Géraud de Ville

The Open University, Department of Engineering and Innovation
London, UK

The Story Behind the Story

Challenging technological determinism with Pantanî Blog

June 11, 2015

On 1 to 5 June, the Canadian Association of Geographers organised its Annual General Meeting at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. The session “Assessing the situation of the Peoples and Ecosystems of the Guiana Shield” convened by Katie MacDonald from York University and Janette Bulkan from the University of British Columbia, was an opportunity for me to present my research and my latest results as I was freshly returning from an evaluation fieldtrip in Guyana.

This research directly builds on some of Project COBRA’s results, and which highlighted that community survival is all about maintaining a fragile balance between various needs. On the one hand, it was found that indigenous communities need to adapt to change, in particular to new information and communication technologies (ICTs), as they can bring many benefits. On the other hand, most communities also feel the need to resist change, notably by preserving their traditional ways in order to survive in the long run.

The initial ethnographic research, which I carried out in 2014 evidenced that despite a widely shared aspiration that ICTs would bring more education and knowledge, the actual use that was made of these technologies was primarily for communication purposes. Importantly, observation and interviews also showed a series of downsides linked with ICT uses. They were notably seen as distracting people away from doing the tasks that are expected from them in the community, or even as aggravating the loss of Amerindian culture and identity.

An experiment was therefore designed to interrogate the relationship between ICTs and traditional ways, by looking at it through a particular lens: digital storytelling. It looked how an intervention using the Internet could help safeguard and promote Amerindian culture and identity. This is the story behind Pantanî Blog (www.pantaniblog.org), an indigenous digital storytelling project launched about a year ago. Its aim was to collect and publish traditional stories on an online blog accessible to everyone (further information accessible here).

A final evaluation found that participants to the experiment and the people interviewed during a community consultation now perceived the Internet as a safe haven for the preservation and sharing of their culture and language. To the question whether it was right to throw elements of their culture in the digital space, they agreed, saying that if they could learn about other cultures of the world, other people should be able to learn about them too. But they also insisted on the need to think about the local people without Internet access and suggested we multiplied the outputs, e.g. by broadcasting on the radio, publishing the stories in a book etc., to allow the greatest number to have access to the stories.

From these initial results, it appears that adopting ICTs can be a way to adapt to modernity as well as a strategy to resist cultural loss, provided that they are used responsibly. In the minds of the participants and the persons interviewed, this experiment helped challenge the deterministic idea that ICTs destroy indigenous culture. One participant concluded: “We need to have information of this nature somewhere researched and understood and stored for the future. I do believe it is good to better understand how these things are all interlinked these days. Knowledge, science, technology, witchcraft, magic, love, hate, you know what I mean.



QUICK DOWNLOAD: Check out the English version of the COBRA Handbook for Practitioners.