Digital Narrative Change

Nov 9, 2023 6:30 AM

Tobias Zuser

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Publication year
October 13, 2023

Photo by Umberto on Unsplash

Digital Narrative Change

by Tobias Zuser

The Digital Narrative Studio aims to explore new approaches to (digital) narrative change, which involves changing of the narrative, the changes produced by narratives, and how the practice of narrative change can eventually lead to a re-engineering of hope.

Our recurring Narrative Change Residencies (N-ChaRe) will provide a platform for experts and educators in the field to work with various marginalized communities on narrative change interventions. N-ChaRe will happen in regular intervals and feature several days of online and offline events that also accommodate a wide variety of productive and educational formats, such as digital deep-dives, online bootcamps, and collaborative making sessions. We also work with local organizations to curate accompanying events and activities to engage the wider public.

The resources and findings of these residencies will be used to develop an educational toolbox for digital narrative change practices.

So why do we need to change the narrative?

Narratives are the stories being told, bodies telling them, and media that shape them.

They are the stories and their attached ideas and values that shape how we see the world. Often they have become the “norm”, “the truth”, and the “common sense”. The themes that have permeated our life for long time are also sometimes referred to as “Deep Narratives” – illustrating both their rootedness and the tremendous effort it would take to unearth them.

However, in our approach to digital narrative change, we also aim to shift the focus to the conditions, structures, and authorities that enable and disable the bodies/communities. We believe that this has become an increasingly urgent task in a world that has found itself in a permanent mode of crisis, which is further exacerbated by our digital habits. The specific relationship between digital technologies and crises has created an infinite feedback loop with seemingly no way out. Instead, polarization, anger, and mass outrage leave us with no resolution. The everyday doomscrolling reinforces our despair, that in return finds voice in our grievances about discrimination and inclusion.

With a sense of technological determinism, social media was long seen as creating an even playing field. The multiplication of voices would lead to a world that could be more just and conversations that would be less exclusive. Instead, circulation has been subjected to black box algorithms that push curated narratives and deprive the user of agency.

The digital space has long been accompanied by the myth of “endless choices”. But platformization and the corporatization of infrastructure has limited the possibilities and viabilities of alternatives. Instead, our digital presence and participation depends on the conditions provided by for-profit oligopolies, and authorities that decide on the degree of accessibility. Digital media are not the innocent vehicle of participatory culture, but are also increasingly instrumentalized and weaponized for emotive propaganda.

We are invested in countering this aesthetic of gloom, doom, and despair by orienting towards hope and collective action. But there is a lot at stake, both intellectually and politically. First, we need to find new ways of thinking about digital narratives through stories, bodies, and media. Second, we need to transform this knowledge into actionable output.