Exploring tensions between sentimentality and witnessing through digital storytelling

This is the paper I presented at the HECU6 conference in Rhodes, July 2012.

Abstract: This paper reflects on a research project at a Western Cape HEI, where digital stories were used as a vehicle for students’ engagement across social differences in a final year pre-service teacher training programme.  Borrowing from the ideas of the pedagogy of discomfort (Boler, 1999; Boler & Zembylas, 2003), this project set out to create a space where students could engage with issues around diversity both on an emotional and a cognitive level in order to improve social cohesion in the classroom.  Through focus groups discussion this study set out to explore students perceptions on their own emotional and cognitive labour and on the extent they achieved critical emotional reflexivity (Zembylas 2012). Although students described the digital storytelling process as intensely emotional and also talked about their critical engagement with their topics, we found, similar to other studies, that students can seemingly easily talk about their own experience, but have difficulties in placing themselves in the bigger historical picture. With a  few exceptions, findings indicated that the majority of students’ stories could be labelled as ‘sentimental’ and their responses to each others’ stories were influenced by ‘passive empathy’ (Boler 1999), leading to pity from the part of the privileged observer and resentment from the subjugated storyteller. The authors recommend to move beyond listening and sharing to each other stories, but to start analysing students’ stories in order for students to begin to deconstruct the positions premised on the existence of clearly differentiated identities based on race, ethnicity, or culture.

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