Doing Justice to Stories: On Ethics and Politics of Digital Storytelling

Parvin, Nassim
Engaging Science, Technology, and Society

Researchers and activists are increasingly drawing on the practice of collecting, archiving, and sharing stories to advance social justice, especially given the low cost and accessibility of digital technologies. These practices differ in their aims and scope yet they share a common conviction: that digital storytelling is empowering especially when curating and disseminating life stories of marginalized groups. In this paper, I question this conviction and ask: is it possible that such practices take away from what is found to be meaningful and worthwhile in practices of storytelling and listening, and, if so, how? To answer this question, I argue for a renewed attentiveness to story scenes, highlighting the inherently relational nature of storytelling and listening. I examine this relational nature through a fictional account that exemplifies storied encounters and demonstrates the ethical issues they entail through three themes—reciprocity, responsiveness, and communion—borne out of the plurality of philosophical positions on what it means to relate to another. I explain each of these themes as a starting point for thinking through how digital storytelling may be just, with implications for participatory methods in science and technology studies, design studies, and human-computer interaction inclusive of participatory design, co-design, ethnographic research, and participatory action research.