it is questionable what capability Pacific women have to control media content about themselves and how they are portrayed. PV and other visual methodologies for social change are beginning to be researched as new methods that allow participants to be fully participative in the process of creating media content and to determine the degree of control that is appropriate to the stakeholders (Harris, 2008). ...
... Participatory video (PV) and other visual methodologies for social change allow participants to be fully particpative in the research process and to determine the degree of control that stakeholders have in working with them (Harris, 2008). However, there remains a dearth of empirical studies that address PV use within a Pacific context (Thomas et al., 2012;Harris, 2008). ...
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