Rethinking the definition of participatory video at the interface of theory and practice
Since at least the 1960s, participatory video (PV) has aimed to readdress film’s traditional focus on entertainment and the media’s interest in global news with the intention of promoting local and community development. This has usually meant empowering communities to work via consensus to elaborate different audiovisual products which reflect community problems and aspirations in various ways. In the words of Shirley White, author of Participatory Video. Images that Transform and Empower, PV acts as “a powerful force for people to see themselves in relation to the community (…). It brings about a critical awareness that forms the foundation for creativity and communication” (White, 2003: 64).
This paper addresses the concept of PV comprehensively by mobilizing critically both academic takes on the subject and the professional views of a variety of practitioners and experts. It aims to outline a number of uses and modes which coexist within PV with the aim of generating a more fruitful discussion on its defining features and the relation between canonical and marginal examples of participatory videomaking. To that effect, our methodological approach combines a literature review (including key works in English as well as theoretical contributions in the field of Latin American critical communication studies) with data obtained from a number of in-depth interviews with experts and experienced practitioners. Three key areas are identified as major elements within a PV experience: process, communication and results. Focusing on the analysis of how productive tensions between participants and facilitators play out in each of these areas, we propose a broad instrumental definition in the hope of contributing to the ongoing theoretical discussion on PV. Finally, the main areas of debate as perceived by video practitioners -format, genre and the role of the Internet- are discussed with a view to establish how these issues are currently being negotiated within the field.