Ecology and collaborative digital narratives: a comparative project Cairu-Aguiño

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[Como parte del proyecto Narrativas Digitais / Narrativas Digitales, Karla Brunet y yo presentamos en Octubre del año pasado en la conferencia Soft Borders en Sao Paulo un primer análisis de los resultados obtenidos en los talleres. A continuación aparece el texto que ha sido publicado en las actas de la conferencia]


Ecology and collaborative digital narratives: a comparative project Cairu-Aguiño

Brunet, Karla & Juan Freire (2010). Ecology and collaborative digital narratives: a comparative project Cairu-Aguiño. En, Soft Borders Conference & Festival Proceedings: papers. Martha Gabriel & Milton Sogabe (eds.). São Paulo : Centro Universitário Belas Artes de São Paulo, pp. 118-121. ISBN: 978-85-87985-41-5. e-book disponible en (pdf del libro completo; pdf del capítulo)

Abstract: This paper presents an artistic experimentation for the creation of digital narratives dealing with ecological issues in two coastal communities. Theses case studies from the project “Digital Narratives for community participation on coastal ecosystem management” involved the communities of Garapuá (Cairu) and Aguiño, coastal places located in Brazil (Bahia) and in Spain (Galicia), respectively. In both places, local teenagers developed narratives of their territories using a combination of technologies and media such as: GPS, videos, photos, audio, texts and mapping. These narratives were constructed on workshops facilitated by a team of artists, scientists and local educators, constituting an opportunity for development of digital literacies and awareness of their environment. These pilot experiences allowed to test methods and technologies for the development of a collaborative framework and a toolbox of open methods and free software to facilitate future projects in other contexts.

Keywords: art, ecology, digital narrative, collaboration, territory

1. Introduction

Artistic experimentation for the creation of digital narratives dealing with ecological, cultural and socioeconomic issues in two coastal communities is here illustrated. The project “Digital Narratives for community participation on coastal ecosystem management” involved the communities of Garapuá (Cairu) and Aguiño, coastal places located in Brazil (Bahia) and in Spain (Galicia), respectively. Both communities are representative of the diversity of cultural and socioeconomic conditions that characterize coastal fishing communities in Spain and Brazil. Garapuá continues to be a small village mostly isolated from nearby human settlements and where a strong feeling of community continues to persist. Whereas, Aguiño has experienced an important urban development in the last years and now this village is part of a large diffuse coastal settlement mixing rural and urban characteristics. In this Spanish site, people are less tied to the place and participate in wider social networks. It’s expected that these socio-cultural differences are reflected in the vision that each community has of itself and its territory.

The present project focuses in the idea that digital media can allow coastal communities to develop their own narratives about their life and territory, and especially their use of coastal ecosystems. This process can be essential to promote mechanisms of community cohesion and to empower user groups to participate more actively in the co-management of their territories, along with scientists, public officers, politicians and other stakeholders (as NGOs, touristic sector, people involved in aquaculture marketing of fishery products…).

Our main objective is to develop a pilot project where methods and technologies for the collaborative construction of digital narratives are assembled, tested and improved for the development of a collaborative framework. A toolbox of open methods and free software was brought together to facilitate future projects. Testing was carried out in the two coastal communities in workshops for the construction of these digital narratives. The methodologies were adapted to the needs and literacies of coastal zone inhabitants to allow them to record audiovisual digital contents in a collaborative way. The complete process is documented and digital platforms will be created to publish the narratives. The project is working under an open source approach: prioritizing the use of existing free software and also developing new pieces or modifications of software to complete our toolbox. Our goal is to make these methods and protocols easy and available to any collective or group that wants to develop similar workshops.

Another objective of this project is to promote reflection and action about the identity and problems of the community and its territory. In this sense, another encounter will be carried out in each community where results will be presented allowing people to know, discuss and compare their narratives with the ones from the other site.

2. Development of workshops

Workshops for the construction of digital narratives were held in April 2010 in Garapuá and July 2010 in Aguiño. A local partner was involved in each community helping to select participants and to fine-tune the design of objectives and methods. In Garapuá we worked with the Casa Familiar do Mar, a non-government institution devoted to provide professional education to teenagers. Their work has a strong experimental component and an interest on the development of entrepreneurship skills focused on local projects. In Aguiño the teenager participants go to a public high school with formal education. Our partners were in this case the association of mothers and fathers and Sagres, a local cultural and environmentalist NGO.

In both places, 16 teenagers worked during 3 days developing narratives of their territories using a combination of media such as: videos, photos, audio, texts and mapping. These narratives were constructed on workshops facilitated by a team consisted of artists, scientists and local educators. We started with a short presentation about the project and each of the four thematic sections composing the workshop (photo, video, audio and mapping) was explained. After that, groups of 4 teenagers were formed and they discussed and planned the topics to be documented.

Each group worked with two instructors using a specific media during two half-days sessions of fieldwork. Moreover, each teenager participated in two different sections, video and audio or photo and mapping. Although groups were based in media, collaboration among groups was encouraged and in most cases was a natural output of the dynamics of the workshop. Instructors provided technical assistance and facilitated the work, however, decisions about the thematic to be dealt and places to visit were held by the teenagers. A team of two persons was responsible for the downloading and archiving of all the material produced, this way, assuring that nothing would be lost. In both places, the raw material (videos, image, audios and maps) and some edited experimentations were exhibited each night. These exhibitions were open to the public, so anyone in the community could find out more about project and get to know the work of the teenagers.

Detailed reports of the workshops are being published on the website of the project. Videos, audios and photos are archived and published in Vimeo, Archive and Flickr respectively. Videos were edited with Cinelerra and Kino, photos with Gimp and F-Spot, audios with Audacity and maps with geographical information systems (initially the proprietary software ArcGis and later a simplified version of the free software gvSig) and Google Earth.

3. A comparison of communities and narratives

The economy of both communities is dependent mainly of artisanal fisheries and, to a lesser extent, a growing tourist activity. However whereas Garapuá is a small, isolated, rural community, Aguiño has transformed in the last years into a highly connected village. The comparative analysis of the dynamics of workshops and the results obtained will allow to identify cultural and socioeconomic changes associated with the urbanization and, as a consequence, the transformation of the relationships between the community and their territories.

As an exercise for a first approximation to the analysis of content and visualization that will be developed by the project team, themes were created. In Garapuá six main themes were identified: 1) tourism / leisure, 2) infrastructures, 3) economic activities (especially fishing), 4) life histories, 5) ecosystem and 6) land ownership. Teenagers showed a strong capacity for critical thinking about their own identities and the result of their work presented an accurate description and critical analysis of the community and the territory.

In Aguiño, teenagers were less critical and reflexive at the start of the workshop. Accordingly, their narratives were more oriented towards documenting nature and landscapes than to approach the human relationships and conflicts of their community. Their main topics that they documented were: 1) landscape, 2) fishing, and 3) life histories and cultural identity.

4. Eco-media and visualization of narratives

Digital media allow communities to actively develop their own narratives about their individual and collective identity, life and territory. The materials derived from these digital narratives will be organized, analyzed and visualized to facilitate the communication to both inside the community and towards the exterior. A combination of tagging and visualizations will enable the representation of geographic and conceptual information.

Here narratives are used as tool for self-representation, space understanding and public debate. Therefore, this art experimentation provides the cultural interdisciplinary platform for the development of collaborative narratives that constitute a visualization of knowledge and territorial commons allowing users to understand their own place.

Raw digital materials (videos, photos, audios and maps) are screened to discard errors and make minimal editions to improve quality. Each piece is analyzed for content and tagged with a series of keywords related to narrative format, theme, objects and people. A taxonomy of keywords was constructed refining the thematic classification made during each workshop. A database comprising the identification of each material (using their url in Vimeo, Flickr or Archive) and tags is being developed using Delicious to allow later tests of visualization tools.

At this moment we are developing data visualization methods aimed to construct conceptual navigable maps were people could explore digital narratives using tags and their relationships. We started collaboration with Bestiario to adapt and use some of their tools. Initially, we are using SixPli that creates a visualization of Delicious tags in a dynamic environment. This tool allows different visualization methods in 2 and 3D as elastic nets and circles. The visualization of our database of digital narratives will enable navigation along the conceptual relationships among items based on their tags facilitating the exploration and multiple lectures of the narratives.

In the case of maps, information obtained during fieldwork (GPS tracks and waypoints) was incorporated to GIS and thematic maps are prepared for visualization with Google Earth. Also, the GPS tracks of groups working with video, photos and audio were recorded for possible future geo-localization. At this moment we are developing a geographical and conceptual visualization, and we are studying new methods to combine both in a unique environment.

5. Commons and coastal ecosystem management

These coastal communities worked on this project are highly dependent of their territories and the ecosystems both terrestrial and marine. They share resources, identities and problems, which is why eco-media is a tool to generate debates in the community. The emergence of problematization and solutions aroused from these debates could help to empower people increasing their capacity of self-organization and collective action. Consequently, they are able to actively participate in the co-management of their ecosystems.

Traditionally the official management of these ecosystems has been limited by a scarce knowledge of the local ecology and the lack of involvement of their inhabitants. Decision-makers used to have a monopoly of official knowledge about the territory. In parallel, most part of the actual management is based on the community, working over a shared commons invisible to institutions. Also, local knowledge could fill these gaps providing efficiently basic information about the ecosystems.

The hypothesis and intuitions that originated the present project were related to these asymmetrical relationships between local communities (in this case coastal fishing communities) and the institutions governing their territory and economic activities. In this sense, we could consider Digital Narratives as an experiment in action research as described by Bradbury (2010). 

Coastal communities claim rights over common resources but forget the need to develop mechanisms for self-management. The main restriction is due to the fact that these groups do not identify themselves as a collective with capacity to generate governance. However the process of creation of self-management system has to be experimental because it involves the design of new governance structures. 

As Callon (2007) proposed, the techno-economic society produces multiple communities of people affected by the market. Coastal communities dedicated to artisanal fishery are cases of affected collectives in the sense of Callon. They share economic activities depending of ecosystems, have a conflictive relationship with markets and don’t have access to knowledge need to manage natural resources. 

Digital Narratives tries to start a process of public visualization of the communities and their problems and interests. It is important to codify and communicate local knowledge in understandable formats for all stakeholders (people in the community, scientists, managers, politicians). It is not our goal to define how the interaction among stakeholders will be held; our objective was to create the platform for that.

6. References

Callon, M. (2007). An essay on the growing contribution of economic markets to the proliferation of the social. Theory, Culture & Society 24 (7-8):139-163.

Bradbury, H. (2010) What is good action research? Why the resurgent interest?. Action Research 8(1): 93-109.

7. Acknowledgements

This project was funded partially by the Programa de Cooperación Universitaria e Investigación Científica (Modalidad C: Acción preparatoria) of the AECID (Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo) and with a research grant of FAPESB (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado da Bahia).

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