I first met Jean Burgess when she was writing about music subcultures and she has been a keen blogger and highly engaged in youth and their interaction with media.
Her PhD thesis, undertaken at QUT, is now available online and in it she explores the concept of ‘vernacular creativity’. Rather than seeing this as a ‘new’ phenomenon she traces it way back deep into the pre-Internet days (which too many of us have conveniently and uncritically forgotten). She uses the digital storytelling movement and the communities around Flickr as case studies for how networked publics engage in everyday creative practices – ‘vernacular creativity’ – and contrasts these to earlier practices.
Henry Jenkins has recently interviewed Jean and the interview gives a good overview of the themes Jean explores.
The main thing I wanted to explore and understand was the extent to which both lower barriers to production, especially because of cheaper and more available technologies like digital cameras, in tandem with networked mediation, especially online, might be amplifying those ordinary, everyday creative practices so that they might contribute to a more democratic cultural public sphere. I guess I was optimistic in that I went looking for evidence that might support that hope, and not defeat it . . . . I found that the spaces that were most rich in examples of vernacular creativity were at the same time constrained in certain ways, and each context was shaped towards forms of participation that served the interests of the service providers as much as they serve the interests of the participants. So in Flickr, the most active, intensive forms of participation seem to be taken up mainly by already-literate bloggers, gamers, and internet junkies. In the digital storytelling movement, there is a certain kind of polite authenticity that is valued, and the workshops are incredibly resource-intensive, so that they aren’t open to the ongoing, everyday participation that something like blogging is. There are always constraints and compromises, no matter how open a platform appears to be. So, I suppose, that’s the ‘critical’ part.