Dirk Schouten, Amsterdam Polytechnic.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Paper for the workshop on "Cultural Rights, the Media and Minorities" to be carried out within the framework of the Project: "Democracy, Human Rights, Minorities: educational and cultural aspects".
DATE: 27-29 September 1995
TITLE: The right to information on local markets; mechanisms and procedures wich enable the individual to integrate in the local environment.
It is an uncomfortable feeling to speak about minorities in the language of any majority. While I do not want to make an issue of it, the feeling remains, and it is always there when I am not using my 'own' language, i.e. Dutch. However, let us proceed. One thing must be clear from the onset. Rights are seldom granted, and in most cases bitter fights are fought to aquire them. With the right to information the situation is not much different. There may be a right to information, but when you want information of your choice, you have to take the initiative yourself. The information that appears on your doormat, seemingly for nothing, is easily accessible, and may provide excellent information about the bargains at your local market, however, most of the time it does not provide answers to your questions.
In this paper I want to present a model by which the right to information can be exercised by groups; a class in a school, a group of adults, a group of young Turks, a group of migrants etc., etc.. The model describes procedures and indicates ways to enable the individual to integrate into the local community with the support of audiovisual means. I will outline some of the basic assumptions that support the model and indicate some of the advantages if using it.
Yet, before one can use a model, some barriers must be removed;
the stage must be made ready for the performance. One
basic prerequisite, that comes before the right to information, is
the right to curiosity. An individual or a group who wants to
know something, has a question, or wants to behave as a Nosey
Parker wanting to know 'everything' on something, has the right
to be curious. The right to curiosity may well be the precursor to
the right to information. Schools play an important task in the
violation of this right, by giving ready-to-wear answers to complicated
questions instead of promoting genuine research to find satisfying but
In the field where I work, the curious are children who want to know, for instance, how an airport affects their environment, or how, as a Turkish entrepreneur, a Turkish migrant, you can become eligible for a subsidy.
I will expand on these examples later.
If those people want to know these things, they must discover how to get the answers themselves. And, once they have the answers, they should be able to execute another basic right; the right to pass information to people who, they think, need it.
The model on how to be curious, on how to get information, and
how to disseminate it, is constructed on three pillars: Research,
Analysis and Production.
When a group wants to gain information on the local market, a number of problems arise. Group problems, research problems, media problems and technical problems. The model describes a method of organising, researching and producing media material. It helps to organise the interaction between participants, subjectmatter, research, hardware and audience. It is an open and flexible model and can easily be adapted. For groups with mediaexperience, or groups with practical experience, like action groups, the model serves as an aide-memoire or checklist. The model is an efficient instrument in stess management because it divides a complex and often chaotic acitvity in distinguishable stages. The model divides the activities a group must undertake to do research and produce results, into 12 separate stages:
1. Deciding the topic/conducting self-research
Before a group can make use of audiovisual aids its members need to determine a topic, and find out how much they already know about it. In addition they should carry out a group audit to discover what qualities each individual can bring to the project and what skills the group as a whole has and can make use of.
In this stage the group needs to examine and move beyond their common sense approach to the subject. They need to discuss the assumptions that underlie it; the apparently self-evident truths that surround it and the notions that are generally taken for granted about it. This involves looking at the cultural, historical and social background of the subject and deciding which of these need to be understood or challenged during the the project.
3. Choice of theme
At this stage the group has to decide on the precise focus of their project - which aspect of the topic they are going to concentrate on.
4. Forming a Supposition
The model requires the group to carry out the process whereby a supposition is developed. This helps to focus the group's work and gives it a clear direction; this is a crucial precursor to the research stage.
During the research stage the group's supposition is compared to other people's analyses of the subject. This makes the group aware of the sort of information they will need to collect and where it might be available.
The material gathered during the research stage is re-examined in terms of the supposition. This process converts the supposition into a proposition.
7. The proposition
The proposition can now be expressed as a statement, which becomes, as it were, the motto for the audiovisual program.
8. Choice of target group
At this stage the group have to make their final decision about which people they wish to reach with their program.
9. Choice of medium
The best medium for reaching the target group can now be decided.
10. Choice of form
When selecting a medium it is also important to decide on the most appropriate form for the production.
This is the actual work of producing the text. It involves the recording, collecting, analysing, arranging and editing of the material.
12. Presentation and Evaluation
No production is complete until it has been presented to the target group and they have been given a chance to give their reactions. Only when this stage is complete can the group make a final evaluation of their work.
This may sound like a rather linear,rigid, closed way of working,
but in practice these stages mingle and are often difficult to
The model has been used over a number of years with hundreds of different groups in Europe and Africa.
Working with the model not only convinced me that it adequate for producing audiovisual material, but that is also a good instrument to exercise your right to be a member of a society. And being a member of a society means having the right to form meaning and to express it.
I think it is now time to make the model practical and I will give some examples of how it is used in practice.
The first example is about Schiphol Airport. This example serves several purposes. It represents the type of research work groups undertake when they have questions and want to do research in the local environment. It will also show how the integration of the individual into the local environment takes place in the research stage and during the presentation.
In the Schiphol case the group is a class of 11 to 12 year old pupils from a primary school in Hoofddorp, a small city near Schiphol Airport. The children have experience with video because they did small research projects.
The subject is brought in by a pupil, whose parents have a small advertising agency and the whole family welcomes the expansion of Schiphol. Another pupil, Roos, whose father is local council member for the Green Movement, also likes the subject, although she thinks different about the expansion. Everybody in the class knows by experience that it is a controversial issue and many children are concerned about the environment and are against expansion, but others are in favour of it. Each pupil can see the other's point of view and everyone starts to get an overview of the pros and cons of the expansion. Gradually, during discussions, seven themes emerged for the project. By discussing the themes, each group prepares a list of questions they can ask particular people during the research period. Then each group makes a list of the visual material they need for their section (planes taking off and landing, airpost signs, etc). These lists are also discussed and then research can start.
At this particular school Tuesday is reserved for research. Before the school started this type of 'research with video' work, a group of parents have attended a ten hour course in facilitating this kind of projects. Mothers, who are afraid of technology and think they can never learn to be facilitators, appear to be the best. They can leave the children to do their job and they only intervene when something is endangering the product. For example, when a technical problem arises and nothing will be recorded on tape, they solve the problem. Fathers with video experience have difficulties in becoming facilitators, because they tend to take over the process and 'help' the children by using the camera themselves, or they try to persuade children to display 'media-behaviour'.
So, on Tuesday morning, the parent on duty is informed by the
group that is working on the theme 'Employment', and what they
want to research, and off they go to a catering company that
serves seven airlines. There they talk to the employees about
logistics, food, working conditions and many other topics concerning
the expansion of the airport.
Altogether, during the research period, the children talk to a lot of people who are stakeholders in the issues concerning Schiphol and its surroundings.
This is a process, people excersising their right to be curious, I
have seen happen numerous times during research. Children and
adults who ask their questions about things they think are important.
And as always, when talking to an expert, he or she accepts questions
that sometimes seem strange or silly to us, and gives a sound answer.
An example to illustrate this phenomenon that I have been a witness to:
A group of four girls want to investigate precisely what the work
of chambermaid is. They go to the local hotel and ask all kinds of
questions to one of the chambermaids about working conditions,
what you must learn to become a chambermaid, and how tough the work is.
They also want to know what she does when she enters a room and 'they'
are naked, and if it has ever happened to her. The woman they
are talking to gives a detailed answer on the procedure. And,
yes, it has happended a few times. I hope I can show you the
example, because it is very illustrative.
In the same hotel, one girl has a very specific question to the owner. "Have you ever forgotten an appointment about a wed- ding party that was to take place in your hotel?" He thinks for a moment and then says: "Yes, it has happened to me once and my father also forgot one". The girl, knowing that it was the weddinbg party of her parents that had been forgotten, could now trust the manager. The conversation proceeds and other prying questions can be asked, for example, for what kind of mistakes you will get fired for and how the manager handles these affairs.
I can also mention the children doing research in the police station, in an eel smokehouse, in a mosk, in a synagoge, at a house for mentally handicapped, at an elderly home, and even in an animal ambulance. The list of examples gets longer every week. I hope to show you some visual examples of this type of work and its further developments.
Now I want to talk about the integration of the individual in society.
In terms of integration a lot has happened in the examples. Children do research in their own environment, and by doing so, they actively take part in their community. They learn how to make contact with others and they learn how to find their way in society. But, to continue with the Schiphol Ariport example, the spokesman from the catering company also becomes a more active member of the community. He has a chance to show what he is doing and he has an interested audience that is much larger than he can imagine as we will see later. He is proud of the work he is doing and sees how vital it is to give good information to children who, maybe, will be the future managers of the company. To give another example of integration, at the police station they do a good job in crime prevention by locking up some boys in a police cell for a quarter of an hour. The boys wanted it themselves and they came out very silent and pale. It was an awful experience and they talked about it for days.
I cannot stress enough the importance of doing real life research in your own community. It integrates you in society and it gives you the feeling that you can go to people and make contact with them. Also, by doing research, you express to others how valuable they are to you.
Integration is the word written as an inscription on the edge of a two sided coin. The 'me' is on one side, the 'other' is literally on the other side. Integration is a two sided process. We now proceed to the process of integration that is taking place in the stages after research, and I will stich to the Schiphol example.
When the children have everything they want to know and see on tape, they go the the local Arts Centre to create an inventory of their material. They make a rough structure of the content of the program they want to make and they make an editing sche- me. Thereafter they edit their material on professional editing equipment.
At the end of the school year the class organises an evening to
which their family members are invited. The parent-facilitators,
the people that participated in the research, the press, the school
inspector and civil servants from the local council (the department
of education thinks this a fine form of education and is very enthusiastic
and supportive) are also invited. The tape, now
called "Schiphol, what do we do about it", is shown to everyone. After the showing of the tape there is a lively discussion between people of different persuasions who are now able (some of them for the first time) to talk about these things face-to-face with the clear focus provided by the children's work.
The showing encourages debate and (hopefully) promotes a new process of problematization for the audience who will be encouraged to think again about the issues and challenge some of their own assumptions about the future of the airport and the local community.
The children also perform acts and give flowers to everyone who helped them. These are very joyful events; people are chatting, exchanging information and opinions.
And this assembly is the next occasion where integration takes place. Because of the research performed by children, individuals from completely different life spheres mingle. The videowork undertaken gives all the participants different relationsships to work and knowledge, to teaching and to the school.
What happens here is the integration of school, family and society. In Holland we think these processes are important and even have a concept for it; social innovation.
Needless to say that the children clearly felt that they had learned a lot about the issue. I quote Jasper, a pupil, who said, "At first I was completely against the expansion. Now that I've seen and heard the arguments I'm less sure. I was worried mainly about the environment at the beginning, but now I do see that employment is really important for people and the economy. But it still seems a pity that people and homes and the environment will have to put up with so much for the sake of a few lousy jobs".
I now want to proceed to an example that is also about integration,
but deals with a defined environment; the world of the
Turkish entrepreneur. Let me give you some background information.
Turkish entrepreneurs are natural entrepreneurs, but a lot of
them fail because there is a lack of understanding about contradictory
regulations and Dutch bureaucracy. As we all know it is
nearly impossible to change bureaucracy, so we decided to do
something with young Turkish entrepreneurs. The use of video
combined with feedback loops plays an important role in establishing
contact between the various stakeholders involved in the
First, a short explanation: A feedbackloop is the process by which some of the systems output is fed back into the system. This is done to make the system perform certain actions. In this case, consider a situation in which business administration students tape a conversation they have with an entrepreneur about his problems. Their next step is to go to the Chamber of Commerce for comment on the content of taped conversation. This comment is also recorded and shown to the Turkish entrepreneur. His commentary to the Chamber of Commerce comment is also recorded. In this way a structured interaction emerges on the final edited tape which is shown to all the stakeholders involved in this particular situation. In this case, the stakeholders include: starting entrepreneurs, successfull entrepreneurs, trainers, members from the Chamber of Commerce, Turkish social workers, collegues and students. Integration takes place in several ways. Firstly, the students and entrepreneurs develop a mutual understanding during their time together. The students become aware of the special problems this part of society faces, and the Turkish entrepreneurs not only get help from the students but also learn the ins and outs of Dutch society. Secondly, the students establish contact with 'the world of work'. Sometimes students have rather naive ideas about work and with this project they have opportunities to experience life outside the classroom, and integrate into this part of the community. For example, they really experience the way the Chamber of Commerce treats Turkish people and encourages them to commit illegal actions. Thirdly there is the meeting of the stakeholders. Here the integration of the participants into the entrepreneurial community takes place. During the intermission of the showing of the final edited tape, information is exchanged on 'good' and 'bad' ways of applying for a subsidy. It also became very clear who could be trusted and who could not. The Turkish social workers who refused to be taped, and who refused to come to the meeting because 'it would violate the privacy of their clients', could then be regarded as unnecesary stakeholders. This project was a success because most measures that are undertaken to train Turkish entrepreneurs fail because the entrepreneurs do not read the course material written for them (as they admit to us). We are now in close contact with the Turkish-Dutch Entrepreneurs Association and the Center for Innovation of Vocational Training to further develop this method. I hope to show you the Turkish tape 'Atilgan', which means 'Courage'.
A few words about the underlying principles and philosophies. When doing this type of video work -to promote social integration I heavily lean on theories and notions from some people that are very important to me.
Of course the stages of the model and the theoretical and pedagogical concepts intermingle but the overall pedagogical framework is provided by the French educationalist Celestin Freinet (1896-1966) and the Brazilian educationalist Paolo Freire (1921- ). Freinet's notions of learning according to a natural way and the trying out of new possibilities in a tentative way and Freire's commitment to dialogical education, as opposed to banking education can be found throughout the model. In the research stage I mainly use methods developed in visual anthropology and action-research.
In the process of program making (which is basically manufacturing meaning) I use Jrgen Habermas' theory on communicative action. His division of society into lifeworld and systemworld and the implication this has on speech acts (so also on forms of speech with media) cannot be understated. In the editing process, the French philosopher Jean-Franois Lyotard and his theory on differences, have also proven to be useful. If you look at shots as sentences, the chaining of sentences in a program is a contingent process in wich every shot can be chained to every other shot. Chaining shots creates one meaning, and at the same time suppresses other meanings. Hopefully there is time to show you a visual example of Lyothard's theory. Both philosophers can also be seen as providers of the theoretical framework that beacons social integration; rationality and the difference.
Or, to put it in a more theoretical perspective: Integration is fundamentally a problematic process. 'We' think ourselves as rational and the 'other' as differing from us. 'They'think themselves as rational as well and 'us' as different. The current debates in anthropology and ethnography show how problematic it is even to tell something about 'the other' without falling into the standards of a male, white, middle-class society. How can we build even the most fragile bridge between 'them' and 'us'?
A last word on the future of integration, as we cannot pretend to
ignore it. We have computerized interactive possibillities at our
fingertips to make contact with virtually everyone on this planet.
At the same time our ears can almost hear the Jugoslavian civil
war coming in our direction.
The postmodern forms of communication are driving wedges between hands-on experience of life and what is usually called 'reality'. The everyday reality in which we grow up and grow old is an increasingly mediated reality. Mediated communication is replacing face-to-face communication. Our knowledge of the world is increasingly constructed via media and we disseminate our conceptions of our 'reality' with media. By acting in this way human interactivity and direct experience suffer and the process of alienation gets a chance.
The way of working described in this paper is an attempt to combine the possibilities of the new technologies with human contact and face-to-face interaction. The future will show whether we are swayed by the issues of the day or whether research and video can be useful instruments in assisting the integration of a variety of people into society.
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Habermas, Jrgen (1985), Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag.
Hockings, Paul, Editor (1995), Principles of Visual Anthropology, Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter, second revised edition.
Freinet, Clestin (1960), L'cole Moderne Franaise, Cannes, C.E.L.
Freire, Paolo (1972), Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London, Penguin.
Lyotard, Jean-Franois (1988), The Differend, Manchester, Manchester University Press.