Ying Li

Michael Cody, Chair
Larry Gross, Maryalice Jordan-Marsh

Digital Storytelling as Participatory Media Practice for Empowerment: The Case of the Chinese Immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley

This dissertation documents the collaboration between the author and a local activist organization in order to examine the potential of Digital Storytelling to promote individual and community change. The Chinese American Culture Association (ACCA) is a first generation Chinese immigrants organization located in the San Gabriel Valley. After securing financial support from the California Council for the Humanities (CCH), the author and members of ACCA created, produced and exhibited 12 Digital Stories designed to promote cultural understanding and exchange in ethnically diverse urban communities. The study examined how Digital Storytelling “captures lives” and “creates community” as its inventor proclaims, in the theoretical tradition of participatory communication, the anthropology of visual communication, and narrative empowerment theory.

The author argues that Digital Storytelling should be viewed as an innovative participatory media practice that empowers those involved both as a process and a product. Creating one’s individual and community stories is an empowering process as it reframes past experiences with new meanings. The dialogic processes of co-producing the stories between the author and the participants also bring new understanding and new interpretive frameworks that enable mutual learning and a sense of affinity and personal commitment. As a product, the stories belong to particular genre the author terms as “biodocudrama” that enables the storytellers to use dramatized narratives to search for and articulate positive, transformative, empowering meanings. Inscribing the stories into local public space through exhibit, screenings, the Internet, and donation to public educational institutions in the San Gabriel Valley gave a greater sense of pride and collective efficacy to the storytellers. The storytelling practice also refashioned the discourse around ACCA’s organizational identity and its place of belonging.

The study contributes to the field of purposeful use of media and communication for social change (particularly approaches based on grassroots media production or subject generated content) by exploring how Digital Storytelling, a new type of participatory media practice, empowers the storytellers as agents of change in their own lives and in their community.