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Over recent decades there has been a rapid expansion in the use of participatory visual methods to unearth neglected perspectives on complex issues. As example, participatory video can enable participants to show and tell, and connect marginalised communities with external audiences. However, there are important ethical questions raised, which echo wider debates in visual methods, such as the politics of public exposure and reception and the power dynamics between project actors. Furthermore, practical challenges are compounded by the tendency to view participatory video as a data production or research dissemination method, rather than the means to drive research dialogue or social change processes during action research.
This provocation draws on participatory video experiences in India and Kenya to raise critical questions about the potentially valuable but tacit or under-utilised sources of research knowledge generated, and the implicit sharing assumptions in contemporary visual practice. I interrogate participatory representation as theoretical frame, because it often functions practically to restrict possibilities for participants by binding activities to the priorities of external agencies. Whilst acknowledging the tensions, I suggest participatory video is more productively conceptualised as the means to mediate communication processes towards both deeper understanding and improvement action. I conclude, that attention needs to shift to ensure the most pertinent knowledge is not overlooked.
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