Making educational documentaries about disadvantage: theoretical and practical issues

Year: 1994

Author: Comber, Barbara, Nixon, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

An across-university team in South Australia is producing educational video documentaries as part of an innovative research and curriculum development project. The project explores the connections between economic disadvantage and literacy achievement, school programs which address literacy/disadvantage, and ways in which this knowledge can best be "taught" using video text and other materials. The research raises the theoretical, practical and ethical dilemma: "Who can represent someone else, with what intention, in what 'language', and in what environment" which, Ruby maintains, "is a conundrum that characterises the post-modern era" (Ruby 1992:42).

This paper takes as its research text the making of educational documentaries. It explores the political, ethical and educational issues of representation and reception which have to be addressed when video footage is used to represent school communities living with high levels of poverty.

General issues addressed by the researchers include those of voice, authority and authorship in ethnography (Clifford, 1986; Geertz, 1988) and the tensions and contradictions inherent in the researcher- researched relationship raised in post-colonial theory (Said, 1978) with particular reference to documentary film-making (Ruby, 1992; Minh-ha, 1989). Specific issues addressed are the possibilities and complexities of integrating theory and practice when engaged in research and teaching about/for social justice (Anyon, 1994; Ellsworth, 1989; Cherryholmes, 1994). Examples will be drawn from the researchers' attempts to use the video medium to problematise the dominant discourses of disadvantage and literacy achievement for preservice teacher education students.