sentimentality vs witnessing

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Exploring tensions between sentimentality and witnessing through digital storytelling: a case of South African pre-service teacher education By Daniela Gachago, Vivienne Bozalek, Eunice Ivala, Janet Condy and Agnes Chigona Cape Peninsula University of Technology

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Presentation at the 2013 International Conference on Digital Storytelling


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Exploring tensions between sentimentality and witnessing through digital storytelling: a case of South African pre-service teacher education

By Daniela Gachago, Vivienne Bozalek, Eunice Ivala, Janet Condy and Agnes ChigonaCape Peninsula University of Technology

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Cape Town

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Legacy of apartheid

Post-conflict / post-trauma societies

Pedagogies needed to facilitate engagement across deeply divided, wounded societies

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Class set up

Bringing students together into integrated environments of learning is not enough to break down deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions that impact on students’ conscious or unconscious choice of social engagements (Jansen 2010; Soudien 2012).

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Critical digital storytelling

Alexandra, D., 2008. Digital storytelling as transformative practice: Critical analysis and creative expression in the representation of migration in Ireland. Journal of Media Practice, 9(2), pp.101–112.

Benmayor R. 2008. Dıgıtal storytellıng as a sıgnature pedagogy for the new humanıtıes, Arts and Humanıtıes ın Hıgher Educatıon, 7, 188-204.

Rolon-Dow, R., 2011. Race(ing) stories: digital storytelling as a tool for critical race scholarship. Race Ethnicity and Education,

14(2), pp.159–173. Rose Brushwood, C., 2009. The (Im) possibilities of Self

Representation: Exploring the Limits of Storytelling in the Digital Stories of Women and Girls. Changing English, 16(2), pp.211–220.

Scott Nixon, A., 2009. Mediating Social Thought through Digital Storytelling. Pedagogies: an international Journal, 4(1), pp.63–76.

Vasudevan, L., 2006. Making Known Differently: engaging visual modalities as spaces to author new selves. E-Learning, 3(2), p.207.

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for real transformation within students to happen, issues of difference cannot be addressed on a cognitive or intellectual level alone but require emotional engagement (Bozalek 2011b, Hemson, Moletsane, and Muthukrishna 2001; Jansen 2009 and Soudien 2012)

Disrupture can only happen through personal engagement and encounters with the ‘other’, in a series of critical incidents, leading to pedagogic dissonance, that can ‘begin to erode sure knowledge’. (Jansen 2009)

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Emotions in teacher education

Megan BolerMichalinos Zembylas

A professor at the University of Toronto, Megan Boler teaches philosophy, cultural studies, feminist theory, media studies, social equity courses in the Teacher Education program, and media studies at the Knowledge Media Design Institute.

Dr. Michalinos Zembylas is Assistant Professor of Education at the Open University of Cyprus. He is particularly interested in how affective politics intersect with issues of social justice pedagogies, intercultural and peace education, and citizenship education. 

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Role of emotions

By experiencing deep discomforting emotions, and critically reflecting on their origins, dominant beliefs, social habits and normative practices that sustain social inequities may be challenged and possibilities for individual and social transformation be created (Zembylas & McGlynn 2010)

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Rıver of Lıfe

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‘If I could use one word it would be emotional.’


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‘social pedagogy’ Benmayor 2008

You’ve got to delve into the lives of people who you’ve been with for four years, who you’ve greeted, who you’ve asked how are you but just on that level. But after Wednesday [day of screening] you still find people embracing each other whom they’ve never ever spoken really or hugged each other. (CF)

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Reverting assumptions

Sometimes you will take people for granted and you think that this person has everything and this person does not have a problem you know and sometimes we always tend to use that race thing and say I know these white people, they’ve got everything and they lived life perfectly but when you compare - with some of my stories when I compare to some of the other people, the white people I feel like my problem is really small to what this person has experienced and how this person got here. (BM)

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Pity / guilt

It suddenly made me realise like - how hard some of the people work here and how strong some people actually are. You’d often say like - ah you know - look at this person they never come to class and things - or they don’t do their assignments but you don’t know that they’re not doing it because they were up working all night until five in the morning like trying to earn money - it’s very emotional… I was howling yesterday and then I - I felt bad when I got home I felt so guilty I thought but all I had to do was ask that person all I had to do was take an interest in them and I haven't for four years. (WF)

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Sitting there with them, looking at the story for me the aim was not for them to feel pity for me, because that’s always been an issue for me. You don’t feel sympathy for me. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. This is my story and I’m proud of it. I’m not ashamed of it. So for you to feel pity it’s not going to help. It’s not going to help me - I don’t know if you will understand. (BM)

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More critical voices

Now in fourth year you know they expect us to be all integrated and be a happy family and it’s such a false. I feel like you know lecturers are crying we all crying but its false because we've been with these people for four years and we've never bothered to ask them you know and now we crying about their stories. (WF)

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In trauma education: risk of over-engagement with trauma stories

sentimental reaction by students identifying with the privilege feeling guilt / defensiveness in privileged party and anger in the victim, leading to desensitization & disengagement (2011: 20)

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Active empathy / witnessing vs passive empathyTestimonial reading can lead to active empathy, in which the reader recognizes his or her position of power provided through the distance to the event recounted in the text

‘Passive empathy absolves the reader through the denial of power relations. The confessional relationship relies on a suffering that is not referred beyond the individual to the social’

Boler 1999:162

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Sentimentality in digital storiesoriginate directly from participants lived experiences, and often deal with significant episodes in somebody’s lives

tendency to be very emotional

danger of ‘sentimentality of digital stories’, arguing that it promotes ‘individualistic, and naively unselfconscious accounts of personal stories’ (Hartley and McWilliam 2009: 14)

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‘Somewhat paradoxically from a critical perspective, it is the very qualities that mark digital stories as uncool, conservative, and ideologically suspect – ‘stock’ tropes, nostalgia, even sentimentality – that give them the power of social connectivity, while the sense of authentic self-expression that they convey lowers the barriers to empathy.‘

(Burgess 2006:10)

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Digital storytelling opened up important space for emotional engagement with own identity and the ‘Other’

‘social pedagogy’ : Part of the process of generating the digital story involves sharing and disclosure (Benmayor 2008)

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evidence of sentimentality and ‘passive empathy’, leading to pity from the part of the privileged observer and resentment from the subjugated storyteller (Boler 1999)

risk of re-affirming existing beliefs and assumptions about the ‘Other’?

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students essentialised race, identified strongly along racial background and actively constructed entities in opposition to each other, confirming findings of previous research (Pattman 2010; Rohleder et al. 2008; Swartz et al. 2009; Bozalek 2011).

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Engagement with critical texts

Importance of reflective essay

Multimodal discourse analysis? How do various modes work together to create/construct emotions/sentimentality? Critical media literacy?

Reflection on emotions that the stories evoke within different student groups?

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Critical emotional reflexivity

….a process of using emotions as catalysts, to allow the questioning of beliefs and assumptions, exposing privilege and comfort zones, with the aim for learners to find new ways of being with the ‘Other’, and ultimately leading to transformed ‘relationships, practices, and enactments that benefit teaching and learning for peace, mutual understanding, and reconciliation’

(Zembylas 2011: 2).

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Questions and discussions?

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CPUT Research into Innovations in Teaching and Learning Fund (RIFTAL 2011, 2012)

CPUT University Research Fund 2012

National research foundation 2012-2015

Facilitators and students of 2011 ISP Digital Storytelling project