I am currently reading a book called “The Truth About Stories” by Native American Professor and storyteller, Thomas King. In one chapter of the book, King talks about his ongoing journey around North America where he takes pictures and collects stories from Native Americans. He was inspired by the photographer, Edward Sheriff Curtis, who also travelled around North America during the 20th Century to preserve the Indigenous culture through images and visual representations (King, 2003). King’s objective is similar, but he does not only aim to preserve Indigenous culture within a contemporary context but also seeks to challenge the stereotypes associated with Native American identity. Moreover, being an avid lover of stories, King also collected their stories.
While reading this chapter, I thought back to some of the topics we discussed in class throughout the term. I thought about Featherman’s and Humphreys deliberations about social media, and social and political movements. I also thought about our recent lecture based on Hand’s analysis of the ubiquity of digital pictures.
If you can recall, Featherman examined the use of social media as platforms for citizen journalism and areas for political and social discourse. Websites like Flickr and YouTube provide Internet activists and social organizations with the affordances to efficiently circulate media to raise awareness about a particular issue and empower netizens (Internet citizens) to support a cause. Similarly, Humphreys stated that social media was a networked public space where civic participation and framing takes place. Social media is not only used for the dissemination of photographs, videos and other information relating to social issues, but it is also used as a communication, mobilization and organizational tactic to plan for protests, rallies, and other direct actions against justice (Lopes, 2014). Social media facilitates collective action.
King’s method of social action was to collect pictures that challenge stereotypes and collect the stories from Indigenous persons that have often gone untold as dominant classes and structures in the neoliberal society impeded their narratives (King, 2003; Yang & Tuck, 2012). While Hand’s case studies of the pervasiveness of media in social movements were more focused on feminism, he made a general deduction that pictures can be “political visual representation.” He further noted that digital pictures connected ideas and persons around the world and are often interpreted differently by various social groups (Hand, 2012). Today, we see numerous grassroots movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #OccupyWallStreet and Idle No More creating social media strategies and using digital media to globalize their message, organize events, and recruit people all over the world to join their movements.
King took an analog approach with the use of a camera and tripod. However, Hand noted that technology is continually changing allowing for pictures to be easily taken and shared online. I am going to make a bold assumption and say that King probably would have considered sharing these photos and stories via an online platform. Just as Hand noted in his book, King engaged in a “visual publicization of ordinary life” and social movements today are doing the same within the networked society. It would be interesting to see how tactics and strategies used by social movements change in the future with the advancement of technology.
Featherman, C. (2015). Introduction. In C. Featherman, Discourses of Ideology and Identity : Social Media and the Iranian Election Protests (pp. 1-20). Routledge.
Hand, M. (2012). Introduction. In M. Hand, Ubiquitous Photography (pp. 1-25). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.
Humphreys, A. (2016). Political Life. In A. Humphreys. New York, New York, United States of America: Oxford University Press.
King, T. (2003). You’re Not the Indian I Had In Mind. In T. King, The Truth About Stories (pp. 31-60). Canada: Dead Dog Cafe Productions Inc.
Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40.