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Producing publics : an ethnographic study of democratic practice and youth media production and mentorship Poyntz, Stuart Robert


While youth media production work has increased dramatically over the past two decades, researchers still lack an adequate theorization of how institutionally-mediated youth production programs instigate democratic acts. Central to this deficiency ares hortcomings in the two dominant frameworks typically used to conceptualize the democratic potential of young people's media work. In response to this, I turn to the work of Hannah Arendt and use her conceptualization of public action as framed in relation to a "pedagogy of natality" to assess the relationship between creative youth practice and democracy. While Arendt's framework offers a compelling vision of democratic action, her model is also invaluable for mapping how production work affects adolescents' democratic experience. It focuses the analytic lens on agonistic struggles that expand the way youth register and pay heed to plurality. I demonstrate this utility through a critical ethnographic study of the Summer Visions Film Institute, an initiative designed around a series of two-week digital video production programs for youth aged 14-19. In examining the Summer Visions program, I address the experience of student video producers but focus close attention on the work and experience of peer-to-peer youth mentors in the program for the following reasons. First, peer education has a role in many youth media programs but there continues to be a dearth of research on peer mentorship in media production settings. Second, while student participants take part in Summer Visions for ten days, the mentors are involved in production work on a daily basis over a seven-week period. Most are also former students of the program and so they offer a more robust set of case studies. Using Arendt, I demonstrate how media production programs contribute in contradictory but nonetheless important ways to the formation of new publics, not because such work leads to straightforward forms of position taking about specific political projects, but because it leads to forms of thoughtfulness that challenge the lure of oblivion that haunts our lives and prevents us from seeing those who are different and yet part of our worlds.

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