Media @ McGill

Stories of Resistance: Digital storytelling and anti-violence activism


By Liz Springate

My current publication project, “Stories of Resistance: Digital storytelling and anti-violence activism,” is intended for inclusion in the forthcoming edited anthology Digital Storytelling, which examines digital storytelling as an emerging, distinct narrative genre within the digital environment. Digital Storytelling is the first book of its kind and the inclusion of my work in it will help position my investigations at the forefront of this emerging research area. It will also locate my analyses in a body of scholarship that, like my own, draws together questions of digital media production, activist media practices, and narrative analysis.

“Stories of Resistance: Digital storytelling and anti-violence activism” builds on questions I raised in my MA thesis, “Networks of Resistance: Digital Media, Storytelling and Acts of Resistance to Sexual Assault.” In it I asked why stories of resistance to sexual assault remain largely invisible in mainstream media yet are becoming increasingly visible in other media environments, particularly on-line. I argued that a complex of forces including the criminal justice system, so-called conventional wisdom, mainstream media texts, mental health discourse, and occlusions in feminist analysis, function together to construct victims of sexual violence as traumatized and helpless. Digital story projects, I suggested, provide alternative ways of representing sexual violence from the perspective of its resistance and survival. I concluded by identifying three digital storytelling initiatives that create spaces in which stories of people’s resistance to sexual violence can become visible. These are the initiatives I investigate in greater depth in this book chapter. “Stories of Resistance: Digital storytelling and anti-violence activism” examines the construction and circulation of stories of resistance to sexualized violence within the context of three sites of digital media production and training: The Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) in Berkeley California, Silence Speaks in Oakland California, and the Stories of ReSISTAnce Project in Toronto.

Collected accounts of women’s resistance to sexual assault attempt to open up the seeming inevitability of sexual assault as a pre-scripted conflict between rapist and victim, and reframe notions of female agency in the process. In these sites, community and media activists have begun to train individuals and groups to produce and collect digital stories in order to challenge the larger cultural discourse about sexual violence that still frame this violence in racist and sexist terms. As a Beaverbrook Fellow I would prepare my chapter for publication. To achieve this I am keen to extend and revise my analysis of these three digital story initiatives based on a paper I presented at the Console-ing Passions International Conference in May 2006. Feedback from the conference inspires me to focus on activists’ training methods and principles.

The focus on education in community digital storytelling projects permits me to argue that digital stories about resistance to sexualized violence also constitute a rich site of analysis into activist media genres. I will examine how digital stories, once produced and collected, function as activist-oriented documentation efforts that emphasizes the implementation of personal accounts towards outreach and advocacy goals. I will analyze workshop materials and conduct and transcribe follow-up interviews with members of staff at CDS, Silence Speaks, and Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape in Toronto, with whom I have already cultivated working relationships. A Beaverbrook Fellowship will not only provide me with time that I would otherwise engage in paid labour, but help with additional costs that include acquiring workshop materials, long distance phone interviews and travel to Toronto for in-person interviews.