Listening Across Difference: Mapping StoryCorps’ Affective Archives
Brekke, Anjuli Joshi
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This dissertation explores the affective potential of telling and listening to stories of racialized trauma and resistance in an equity-focused digital storytelling project. I investigate tensions that arise when testimonials of personal trauma related to racism are made public. On the one hand, media narratives encourage us to share personal struggles to connect across differences and digital technologies enable the wide dissemination of these stories disembodied from their tellers. On the other hand, storytellers must negotiate the intensely personal and embodied politics of (mis)appropriation, ownership, and control of their representation in order to be legible within dominant discourses. For digital storytelling to facilitate a radical listening that promotes equity, the needs of represented communities must be centered throughout processes of production and dissemination. Mapping affective experiences between speakers/listeners highlights possibilities and barriers for cultivating a space where such centering is possible. This dissertation adds to research in critical rhetoric by bringing a community-engaged approach that uses rhetorical field methods to study anti-racist rhetorics-in-action. As a fellow with the Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE) at the University of Washington, I proposed and led the “Radical Listening” project in partnership with the digital storytelling non-profit StoryCorps. We recorded stories of racial discrimination and resistance from the larger Seattle area. After organizing the initial storytelling event, I conducted follow-up interviews, edited recorded conversations, helped organize listening events to bring conversations to wider publics, and created an online archive of the audio clips. While the online space allows stories to be shared with distant others, the in-person listening sessions enabled me and the CCDE to center processes of ethical listening, afforded storytellers the ability to contextualize their audio stories, and provided an embodied sense of community. Together, these opportunities enabled a collective praxis of radical listening. Radical listening highlights how the interpersonal and public dimensions of listening are enmeshed with systems of power. It explores the public significance of how processes of mediation impact the affective experience of listening. Through tracing the movement of personal narratives of racial suffering and resistance as they move through different spaces, online and off, this dissertation analyzes the relationality of listening, how we listen, and how this listening structures affective relations across difference. Ultimately, this project highlights the boundaries and possibilities of digital storytelling as a way to connect with others across difference. The boundaries remind us of the persistence of structures of marginality that limit democratic practices of storytelling in a digital age; the possibilities gesture to the power of minoritized voices to disrupt entrenched narratives.
- Communications