Saturday, 16 July 2011

Under the Radar: The Contribution of Civil Society and Third Sector Organisations to eInclusion

The European Union is waking up to the "social capital" potential for ICT.

Researchers have noticed that many voluntary and community groups exist 'below the radar.'

(They may wish to stay that way to avoid the interference of the state?)

Alexandra Haché (2011) writes

"Each Third Sector Organization (TSO)  has its own tradition/capacity in developing tactical uses of ICT in order to overcome its weaknesses or boost its strengths. Levels of access, uptake and appropriation of ICT are different among TSOs and their participants.

Additionally, TSO involvement with ICT ranges from using ICT simply as a tool at one extreme, to aiming expressly to have an effect on digital inclusion and social inclusion supported by ICT at the other.

The study has also shown the importance of taking into account as key actors those TSO which are “under the radar”. The large numbers of small, medium and/or ephemeral organizations in this category not only shape the variety, richness and heterogeneity of the third sector, but they also enable experimentation, innovation and exploration of new uses, training and development of ICT by citizens.

Their identification, definition and analysis constitute a challenging new field of research that should be scrutinized. Any reflection on the socio-economic importance of the third sector would be incomplete without an account of both legally-formalised TSO and informal TSO, which explore other forms of self-organisation
and autonomy.

In particular, the analysis of initiatives shows that TSOs’ contributions to eInclusion objectives can be classified as follows:

1. Specific activities performed in favour of socially disadvantaged groups, which increasingly use new ICT as instruments to fight social exclusion. These activities include efforts to improve digital inclusion and the provision of autonomous medias.

2. New employment opportunities in a wide range of service activities. For example, TSO engage large numbers of volunteers whose only opportunity to be exposed to and practice with new ICT (beyond the passive exposure they may have when using entertainment services) may be through their work for a TSO.

3. Provision of ICT support to other TSO.

4. Research and development of ICT and the development of free culture. The report argues that most TSOs focus on the first type of activities, overlooking the potential of the rest. Therefore there is a need for a new and broader consideration of the role that the third sector can play in ICT development, access and adoption and in eInclusion.

Furthermore, analysis shows that TSO initiatives also contribute to the wider DAE objectives by:

- Supporting digital inclusion: they lower the barriers to access, training, appropriation, and usability of ICT; raise awareness and provide information so that people can critically understand and participate in debates on information and communication rights.

- Empowering users and actors / volunteers: they provide users, actors and volunteers with formal and informal training in ICT so that they can acquire a variety of competences and skills; they help to target ICT use and development to specific needs and wishes; they can transform "consumers or passive users" into "active designers, producers and developers" of contents and ICT;

- Acting as social inclusion agents: they provide solutions for very specific needs and/or small groups of people; they provide spaces and opportunities for empowerment and development of social capital and they contribute to a social economy in which resources can be produced, shared and redistributed among its participants;

- Providing a reservoir of social innovation and creativity through: self-organization and bottom-up dynamics that tackle social needs and provide for the public good; experimentation with alternative ICT development models; user-driven and communitydriven development of ICT and sustainability models that result from the social economy.

You can find the full report, which includes case studies, here.

Further Information:

EUR 24857 EN
ISBN 978-92-79-20488-3
ISSN 1831-9424

What can Social Capital and ICT do for Inclusion?

 Dieter Zinnbauer (2007) writes

"Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), inclusion and social capital are in themselves three very broad concepts that can be plausibly interlinked with each other in a wide variety of ways.

Social capital, for example, can mitigate many risks of social exclusion, while dynamics of exclusion such as inequality and marginalization can precipitate an erosion of social capital. Likewise, ICT can support social inclusion efforts, while - in the form of digital inclusion - becoming itself a new item on the inclusion agenda.

And the relation between social capital and ICT can plausibly be assumed to be even more ambivalent: ICT is sometimes expected to pose challenges to the social capital in local communities, but also believed to open fresh opportunities for weaving new social ties and expanding the formation of social capital.

Exploring in more detail these multiple interrelationships in the triangle of social capital-inclusion-ICT is both a timely and topical endeavour for at least two reasons:
  •  A wealth of empirical evidence clearly indicates that social capital plays a beneficial role for health, education, public participation and the realization of economic opportunities.
  •  A new generation of digital ICT, such as the Internet, have by now been around for a sufficiently long time to move from speculation to grounded observation and better understand their impact on society, including issues of inclusion and social capital. A growing body of empirical investigations bears testament to this and, in our view also supports one very important conclusion:
Adopting a social capital perspective can significantly enrich the design and operationalisation of research and policy initiatives that focus on making ICT work for social inclusion." (Page 13)

Report: What can Social Capital and ICT do for Inclusion?

European Commission
Directorate-General Joint Research Centre
Institute for Prospective Technological Studies
PUBSY 6181
EUR 22673 EN
ISBN 978-92-79-05014-5
ISSN 1018-5593

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Auteurs and anti-semitism; Mamet, Trier, and Godard discussed.

Several weeks ago I started reading David Mamet’s book Bambi vs. Godzilla; On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. I was just getting started when Lars von Trier’s Nazi remarks were reported at the Cannes Film Festival. In this blog I offer some observations on media frenzy; anti-semitism in cinema, and the role of the Director as romantic and rebellious auteur. What are the connections?

Whatever Lars von Trier actually said; intended to say; or really thinks, there was understandable outrage that the suffering and deaths of millions could be so nonchalantly brushed aside in passing remarks. The celebrated director appeared to proclaim himself a Nazi. Enough is enough?

But let’s consider, before we rush in to judgment, that the missing scandal, at Cannes, is film itself, where the worthy desire to unmask and reveal, and to improve our poor fallen world, is also enmeshed with a billion dollar industry, designed to profit from suffering. Hollywood cinema is the perpetuation of capitalism and globalization at symbolic and real levels of exploitation and marginalisation.  In the film industry, the dominant mode is not one of sincerity, integrity and honesty. David Mamet, let’s recall, has written on the industry as ‘A Whore’s Profession’

Do we really see what is behind the screen? Is the Cannes Festival 2011, from which Trier was expelled, actually the Paradise of free art, and a beacon of hope for all? Do the Cannes Judges exercise a divine judgement? Is there not an unspeakable in the midst of Cannes, that is far more of a scandal? Workers of the world, tear down the screen of deceptions! Cannes may not be Hollywood but perhaps it conceals its complicity with celebrity and power under a cloak of respectability and political correctness. The systematic traditionalism of Cannes outweighs the foolish and ill-chosen words of Mr Trier and his suicide-driven self-publicity.

Let’s pause to think, what does a film do to anguish and suffering? The simulation of real life is often, let’s recall, a dissimulation, a transformation. It is not the Thing Itself. May I quote Mamet at this juncture?

The magic feather in film is bathos: the kitten and the dog who must find their way home, the crippled child, Jews dying. (17)

What Lars von Trier said was

"What can I say? I understand Hitler. He did some wrong things, absolutely, but I can see him sitting there in his bunker at the end ... I sympathise with him, yes, a little bit."

Attempting to extricate himself from his self-dug grave, he added: "But come on, I am not for the second world war, and I am not against Jews. I am very much for Jews; well not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, how can I get out of this sentence ... OK I'm a Nazi." (Source)

Responding …

“The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.
The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology.
The direction of the festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier's apology. The festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects”

“I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi because my family was German Hartmann which also gave me some pleasure.” (YouTube

As it turned out, David Mamet has been much in the news recently for the shocking revelations that he has turned to the right politically and now supports the most conservative positions.
Perhaps we should stop listening to directors, abandon any notion that these gigantic auteurs exercise any authority outside of their aesthetic productions?

A close reading of their work reveals contradiction and inconsistency? Or is it just a confused and misleading ironic strategy?

I predict a growth of the Jew as monster in the next few years’ films. Well, why not? Alfonso Bedoya and John Huston inaugurated a few decades of the vicious Mexican […] Jeremy kemp et al. made the British accent the tocsin of evil quite effectively for quite a while. 18

I think it is not impossible that Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies […] This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director. Let me note also that Asperger’s syndrome has its highest prevalence among the Ashkenazi Jews and their descendents. (19)

He proceeds to explains that the rabbis and Hassidic masters intermarried, leading to a prevalence of the syndrome, to 600 years of Polish rabbis ‘and one hundred of their genetic descendents, American film directors.’ (21)

How many lunatic or vile creations of our day are labelled good clean fun? 41

Mamet compared the greed for resources in the film and in the ‘defence’ industry (war machine) “Enough money spent can cure anything. You are a member of a country, a part of a system capable of wasting two hundred million dollars on an hour and a half of garbage. You must be somebody.” (35)                                

Movies possess the power to speak to the human soul, to free us from the weight of repression.
What is repressed? Odour knowledge of our own worthlessness. (48)

Trier has noted that he was brought up in an atheist family, and that although Ulf Trier was Jewish, he was not religious. He did not discover the identity of his biological father until 1989. His parents did not allow much room in their household for "feelings, religion, or enjoyment", and also refused to make any rules for their children, with complex results for von Trier's personality and development. (Wikipedia)

Is that how an auteur is fashioned? Or excused?

Let’s conclude with another reputed anti-semite (it’s fashionable?) and celebrated auteur,  the acclaimed great Jean-Luc Godard, who was recently interviewed in The Guardian.

“We are edging towards the prickly subject of Godard's alleged antisemitism, a subject that reared its head again last year when he got an honorary Oscar. His hostility to Israel and strong support for the Palestinian cause has often been conflated with a hatred of Jews, a claim he says is "idiotic". The philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy, who worked with him on a number of aborted projects about "the Jewish being", once called him a man "trying to cure himself of his antisemitism". This may or may not come from his upper-class Swiss-French family, many of whom were sympathetic to Vichy. In Film Socialisme, he again puts his hand in the wasps' nest with such lines as: "How strange that Hollywood should be invented by the Jews." (Interview with Fiachra Gibbons, in The Guardian, 12 July 2012)

But Godard has, thankfully, moved away from the Director as auteur, and welcomes the democratisation of film making:

"I am not an auteur, well, not now anyway," he says as casually, as if it was like giving up smoking. "We once believed we were auteurs but we weren't. We had no idea, really. Film is over. It's sad nobody is really exploring it. But what to do? And anyway, with mobile phones and everything, everyone is now an auteur." (Interview with Fiachra Gibbons, in The Guardian, 12 July 2012)

Maybe that’s the way out of Cannes … away from Hollywood … beyond the auteur … avoiding the trap of anti-semitism … with an opportunity to embrace creativity, democracy and participation. That really would be a cinema capable of transformation. A postfilm universe?


A Recipe for Auteur Film Directors (14-point toolkit)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Pathways to Participation - Elite Pedagogy and Revolution

It is a sad fact that much of what we do in our younger years at school acts as barrier to our future confidence and enjoyment. The main reason is that most people are made to feel that they are failures, or fall short of the required standards.

The component of play, spontaneity, and expression, are beaten out of us with the rigour of rules and traditions; a culture of compulsion prevails together with a morbid attraction to examination and assessment regimes. Our children suffer anxiety and stress; they become miserable and unresponsive. Retreating to private worlds, they seldom gain the confidence or the creativity to comprehend their suffering; the system's ultimate victory is that the children are unable to construct meaningful forms of rebellion.

Our obsession with competition, elitism, skills' acquisition, specialisation, and a functional / instrumental approach to learning plays a major role in inhibiting the majority of individuals from participation and creative growth.

The markers of success and failure are perhaps most tightly regulated in sport, with its emphasis on a competitive ethos and the sanctification of winning. As a child lacking physical coordination I learned in seven or more unhappy years a lifelong dislike for football. Swimming and running lost their pleasure for me because an early natural proficiency catapulted me into the pressure of tournaments. It does not surprise me that we have a nation that has abandoned itself to obesity and physical lethargy. Sport for all is an empty rallying cry when the reality is a culture of individual excellence fatally geared to the celebration of the proficient minority.

But the barriers to participation are everywhere. Music education typically entails learning to play a classical instrument; reading music; or, learning to sing like an X-factor finalist. How few are the children who will hear the words “You Nailed IT” from a chorus of celebrity judges! In fact the success of such shows is determined by our armchair collusion in the laughability of the majority of the failed participants. What happened to the full-throated ease of collective wailing? the solo in the bath?

Yet the more democratic and open exploration of fundamental sound worlds, from digital acousmatic competition, to DJ-ing and sampling, are not core curriculum for all children. At an even more foundational level, the ability to listen - to hear sound worlds – is lost in the cacophony of shouting, order, chaos, and classroom discipline. A spiritual renaissance is needed for us to re-discover the natural ability to listen, and to challenge the noise pollution of our contemporary environment.

In drama the emphasis will be on acting skills; learning scripts; a preparation for theatrical life which will not be the destiny of the majority of the class of children. How sad it is that the techniques of applied drama are not employed across the curriculum – as we see in process drama, or the techniques associated with “Mantle of the Expert”.  Tableaux, re-enactment, role play, hot seating, expert panels, improvisation have a dramatic component that exceeds the subject field and can have astonishing therapeutic and developmental value. Applied drama has immense potential, but it is driven to the margins with the result that few children are equipped with the capacity to explore, negotiate and express which is fundamental to social life and political culture. Empty slogans about citizenship and civil society will not fill the vacuum.

In the approaches to texts – reading and writing – the emphasis is weighted towards historical literary and critical analysis of the canon. Moreover,  the primacy of narrow grammatical approaches and compositional exercises is depressing. A free-wheeling creative play, and an opportunity for experimentation, is seldom encountered. Writing and reading means books rather than the wider manifestations of text, and textual crossings and encounters experienced with other fields, such as rapping, texting, and tweeting.

There is a whole range of additional subject fields more narrowly geared to ‘employability’ rather than creativity and the capacity for adaptation (what the future society, I would argue, actually needs).

The underlying problem is that the educational system in its curriculum content, its modes of delivery, and its assessment formalities, is geared to the needs of the high- achievers, the Olympic sports men and women, and the University entrants, who in their turn will become - at a further level of elite selection - the future coaches, trainers, teachers and academics.

Sadly, it is the same narrow professional class which, having blossomed in the prevailing system, proceed to perpetrate comprehensive abuse on a new cohort of students, in what amounts to a recurring cycle of exclusion and mass disenchantment.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Living together: combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe

 Living together: combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe

 (Report of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe)

 The authors call on the Council of Europe to launch a diversity co-production fund which would “support films and documentaries highlighting the culturally diverse dimensions of today’s European societies, in such a way as to complement existing national initiatives in this field.” (62)

   They further call on member states

to ensure that media literacy programmes are included as a core element in school curricula, and that children and young people are alerted to expressions motivated by racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic or other related bias which they may encounter on the Internet. (62)

   Member states should also make sure that

law enforcement officers and prosecutors are trained to deal with similarly motivated hate crimes on the Internet, and work with the Internet industry to encourage it to take a more active role in addressing this issue. (62)

The report has adopted the words "Diversity" and "freedom" rather than the controversial word "multi-cultural" which is apparently under challenge in Great Britain, France and German.

The Report in Summary:

What are the risks and how serious are they?

1. Rising intolerance
2. Rising support for xenophobic and populist
3. Discrimination
4. The presence of a population virtually without
5. Parallel societies
6. Islamic extremism
7. Loss of democratic freedoms
8. A possible clash between “religious freedom” and freedom of expression

What is behind these risks?

1. Insecurity
2. Immigration
3. Distorted image of minorities in the media and harmful stereotypes
4. Crisis of leadership

Main actors for change are

1. Educators
2. Mass media
3. Employers and trade unions
4. Civil society
5. Churches and religious groups
6. Celebrities and “role models
7. Towns and cities
8. Member states
9. European and international institutions

There are 17 strategic recommendations and 32 specific recommendations.

You can find the full report here.

Friday, 8 July 2011

20 Threats to Social Film and Participatory Video

The advent of affordable technology (cameras and software) together with popular platforms designed to share and to show work (such as YouTube) appeared to promise a golden age for social films and participatory video-making. What went wrong? What happened to all that social energy? Is there hope for the future?

All the really interesting films are still out there, but they can take a lot of finding; or perhaps they are just swamped by more commercial forms of "entertainment." If you want to find out about social protests such as the Occupy movements across the world there are thousands of films to watch. But should we be anxious that the mainstream appears to be so frivolous and trivial? Is there an argument that being serious, social and participatory is just not radical; that it's out of fashion?

For the sake of debate this blog explores one side of the topic: the failure of social film and participatory video to catch on.

  1. In the non-commercial world of filmmaking, the emphasis is on family and friends; the personal and the domestic dominate. The safe ideology of “Home” video is what populates YouTube. It is a journey into the same rather than an encounter with the “other”. The community function is minimal, absent, or illusory.

  1. Note the popularity of film as a passive memory box.  The archival function predominates in recording life events, holidays and travel. But the critical and interpretative function is generally weak, and serves as a barrier to a social, political or ideological dimension to film making.

  1. Self-promotion, vanity, and ego-driven production values are strong motivators for camcorder enthusiasts. In that regard making films mirrors the dominant and mainstream values of western societies.

  1. A culture of short-term attention spans, instant pleasure, disposability and waste means that reflective projects with strong research values, crafted productions with technical mastery and experimentation, or caring and fastidious editing, are seldom undertaken.

  1. The preoccupation with humour, fun, parody, laughter and entertainment-driven values predominates on platforms such as YouTube. Attempting to be serious results in ridicule or oblivion.

  1. Social action and community issues are a low priority in real life; so why expect more from the digital film productions, distribution channels, or consumers? Social media does not entail progressive social values.

  1. In education at school-level few children encounter video production because their teachers lack the skills. Further, they are restricted by a tightly-regulated curriculum; by a lack of resources; lack of time; ethical concerns; by the inability to sanction a space for creativity and play. All too soon video becomes geared to the functional needs of the syllabus and to instrumental outputs.

  1. The toxic mixture is completed by the perceived need to protect children from the internet, from challenging issues and the outside world.

  1. In the academic domain film can be anything apart from its social and participatory functions. On one side we find cultural studies and popular culture where dreary critical and theoretical analysis of light, ephemeral and worthless commercial productions leave many students bored and alienated; or art films are wrapped in a poorly understood post-structuralist daze or psycho-analytic fog.  You can't watch film unless you've read Jacques Lacan. Or it's Sesame Streets and Jacques Derrida. I'm not against academia; I just feel that its main media and culture industries have always had a poor understanding of creative communities, punk, and DIY cultures; what people on the street are doing now, together is very far from what they doing and how they are doing in that academia.

  1. In a different sense, the social and developmental components of participatory video making are poorly understood or simply not encountered in film schools. Often the emphasis will be on technical skills and managerial competence enshrined in the multiple levels of hierarchy which militate against collectivist, co-operative and collaborative approaches. Commercial and for profit functions exclude socially-driven processes and goals.

  1. The prevailing romantic notions of the lone genius, and the popularity of the ego-master-auteur authority-figure undermine the possibility of  egalitarian and participatory approaches. Individuals make names, not collectives.

  1. Funding bodies seldom understand adequately the distinction between developmental process and the film product. Consequently there are tensions between participation / personal growth on one side, and gilded messages / predetermined outputs on the other.

  1. The lack of national organizations and professional bodies means that there is no means of validating relevant qualifications and experience in the field. A free-for-all exists instead of structured training and career development. Quality assurance is patchy. Entrepreneurs and grant-writing experts may prevail at the expense of better-skilled and more experienced educationalist and creative practitioners.

  1. The social films and participatory videos are often of value or interest to a narrow community. There is limited learning between communities and the sharing of resources and experiences is uncommon. There are few opportunities for public discussion in terms of the mainstream festival or conference circuits.

  1. High culture is always funded generously; community arts are historically undervalued and under resourced.

  1. Fashions and issues prevail rather than longer term community engagement and development. Projects tend to be specific interventions with narrow goals and limited outputs.

  1. There is a lack of trainers who can cope with technical, creative, entrepreneurial, educational, developmental and collaborative functions. Smaller enterprises lack the capacity to have teams with a full range of competences. With patchy funding, career development and diversification is a luxury, or progresses in an unstructured fashion.

  1. Participatory video is every-where and no-where. It is fragmented across public services and across academic departments. Is it a branch of the arts or the social sciences? Or both?

  1. Where mangers work in silos, adequate cross-funding and collaborative working will not happen. Hybridity and mixed identity dilute resource allocation and inhibit research clusters from emerging.

  1. Is participatory video a tool, a toolkit, or a subject field (in its own right)? Consider the related identity problems for process drama, or ‘mantle of the expert’ approaches – these were less about teaching people to be actors, learning a script and theatre skills, than a facilitated ability to explore action-research scenarios through role play, social and experiential discovery, ethnographic research, and therapeutic processes. We’re talking social factories not X-factors.

As I stated at the outset, I’ve only worked through one side of the debate in order to explore all the negatives ...

Are there issues and topics missing? Understated or overstated? What are the counter-arguments? What do you think?

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) ... also available on Kindle, or to download. A bargain!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

You, Film, and World Transformation

A Manifesto; or, What you Will.

In order to transform the world, I begin by modifying my world;

I am not alone;

We tear down the screens that conceal real worlds;

We wash away the films that darken our vision;

We start to think the transformation of film;

We interrogate what we see around us;

We expand and exceed our frame(s) of reference;

We participate in dialogues about film;

We become enlightened critics of film;

We serve by helping others to produce films;

We discover new platforms to experience film and to share our intuitions and our perceptions;

We experiment with forms, genres, styles and approaches;

We network, co-operate, and collaborate;

We create new film experiences, and new discursive zones, and innovative modalities for action;

We take risks;

We are constantly teaching and learning;

We employ low-cost sustainable technologies;

We respect our fellow workers everywhere;

We explore film's past lives; its forgotten artists, its margins and backwaters;

We cultivate interactivity and feedback loops;

We experience enjoyment, wonder, yearning, satisfaction;

We challenge dominant definitions of film, cinema, industry;

We forge innovative futures for film and cinema;

We labour the local and work the transnational;

We transform our world with creativity, and open hearts, and open minds.