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In 2001, I left my job as a commercial video editor because I was unsatisfied with my work.  I couldn’t seem to embrace a career in the advertising industry.  It wasn’t as creative as I’d hoped – putting the tv commercials together often felt like completing a paint-by-number kit – and after only two years, I already felt oppressed by a kind of existential emptiness:  how was this work doing any good, for anyone?

I wasn’t sure how to move forward, but looking back, it makes perfect sense:   volunteer at after school programs, teaching video to youth, make connections, become part of a community of youth workers, and eventually secure a full-time position teaching media literacy and multimedia production at the YWCA.  I was trying to find ways that I could apply my creative talent to making a meaningful contribution to society.

Developing media literacy curriculum at the YWCA led to a dream job: working at New Media Literacies, an educational research project within the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.   Henry Jenkins is the PI on the project.  Anyone who has read his books, listened to him talk, or tried to keep up with his prolific blog can surely imagine how intense and amazing it is to work with him.  The influence of his scholarship on participatory culture reaches far beyond academia, directly into advertising and industry.  In the field of education, he has been a leading voice calling for a new understanding of the relationship between media and youth.  Learning in a Participatory Culture:  Confronting the Challenges of Media Education, the foundational white paper for NML has been very influential.  In my estimation, he is the scholar who has moved us furthest and fastest away from a focus on media effects and towards a more youth- and participant-empowered focus on media ethics.

Sadly for me, Henry has taken a position at USC.  I believe NML will flourish on the west coast, and was honored when Henry offered me a chance to go along.  The opportunity is especially attractive because Henry plans to focus more on civic media.  The emphasis of the project may move from participatory culture to participatory engagement, and this would dovetail nicely with my growing interest in how social media can effect social change.  Henry’s whole outlook is multi-disciplinary, and USC looks to be fertile ground for cross-pollinating NML with civic-minded research.  The Center for Planning, Policy, and Development’s Civic Engagement Initiative has spawned projects like the Neighborhood Participation Project; the School for Cinematic Arts’ Institute for Multimedia Literacy offers events like this summer’s Rip, Mix and Learn:  The Art and Politics of Remix Culture.

I’m very eager to investigate how the new media literacies work to support civic engagement.  As a project, we have been talking about the skills that are needed to participate fully in new media ecology, and the next step should be to analyze how those skills can empower us to change the world we live in.  Because I’ve decided not to move with the project to California, but am committed to remaining actively engaged with this work, I’m starting this blog.  My goals here are:

* to translate NML research in ways that offer beneficial insights for social cause campaigning efforts;
* to gather resources and best practices that show successful and innovative uses of new media to make change; and
* to join communities who have been thinking about the social justice applications for new and social media much longer than I have.

Career-wise, I find myself in a place similar to where I was in 2001.  I have the tools, I have the knowledge, and I want to channel these more directly into the larger social good.  In the spirit of participatory culture, I hope to use social media (like this blog) to connect with like-minded people.


about Anna van Someren

I am a research associate at Center for Future Civic Media a collaboration of the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies.

Previously, I worked as creative manager at Project New Media Literacies where I produced videos and developed the Learning Library.


community media | video art