B.04 "Forming Coalitions: Digital Democracies and the Integration of Social Activism"
Reviewed by Rajendra K Panthee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Jennifer Mallette, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Kathryn Perry, University of Louisville, KY. "The Sociological and Pedagogical Significance of Narrative Continuity in the Freedom School Curriculum."
Clarissa Walker, University of Rhode Island, Kingston. "Light as a Rock: The African Diaspora Blogger of the ‘Soft Power.’"
Dhruba Neupane, University of Waterloo, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. "Listening to ‘The Digital Third World’: Probing the Preconditions of Digital Democracy."
This panel addressed issues ranging from social activism and the use of digital technologies by minorities to digital democracy. The presenters emphasized how writing classrooms can be effective sites for social change.
Kathryn Perry used Paul Ricour’s theory of narrative tense to demonstrate the rich pedagogical and theoretical threads in the Freedom School curriculum. She began by providing historical background on the Freedom Schools, which emerged out of a coalition of civil rights forces to bring new educational opportunities to young African American students in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Perry analyzed how the Freedom Schools grounded their curriculum in student-centered pedagogical practices in order to encourage students to see and understand the kind of world they wanted to inhabit. She described the Freedom School curriculum as producing a place that "establish(ed) students’ present reality with their past in order to point out the future alternatives for them." Instead of focusing on the political nature of Freedom School pedagogy, Perry examined how citizenship curriculum used the continuity of narrative "to give students the space in which to examine the present reality and learn about their history and imagine a potential brighter future from this dialogic relationship between present and past." Perry argued that this curriculum models how "we can mold our teaching to arouse our students to think about their future" and to "understand how our present day teaching is both influenced by students’ pasts and is influencing students’ futures." She concluded her presentation with a brief discussion of Deborah Brandt’s ideas about "what schools nowadays can be doing to encourage and value diverse literacy practices." Perry pointed to connections between Brandt’s goals for future schools and literacy practices and the goals that the Freedom School curriculum imagined for its students.
In her presentation, Clarissa Walker analyzed a Garifuna blog from the perspective of Joseph Nye, Jr.’s soft power model. According to Walker, the blog that Garifuna used to feature stories about human trafficking, Nigerian immigrant experience, death, and murder by police during the protest in Venezuela is an example of soft power tool because through the blog Garifuna achieved celebrity status and were able to further indoctrinate people about their social liberation movement. During her presentation, Walker emphasized that "soft power" could be a mode of global governance and that cyber-activism using digital technologies could be the best mode of soft power for helping marginalized people exercise rhetorical power. She also compared the soft power model with hard power to show how the adaptation of soft power can be instrumental to achieving patient power, social change, and social and political connection because it includes "reflection, attraction/cooperation, agenda setting, and rallying web user’s support." Walker shared a video in which the beat of drums and the hips of the dancers created "a distinct picture of Garifuna culture and attracted the attention of people." She ended her presentation by relating it the Garifuna’s use of the blog to writing students’ use of digital technologies.
Dhruba Neupane’s presentation problematized Western perspectives of the third world and democracy by looking at these concepts from non-Western perspectives, using Aijaz Ahmed’s attack on Jameson’s observation about the third world to further develop this point and "to relate those insights to digital humanities." Neupane argued that the Third World is meant to be a critique of the third "worldism/wordism, both as a desire to homogenize the diverse energies and impulses within the Third World and to subsume those into the dominant." Given this, authentic representation is next to impossible.
Neupane then discussed the digital divide and the rhetoric used to describe it. He argued that "the celebratory rhetoric of going digital—that just going digital is a sufficient indication of the democratization of knowledge—loses sight of the various subtle ways the dominant reshapes itself into new forms and realizations" and that new media are simply perpetuating the dominant ideologies and hegemonies. Using an example of a writing classroom blog in which students are asked to post their reading responses that otherwise they would do on a paper, Neupane demonstrated how the democratizing potential of blogs was "reduced intentionally or unintentionally, to reproducing the traditional hierarchical relationships rather than to diffusing them." The rhetoric of digital divide is mostly framed around the idea of the availability—or unavailability—of materials in the Third World. As such, the global digital divide is typically measured by international institutions in terms of the number of persons with individual access to those technologies. According to Neupane, what is needed is to redefine, reinterpret, and disrupt the categories of center/periphery and to acknowledge internal fissures and disjunction.
At the end of the session, the chair opened the floor to questions. One audience member asked Clarissa Walker about whether the use of websites could also be helpful to writing students attempting to make their points come across clearly. Walker affirmed that cyber-activism could be relevant to what writing students do in a writing classroom. Another audience member asked all presenters how they would relate their presentations to what writing students do in the writing classrooms. Perry responded that writing instructors could design their writing curriculum and syllabi to help students become more aware of their past and present as well as look to their future.